Glued to the Image: A Critical Phenomenology of Racialization through Works of Art

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 (4):475-488 (2019)
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I develop a phenomenological account of racialized encounters with works of art and film, wherein the racialized viewer feels cast as perpetually past, coming “too late” to intervene in the meaning of her own representation. This points to the distinctive role that the colonial past plays in mediating and constructing our self-images. I draw on my experience of three exhibitions that take Muslims and/or Arabs as their subject matter and that ostensibly try to interrupt or subvert racialization while reproducing some of its tropes. My examples are the Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2015), the exposition Welten der Muslime at the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin (2011–2017), and a sculpture by Bob and Roberta Smith at the Leeds City Art Gallery, created in response to the imperial power painting, General Gordon’s Last Stand, that is housed there. My interest is in how artworks contribute to the experience of being racialized in ways that not only amplify the circulation of images but also constitute difficult temporal relations to images. Drawing on Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, I argue that such racialized images are temporally gluey, or stuck, so that we are weighted and bogged down by them. This essay received Honorable Mention from the American Society for Aesthetics Feminist Caucus Committee in the Feminist Research Essay prize in 2020.

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Alia Al-Saji
McGill University


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