Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness

In 2001 Renee Cox's Yo Mama's Last Supper was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. Cox's photographic recreation of Leonardo da Vinci's painting features an almost all black cast and the artist, nude, standing in for Jesus. The intense controversy that erupted testifies to the enduring power of images of black bodies to unsettle and disturb viewers. Over the course of the twentieth century, as black visibility rose across a variety of media, scholars in art history and media studies began to analyze how audiences view black subjects, while performance and theater studies scholars examined black self-presentation. Troubling Vision bridges the gap between these divergent approaches, arguing that grasping the cultural meaning of blackness relies on understanding both performance and vision. Taking into account this fixation on black visibility, Nicole R. Fleetwood explores how blackness is always a troubling presence in the field of vision and the black body is persistently seen as a problem. Fleetwood examines a wide range of materials from visual and media art, documentary photography, theater and performance, fashion advertising, and celebrity culture. Based on her trenchant analysis of this work, Fleetwood investigates the various ways black cultural producers disrupt dominant notions of black identity and the black body.