Visualizing Travel, Gendering the African Diaspora

Collaborative Group

Dr. Leigh Raiford, Dr. Cheryl Finley, Dr. Heike Juliane Raphael-Hernandez


English and American Studies


What are the ways in which the “African Diaspora” as a theoretical framework has been gendered male, both in philosophical discourses and in practiced, everyday life experiences? How might scholarly understandings of the affective work of diaspora be enriched by focusing specifically on the experiences and resulting cultural productions of African-descended women? What is the relationship among subjectivity, authenticity, and objectivity? Who is doing the act of speaking and for whom? Where have these women’s cultural productions served as instruments for their own subordination, thus positioning them into hermeneutics that have been more attentive to the Black female as passive object than as an actively engaged persona? In this project, visual studies scholar Leigh Raiford, art historian Cheryl Finley, and film studies scholar Heike Raphael-Hernandez consider how African-descended women have been active participants and creators of the African Diaspora. By focusing on women’s experiences and their cultural productions, the collaborators hope to complicate several paradigms of the African Diaspora that currently dominate the field, while providing methodological innovation. This intervention will propose a system of theoretical analysis that has not been in place regarding Black women artists as diasporic cultural producers. By addressing these aspects together, the project will explore the interplay between Black women’s bodies as visual objects and as subjects; as visual spectacles and as visual spectators; and as objects of visual culture and as visual producers in transatlantic contexts. Resulting from their diverse fields of scholarship and expertise, the collaborators will ask how visual media, including painting, photography, performance, global independent cinema, Hollywood films, and art installations, have shaped gendered diasporic imaginings of the individual and the collective self. Through their research at different sites, such as archives, film festivals, and museums, as well as through interviews with a diversity of curators, artists, and filmmakers, the product of the collaboration will be a co-authored book that will offer an approach to the intersectional study of visual culture and the gendered African Diaspora as historically comparative (across different time periods), interdisciplinary (across multiple fields), and multi-sited (across different geographic locations). Award period: January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2017