Representing and Refracting the Civil Rights Movement in Late Twentieth-Century Art


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art




This dissertation investigates 1980s and 1990s US-based artwork that quoted the civil rights movement through images linked to its leaders, iconic black protest slogans and gestures, and anti-racist demonstrations. Such quotational practices made visible the civil rights movement’s unrealized possibilities at the end of the twentieth century. This period of multiculturalism, characterized by institutional measures to embrace cultural diversity, spurred disputes about identity-based activism as well as artists’ interest in drawing connections between the historic civil rights movement and the late twentieth century’s politics of identity, which promoted the civil rights of people marginalized on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. This study illuminates how artists—specifically Lorraine O’Grady, Glenn Ligon, Zoe Leonard, Alfredo Jaar, and Kerry James Marshall—who critically appropriated visuals of the civil rights movement, participated in debates over American representations of black agency and civil rights struggle.