“Lexicon of Liberation”: Imaging Slavery and Imagining Freedom in the African Atlantic Diaspora

Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 6:00 p.m.

Celeste-Marie Bernier, University of Edinburgh

panel from 'The Migration of the Negro,' by Jacob Lawrence

panel from “The Migration of the Negro,” by Jacob Lawrence

This talk will explore the writings, drawings, paintings, prints, and sculpture produced by African, African American, African Caribbean, and Black British women and men, enslaved and free, living and working across the Black Diaspora over the centuries. Living and dying against a white racist backdrop that sought to destroy Black bodies and souls, they generated alternative art-making traditions and experimental writerly practices that constitute nothing less than “declarations of independence.” As authors, artists and activists, they worked with every means necessary to image slavery and imagine freedom and not only to visualize black to white dominant systems of oppression but to carve out an alternative blueprint for freedom and usher in a new “lexicon of liberation.”

Celeste-Marie Bernier is personal chair in English and professor of Black studies at the University of Edinburgh. She is also Co-Editor-in-Chief with Bevan Sewell of the Journal of American Studies published by Cambridge University Press and principal researcher at the Center for Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Bernier’s wide-ranging research encompasses the literatures, histories, politics, visual cultures, and philosophies of women, men, and children living in the African Diaspora over the centuries, and her published work reflects the breadth of her interests, including her single-authored books African American Visual Arts: From Slavery to the Present (2008), Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination (2012; winner of the 2013 British Association for American Studies Book Prize and co-winner of the 2014 European American Studies Network Book Prize), Suffering and Sunset: World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin (2015) (winner of a Terra Foundation International Publication Grant) and the forthcoming Stick to the Skin: Representing the Body, Memory and History in Fifty Years of African American and Black British Art (1965–2015). This year, as the John Hope Franklin Fellow at the National Humanities Center, she is working on Living Parchments: Artistry and Authorship in the Life and Works of Frederick Douglass and Struggle for Liberty: Frederick Douglass’s Family Letters, Speeches, Essays, and Photographs.