This essay reviews the compelling recent exhibition Glyphs: Acts of Inscription, hosted by the Pitzer College Art Galleries in Claremont, California, co-curated by Renée Mussai, curator and head of archive at Autograph ABP in London, and Ruti Talmor, assistant professor of media studies at Pitzer College. The show, which ran from September 19 to December 5, 2013, included the work of nine international artists from Africa, Europe, and the United States, including John Akomfrah, Cheryl Dunye, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Lyle Ashton Harris, Zanele Muholi, Mwangi Hutter, Andrew Putter, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems. As the title of the exhibition implies, the goal was to interrogate how “identities are constituted through acts of inscription—real or imagined—into the visual archives that constitute history, popular iconographies, and artistic canons,” and to further probe the “consequences of such acts on the poetic and political dimensions of representation, difference, and visibility.” This essay examines the role that social activism plays in the work of all nine contributing artists and the underlying critique of the archive as a politicized framework.

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