The Nation Within: Chicago’s Black Arts Movement and the Figuration of Black Liberation


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


This dissertation examines the aesthetics of black figuration in the Black Arts movement from 1967 to 1972 by examining the early projects of three Chicago-based art collectives: the Organization of Black American Culture, the Chicago Mural Group, and AfriCOBRA. The project demonstrates how these artists developed an aesthetics of abstracted figuration to reimagine the black body as a container for a new psychosocial subjectivity. It reassesses debates over the politics of abstraction and figuration that posit an opposition between aesthetic and social commitments. It challenges the idea that these artists used figuration to narrowly define concepts of black embodiment; rather they pushed the black figure to the edge of abstractness not to signal its ambivalence, but its potential future. The project argues that these figurative works can be understood as the last images of black modernism, when it seemed possible to reconstruct a black subject and build a black nation.