Black Womanhood

Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body

Edited by Barbara Thompson

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Art History; African American Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 376 pp., 250 illus., 212 in color, 9 x 12 in.
  • Published with: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
  • Contents

Explorations of contemporary art have focused on issues of identity and race for some time. Few, however, have sought to investigate these themes by juxtaposing historical and contemporary frameworks. Black Womanhood examines an especially charged icon - the black female body - and contemporary artists' interventions upon historical images of black women as exotic Others, erotic fantasies, and supermaternal Mammies.

This book presents icons of the black female body as seen from three separate but intersecting perspectives: the traditional African, the colonial, and the contemporary global. The display and contemplation of such iconic images addresses complex and often competing forces of self-presentation and the representation of others. Peeling back layers of social, cultural, and political realities, Black Womanhood explores how historic icons inform contemporary artistic responses to the black female body through an examination of themes such as beauty, fertility and sexuality, maternity, and women's roles and power in society.

More than 200 historical and contemporary images accompany written contributions by artists, curators and scholars. This compelling volume makes a valuable contribution to ongoing discussions of race, gender, and sexuality by promoting a deeper understanding of past and present readings of black womanhood, both in Africa and in the West.
Barbara Thompson is curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American collections at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. The other contributors are Ifi Amadiume, Ayo Abietou Coly, Christraud Geary, Enid Schildkrout, Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, Carla Williams, and Deborah Willis.
Lenders to the Exhibition
Foreword / Brian P. Kennedy
Acknowledgments / Barbara Thompson
Introduction / Barbara Thompson

Part One Iconic Ideologies of Womanhood: African Cultural Perspectives
1. The African Female Body in the Cultural Imagination / Barbara Thompson
2. African Women's Body Images in Postcolonial Discourse and Resistance to Neo-Crusaders / Ifi Amadiume
3. Les Parisiens d'Afrique: Mangbetu Women as Works of Art / Enid Schildkrout

Part Two Colonizing Black Women: The Western Imaginary
4. The Black Female Body, the Postcard, and the Archives / Christraud Geary
5. The Body of a Myth: Embodying the Black Mammy Figure in Visual Culture / Kimberly Wallace-Sanders

Part Three Meaning and Identity: Personal Journeys into Black Womanhood
6. Picturing the New Negro Woman / Deborah Willis
7. The Women Who Posed: Maudelle Bass and Florence Allen / Carla Williams
8. Housing and Homing the Black Female Body in France: Clixthe Beyala and the Legacy of Sarah Baartman and Josephine Backer / Ayo Abiétou Coly
9. Decolonizing Black Bodies: Personal Journeys in the Contemporary Voice / Barbara Thompson


"Rather than recycling the colonial approach to power and subjectivity, which defines the self through the ridicule of the other, Black Womanhood provides various textual, visual, and personal tactics that can contribute to re-imagining a more humane way forward."
-Woman's Art Journal

"Twenty years ago, Barbara Kruger coined her now-infamous slogan, 'your body is a battleground,' in a campaign to increase awareness of how women's bodies are marketed as commodities. Visually stunning and intellectually provocative, Black Womanhood resurrects that dialogue and complicates an embattled body in which blackness is a catalyst, surface, symbol, subject, and object that, while transformative on many levels, continues to appear alarmingly vulnerable to exploitation and stereotyping."

"A serious academic endeavor, suitable for scholars and the general public alike."
-Book News

"This collection of essays is as richly insightful as it is beautifully produced. . . . The originality of the images and interpretations make this catalogue essential to understanding how fully clothed the unclothed body truly is."
-Publisher's Weekly