“Defacing the Gaze and Reimagining the Black Body: Contemporary Caribbean Women Artists” examines works by visual artists Oneila Russell, Holly Bynoe, Patricia Kaersenhout, and Ebony Patterson, exploring how these contemporary artists wrestle with the terms in which we see black bodies. Together they share a fundamental interest in defacing and deforming the gaze—both a gendering and a racializing gaze—as it has rested upon both the black male and female body and the black face. Comparisons with visual works by an old European master, Édouard Manet, and twentieth-century American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe reveal how Russell, Bynoe, Kaersenhout, and Patterson question prior visual epistemologies for the ways they have understood and represented the modern subject more broadly in such canonical genres as the portrait and the nude. All point to the ways in which the black body in art has been displaced by its surrogate: a facialization of the black body as pure surface, the phallicization and epidermalization of the black subject as nothing more than his or her skin. To destabilize this body, these artists seek to get back to what Hortense Spillers describes as a black body of the flesh, a flesh that reveals the markings of the symbolic order on and beneath its skin.

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