Research Leave Creating Memorials, Building Identities:The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic

Lead Research Organisation: University of Central Lancashire
Department Name: Unlisted


This project follows on from my critically acclaimed debut monograph Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (Continuum: 2003). The book seems to have provided much needed multi-dimensional textual examples to help embellish a contemporary post-national interpretation of black cultures in the diaspora. My first book, however, only scratched the surface of a variety of interesting transnational case studies that I believe would make an original follow-up study. Two areas in particular were touched on in my first monograph but are ripe for more extensive coverage / ideas of memorials and memorialisation and an interesting group of contemporary visual arts across the diaspora. These would be foregrounded in this new study.

Since Toni Morrison's 1989 observation that there was an almost complete lack of memorialisation of African American history and particularly of the slave trade in America and beyond, there has been a marked improvement with memorials and memorial projects being initiated in Europe, the Americas and Africa. My new study will investigate several of these projects through a series of case studies which will, following Morrison, interpret widely what a memorial can mean. So that museum exhibitions, musical, visual and literary texts relating to the middle passage and its aftermath will be discussed alongside more traditional memorials. Pierre Nora's concept of lieux de memoire will be utilised to show how texts and sites become important spaces for memorialisation, whilst Paul Ricoeur's magisterial study Memory, History and Forgetting will provide a series of philosophical questions and arguments to rub against the grain of the various memorial texts. The dynamic interventions of African Atlantic critics such as Dionne Brand, Caryl Phillips, Lubaina Himid, James Baldwin, Wole Soyinka and Toni Morrison who have talked about the inter-relationship of memory history and memorials will be used to widen out what has often been a Eurocentric discussion of memorialisation in Anglo-American academia.

On contemporary visual arts I will show the redolence of the middle passage and its consequences for a variety of artists whose political agenda is to remember this traumatic past in a cultural context which all too often elides it. I will show how artists from Europe, the Americas and Africa exhibit Transatlantic, Trans-national linkages in symbolism and ideology across a range of work and talk back to histories of race, class, sex and ethnic exploitation and use that history to talk to contemporary discussions of these issues. As academics across a range of disciplines respond to globalisation, postnationalism and postmodern fragmented identity, a study that deals with African Atlantic cultures and their history through these prisms is not only timely but vital.

This study will interrogate African Atlantic cultures in their full historical and cross-cultural contexts. Through a series of case studies ideas of memory and memorialisation will be used to discuss contemporary artistic literary and musical responses to slavery and its aftermath in America, Europe and to a lesser extent the Caribbean and Africa. The various texts will be thoroughly contextualised and placed in a theoretical context of the black Atlantic established by Paul Gilroy in the wake of the work of such theorists as Stuart Hall, Hal Roach, Immanuel Wallerstein and Edouard Glissant that moves us to an intercultural and transnational approach to diasporan cultures. The book will use a series of interviews with artists used in the case studies to provide continuity throughout the study. Questions asked will include the efficacy of memorials, the difficulties of memorialising invisibilised presences, the intersection of class, gender and race and the politics of memorialisation. Though the case studies are diverse, the focus will remain on the issue of memorialisation throughout.
Title A series of public curatorial tours (seven in all) at the Whitworth Art Gallery to accompany my co-curated Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery exhibition in October. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Title Film made by the Research Informed Teaching team at UCLAN 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Title This co-curated exhibition from June 2007-April 2008 used items from the gallery's collection to remember slavery and its place in art and decorative arts in the eighteenth century and beyond 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition