The Repeating Body: Slavery's Visual Resonance in the Contemporary
The Boundaries of Excess
Chapter 3 looks at embodiment and disembodiment in the articulation of black women’s layered visibility. This chapter looks at the positioning of physical prowess in representations of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Brazilian slave deity Blessed Anastácia. I argue that certain historical figures of the black Atlantic are symbolic body armor, and are portrayed as such; their corporeal entities are created to serve as visual protection to black masses—a visual absorption. For Tubman, this is done through rhetoric and rifle, as literary and visual images reinforce a hyper-masculine performance of collective protection. This chapter engages the reconstructions of the figure of mammy, using images by Betye Saar and Joe Overstreet. There is a need in a post 1960s moment of black recreation to reconcile the imagistic mammy with her assumed allegiance to white domesticity. Artists fit mammy with a masculine physique and a rifle similar to the one Tubman carries, essentially providing the phallus as weapon to a figure created after slavery, using her imaginary body to protect black diasporic peoples from slavery’s violence. This corporeal reversal renders the memory of slave nursemaids a stagnant image, held in place by visual images, their bodies open and available to ocular assault.