Kobena Mercer is Professor of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. He is author of
Busy in the Ruins of Wretched Phantasia
Written for a 1995 group exhibition on contemporary artists who have engaged Frantz Fanon’s psychoanalytic study of colonialism, this chapter examines practices that address the ambivalent mix of fear and fantasy driving the political technology of the stereotype as it fixes sexualized meanings around representations of the black body. Differentiating strategies in image-text work by Mitra Tabrizian, Adrian Piper, Donald Rodney, and Carrie Mae Weems; performative photographic tableaux by Ajamu and Lyle Ashton Harris; the questioning of self-portraiture in Sonia Boyce’s collages and Glenn Ligon’s pastiche notices for runaway slaves; film essays by Ngozi Onwurah, Raoul Peck, and Marlon Riggs, and installations by Zarina Bhimi, the chapter argues that Fanon’s insights into the racial formation of subjectivity are undiminished in their contemporary relevance, even as problems of homophobia in Black Skin, White Masks must also be confronted if the theoretical edge of psychoanalytic inquiry is to be critically renewed.