This essay explores figuration in artistic- and museum-exhibiting practices of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that undermine the authority of authentic blackness as a primary tenet of African diasporic identification. It takes its cue from the cultural theorist Stuart Hall's keen assessment: “The fact is that `black' has never been just there. It has always been an unstable identity, psychically, culturally, and politically.” The essay's first section is an analysis of art by Rasheed Araeen and Roshini Kempadoo created in the 1970s and 1990s, an era during which they and other progressives of African, Asian, and Caribbean descent in the United Kingdom claimed the political and cultural position “black.” The essay's second section considers the representation of blackness in three exhibitions from 1997 to 2007 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The essay's final section examines the cartoonlike paintings of the African American artists Laylah Ali and Kojo Griffin. Figuring is the conceptual thread uniting these African diasporic moments, which, though not causally related, similarly transgress against limiting definitions of blackness in order to privilege its productive, transforming visibilities.

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