Black Abstract Art and Black Imaginations

Examine the increasing interest of Black artists in abstract art forms with  Prof. emerita D. Soyini Madison of Northwestern’s Department of Performance Studies in this two-session mini-course.

What is Beauty?

More specifically, what is beauty through the transformational lens of Black abstract art? Abstract painting has been a controversial and often denounced form for Black artists—overlooked in favor of social realism and more literal renderings of the human figure. Abstraction and forms of freer expression, conventionally regarded in the visual arts as the vanguard, have generally been supported and acclaimed by white artists. More and more Black artists are now exiting representational spaces and challenging monolithic notions of Black art forms and the Black imagination. The two sessions of this mini-course will include images of Black abstract art and interviews with the artists, from the past to the present, to expand notions of abstraction, practices of technique, and the imaginings of beauty.

Instructor for this mini-course will be Professor emerita D. Soyini Madison of Northwestern University’s Department of Performance Studies. Professor Madison has researched and taught at Northwestern since 2007, serving as chair of the department between 2010 and 2016. She became an emerita in 2020. Research interests include Critical Performance Ethnography, Adaptation and Direction of Oral History and Literary Texts, and the relationship between Human Rights and Political Economy. Her most recent book is the third edition of her Critical Ethnography: Method, Performance, and Ethics, published by the University of Washington Press (2019, 1st ed. 2005). Among her many honors and teaching awards, she is the 2021 recipient of the Performance in Theory and Practice Award for Achievement in Academic Theatre of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

This is the second mini-course being offered this academic year through a partnership between the Northwestern Emeriti Organization and Evanston Public Library. The NEO-EPL Mini-Courses were the recipient of a 2021 Innovation Award from AROHE, the Association of Retiree Organizations in Higher Education. They are now in their fifth year.

The image shown here is entitled “Symbolic Geography #3 (Hypershape)” (2022) by artist Torkwase Dyson, part of the exhibit “A Liquid Belonging” at the Pace Gallery in New York.

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