How did the Black Arts movement become an antitext movement? How did the black aesthetic of this movement use the tension between the bound and the unbound? This essay examines the movement’s critique of a dominant “museum exhibit” cultural industry that transformed grass-roots culture into highbrow capital. The author argues that the movement resisted the “museum exhibit” of the dominant-culture industry by dramatizing the tension points between inner space, outside space, and unbound space. The aesthetic warfare of the movement is shown to be a struggle against the textualization of gesture and process. This antitext struggle is brought into close relation with the often unrecognized conceptual art movement at the core of the Black Arts movement. The AfriCOBRA tenet of “mimesis at mid-point” leads the author to a reconsideration of the explicit theorizing, during this movement, about the need for both representation and abstraction. As artists worked books for their most antitext and anti-object possibilities, words were worked for their most oral and visual possibilities. The antitext impulse became the impulse to shape the black aesthetic around sonic imagetexts (textual performances that aimed to somehow avoid framing and containing ephemeral but excessive acts of sounding black, looking black, and becoming black).

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