Travel & See: Black Diaspora Art Practices since the 1980s
Kobena Mercer is Professor of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. He is author of Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, editor of Cosmopolitan Modernisms, among other titles, and an inaugural recipient of the 2006 Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing.
This chapter offers a midcareer review of cut-and-mix collage strategies in black British artist Keith Piper’s multimedia art practice, which spans painting, installation, computer-generated montage, and video. Approached as a “history painter” of post-Empire Britain, in that his art bears witness to the way the colonial past has imaginatively returned to be reworked in the present, Piper is situated in a postcolonial relation to his archival sources. The chapter explores how his choices led him to the aquatic imagery that aligns his conceptualism not only with Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic model of interpretation but also with Caribbean poets and writers such as Derek Walcott and Édouard Glissant, for whom the sea opens up a metaphorical line of escape, or marronage, from the territoriality of nation-states, thereby enabling a future-oriented search for alternative conceptions of imagined community.