Apertures onto AIDS: African American Photography and the Art History of the Storage Unit


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art, African American Studies

Named Award

Ellen Holtzman Fellow named award


This dissertation animates AIDS-related art histories through the lens of African American artists Lola Flash, Darrel Ellis, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Kia LaBeija. The project argues that these artists working in and through the medium of photography as “Apertures onto AIDS” attest to the potential of the photographic as an embodied archive, bringing consequential cultural figures and activist histories to the fore amidst the ongoing AIDS pandemic from the 1980s to the present. Developing a framework termed the “art history of the storage unit,” this scholarship also narrates the intimate, undertold histories of the stewardship and care of their art for decades by families and friends in domestic spaces, from the basement to the bedroom. Through monographic chapters on Flash, Ellis, Harris, and LaBeija, the dissertation contextualizes how their work foregrounds Black queer perspectives that have too often been marginalized and erased from AIDS cultural histories and American art history.