In both Europe and the Americas, art was important to African slaves because it offered them the possibility of what I will call a socially transcendental existence; it could be marshaled into everyday life as a condition of survival against the laws that mapped out the place of the black as being outside the framework of modernity…Just as the aesthetic could become a key index in the violence of modernity, it could also provide the subjects of this cruelty with the hallowed place where utopian dreams could be nurtured and secured.
“People didn’t want Haitians teaching liberation to the rest of the world. All of those blockades from first-world countries left Haiti without infrastructure, without tools, without hospitals and schools. Here’s your freedom, but you’re on your own. Learning about that history was how I was introduced to the Negritude Poets.”
A body is neutral, objective, a fact—no more meant to be interpreted than a rock or a car. Different bodies shouldn’t mean different things, and yet. Other people have different interpretations of my husband’s body: its intent, threat, capabilities, worth.
One might argue that blackface performances of the thirties and forties (and earlier) are so far in the past and such a product of their time as to be beyond judgment, but I’d disagree. I’d rather assessments of artists be made with knowledge of their warts and all.
“Initially, I was going to tell the story of Amy and her murder, the subsequent criminal trial, the [Truth and Reconciliation] Commission, and her parents’ amazing feat of forgiveness. It’s a story that’s pretty well known in South Africa, and one that was at one point quite well known in America.”