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The Audacity of Pleasure: On Social Life and the Creation of Safe Space in Black Romanticism

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This dissertation examines the relationship between pleasure, safe space, and the visual representation of quotidian blackness. Through an investigation of the visual language that black romantic artists developed to communicate directly to black audiences’ aspirations, I demonstrate the vital role of black romanticism to black [social] life and a black ontological other-place. This dissertation challenges the predominant theory that black life is structured solely by suffering or social death. It focuses on cataloguing a visual culture of black pleasure as opposed to the vast visual archive of black suffering. By engaging with paintings from the black romantic tradition of figurative realism, I demonstrate that representations of safe space they produce are an affirmation of black [social] life as well as examples of the pleasures and joys sought under the conditions of deprivation. Based on a survey of black romantic imagery, I identify three sites historically designated as safe space in the black community: the barbershop/beauty shop, the jook joint/night club, as well as the church and black Jesus.

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This item is under embargo until August 10, 2023.