MA History of Art

Black Futures. Reimaging Modernism after critical race

Professor Dorothy Price

For Frank Bowling, speaking in an interview in 1976 for Art International, ‘the Black soul, if there can be such a thing, belongs in Modernism’ yet for Stuart Hall writing three decades later in 2006, any assumed libertarian promise that frames contemporary understandings of modernism as a universal language (characterized by an ‘International Style’ and open to all), was shown to have reached its limits when faced with the politics of racial difference.

This special option asks: what is the relationship to modernism and its legacies, of art produced by its creative practitioners of colour, then and now? What if any are the narratives of modernism that are yet to be fully told and what kinds of genealogies might be established across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in a defamiliarizing account of race and racism in modern and contemporary art?

Looking back to look forward, the course will focus on Black self-fashioning through a series of selected case studies from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present. Each week we shall consider a different theme and ask a series of key questions relating to it. We shall explore materials, medium and message as well as the networks and relationships between and across the Black Atlantic, the Harlem Renaissance, Afro-Modernity, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, Afro-futurism and Black presence.

An overriding focus of enquiry for this course will be how past forms activate future possibilities in the creative practices of Black and Brown artists working today. The course will begin with a focus on the concepts of temporality and hope in which we shall explore in more detail some of the framing concepts around chronology, genealogy, time and memory pertaining to Black aesthetic experience and as theorized by writers including Stuart Hall, Kobena Mercer, Fred Moten, Christina Sharpe, Mark Dery and Alondra Nelson, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and others. Different kinds of temporal experience will be discussed as ways into thinking about Blackness in modern and contemporary art, from art that engages with the past traumas of colonialism and Empire, to art that centres on hope in the present, to that which foregrounds the possibilities of Afrofuturism.

Weekly themes may include The Harlem Renaissance, Modernism in Black and White, Cosmopolitan Contact Zones, International Modernisms, Black London, Civil Rights or Black Power? The Art of Identity, Black Futures and Eternal Returns. Artists to be considered may include but are not restricted to Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Palmer Hayden, Lois Mailou Jones, Elizabeth Catlett, Wilfredo Lam, Agustin Cárdenas, Norman Lewis, Emma Amos, Betye Saar, Ronald Moody, Althea McNish, Frank Bowling, Aubrey Williams, Denis Williams, Marlene Smith, Keith Piper, Eddie Chambers, Sonia Boyce, Lubaina Himid, Maud Sulter, Chris Ofili, John Akomfrah, Steve McQueen, Jennifer Packer, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and others. Pandemic permitting, we shall visit exhibitions of their work in the UK, Europe and the USA, as and when available as well as explore museum archives, public collections and where feasible artists’ studios.

Please note: site visits in the UK and further afield are subject to Covid-19 guidelines.

Course Leader: Professor Dorothy Price

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to the teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for the autumn term, or in some cases, the academic year.

Accepting applications for waitlist places MA History of Art

Special Options 2022/23

Please Note: Special Options vary from year to year and are subject to demand. The Courtauld reserves the right to amend or withdraw the options which run if necessary, and will always directly inform all applicants of any changes via email and our website.

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