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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access November 15, 2019

Black Public Art: On the Socially Engaged Work of Black Women Artist-Activists

  • Mary Pena EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Cultural Studies


Inaugurated at the Brooklyn Museum of New York in 2017, the path-breaking exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85,” centers the creative expressions and lived experiences of black women artists within a primarily white, middle-class, heteronormative mainstream feminist movement. Engaging visual mediums, artist-activists rendered a black feminist politics through cultural and aesthetic productions. In so doing, artists recast extant representations of black social life, demanded inclusion within cultural institutions, and created black-oriented spaces for artistic engagement. In the contemporary global political climate of anti-blackness, artists craft socially engaged practices that creatively intervene in public space and the cultural institutional landscape. Through a critical analysis of Carrie Mae Weems’ Operation: Activate, Simone Leigh’s The Waiting Room, and LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Flint is Family, this essay concerns recent interventions that mobilize an expansive approach to art combined with activism. The myriad practices of Weems, Leigh, and Frazier recompose sites of political engagement and empowerment that enact a broader praxis of reimagining social worlds. These projects belie the representational fixity on which art economies hinge, gesturing to material formations that elicit tactile modes of relation, and challenge the bounds of subjects and objects in the world.

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Received: 2018-11-01
Accepted: 2019-09-30
Published Online: 2019-11-15
Published in Print: 2019-01-01

© 2019 Mary Pena, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

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