Representing and Refracting the Civil Rights Movement in Late Twentieth-Century Art Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Bobier, Kimberly
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History, Art History
  • This dissertation investigates late twentieth-century United States-based artists’ appropriations of civil rights movement imagery. I propose that these artists’ recasting of the movement’s imagery posits it as a revealing point of entry for analyzing 1980s and 1990s identity politics and questions of appropriation in contemporary art and beyond. My inquiry focuses on Lorraine O’Grady, Glenn Ligon, Alfredo Jaar, and Kerry James Marshall whose artwork challenged the ways that late twentieth-century dominant culture’s portrayal of the movement obscured mid-twentieth-century civil rights activists’ efforts to overturn foundational American structures, which maintain racist oppression. By critically reconfiguring well-known representations of the movement, the artists of my study participated in concurrent art discourses about appropriation that treated it as a procedure for exposing how an intensifying media culture had unmoored representations from reality, depleting them of authoritative meaning. Yet, O’Grady, Ligon, Jaar, and Marshall’s appropriations evoke not the emptiness of the civil rights movement’s conventional visual repertoire, but rather its resilient and outsized role in shaping Americans’ perceptions of social relations and (economic, gender, racial, and sexual) inequality. These four artists’ critiques of discriminatory structures of representation through the prism of the civil rights movement’s legacy and the identity politics therein affords us insight for negotiating systemic racism and related axes of social subjugation today as well as art and visual culture’s complicity in them.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Levine, Cary
  • Magee, Carol
  • Bowles, John
  • Deutsche, Rosalyn
  • Williams, Lyneise
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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