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This article traces what Élie Faure believed to be the racial, ethnic and geographic origins of art. Influenced by the writings of Gobineau and Taine, he asserts that the taxonomisation of species provides a model for the taxonomisation of artistic productions. The mixing of various races is evidenced in their artistic production, with the relative presence or absence of the rhythmic serving as an index for the presence or absence of certain types of blood, or racial/ethnic origins. Similarly, the qualities of the land where art is produced results in visible effects upon the (artistic) forms created by the people living in that geographic area. Métissage is considered a positive characteristic, and cinema the apogee of modern artistic production because of its integration of machine rhythms into the rhythms of human gesture.

Film Studies

The after-effects of mass atrocity – bodies and bones – struggle to be defined within memorial projects. This article seeks to examine the politics at play in displaying dead bodies to interrogate the role of materiality in efforts to memorialise and raise awareness about on-going violences. It focusses on the nexus between evidence, dignity, humanity and memory to explore bone display in Rwanda. It then takes up two artistic projects that play on the materiality of human remains after atrocity: the art of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who took ashes from an urn at the Majdanek concentration camp and used them as the material for his painting, and the One Million Bones Project, an installation that exhibits ceramic bones to raise awareness about global violence. In thinking about the intersections between human biomatter, art and politics, the article seeks to raise questions about both production and consumption: how bones and ashes of the dead are produced, and how they are consumed by viewers when placed on display in a variety of ways.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

I focus on two contemporary art installations in which Teresa Margolles employs water used to wash corpses during autopsies. By running this water through a fog machine or through air conditioners, these works incorporate bodily matter but refuse to depict, identify or locate anybody (or any body) within it. Rather, Margolles creates abstract works in which physical limits – whether of bodies or of art works – dissolve into a state of indeterminacy. With that pervasive distribution of corporeal matter, Margolles charts the dissolution of the social, political and spatial borders that contain death from the public sphere. In discussing these works, I consider Margolles’ practice in relation to the social and aesthetic function of the morgue. Specifically, I consider how Margolles turns the morgue inside out, opening it upon the city in order to explore the inoperative distinctions between spaces of sociality and those of death. In turn, I consider how Margolles places viewers in uneasy proximity to mortality, bodily abjection and violence in order to illustrate the social, political and aesthetic conditions by which bodies become unidentifiable. I ultimately argue that her aesthetic strategies match her ethical aspirations to reconsider relations to death, violence and loss within the social realm.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America

This essay explores an exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums, installed in the fall of 2018, entitled Time is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America.

James Baldwin Review

Written in the aftermath of the civil rights era’s expansive hopes, James Baldwin’s last novel, Just Above My Head (1979), examines a fundamental issue, the choice between hope and skepticism, or prophecy and doubt. Baldwin approaches this issue by questioning two cornerstone ideas of his fiction, the need for prophetic art and this art’s focus on anticipating a renovated society, often pictured in terms adapted from apocalyptic biblical texts and Gospel music lyrics. Just Above My Head is Baldwin’s fullest presentation of this kind of art and its linkage to apocalyptic hopes. He dramatizes these ideas in the art of his Gospel singer protagonist, particularly in a climactic scene of artistic dedication whose Gospel lyric envisions “tearing down the kingdom of this world.” Yet Baldwin also unsparingly questions these same ideas through plot and the blues-inflected skeptical-tragic consciousness of his narrator. Responding to a 1970s moment when hopes for transcendent justice seemed passé, Just Above My Head’s unique contribution is not to try to resolve the ideas it counterposes, but to face both the possible falseness of prophetic hope and our continuing need for it, and to present the necessity for choice in a final dream that holds the key to the novel’s meaning. In presenting this issue through a sustained double-voiced narrative that reexamines its author’s artistic practice and raises fundamental choices in outlook and conduct, Just Above My Head evidences the continuing artistic vitality of Baldwin’s late fiction.

James Baldwin Review

This article will query the ethics of making and displaying photographs of human remains. In particular, we will focus on the role of photography in constituting human remains as specimens, and the centrality of the creation and circulation of photographic images to the work of physical anthropology and bioarchaeology. This work has increasingly become the object of ethical scrutiny, particularly in the context of a (post)colonial politics of recognition in which indigenous people seek to recover dominion over their looted material heritage, including the remains of their dead. This ethical concern extends to the question of how and under what circumstances we may display photographs of human remains. Moreover, this is not just a matter of whether and when we should or should not show photographs of the remains of the dead. It is a question of how these images are composed and produced. Our discussion of the ethics of the image is, therefore, indivisible from a consideration of the socio-technical process by which the photographic image is produced, circulated and consumed.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Sedat Pakay, whose name will always be associated with the most intimate portrayals we have of James Baldwin, died on 20 August 2016 at his home in Claverack, NY. Sedat was born in Istanbul, Turkey, where he graduated from Robert College. He studied at the Yale School of Art under Walker Evans, Paul Strand, and Herbert Matter and became a successful photo-journalist and filmmaker. His subjects for photographic portraits included Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Gordon Parks, and, especially, James Baldwin. Pakay’s best-known films are Walker Evans/America (2000) and, as all Baldwin scholars and friends know, James Baldwin: From Another Place, filmed in Istanbul in 1970.

James Baldwin Review
Overriding politics and injustices

In October 2011, twenty skulls of the Herero and Nama people were repatriated from Germany to Namibia. So far, fifty-five skulls and two human skeletons have been repatriated to Namibia and preparations for the return of more skulls from Germany were at an advanced stage at the time of writing this article. Nonetheless, the skulls and skeletons that were returned from Germany in the past have been disappointingly laden with complexities and politics, to such an extent that they have not yet been handed over to their respective communities for mourning and burials. In this context, this article seeks to investigate the practice of ‘anonymising’ the presence of human remains in society by exploring the art and politics of the Namibian state’s memory production and sanctioning in enforcing restrictions on the affected communities not to perform, as they wish, their cultural and ritual practices for the remains of their ancestors.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal

In the mid-1990s, the crime scene toolkit was revolutionised by the introduction of DNA-based analyses such as the polymerase chain reaction, low copy number DNA analysis, short-tandem repeat typing, pulse-field gel electrophoresis and variable number tandem repeat. Since then, methodological advances in other disciplines, especially molecular microbial ecology, can now be adapted for cutting-edge applications in forensic contexts. Despite several studies and discussions, there is, however, currently very little evidence of these techniques adoption at the contemporary crime scene. Consequently, this article discusses some of the popular omics and their current and potential exploitations in the forensic ecogenomics of body decomposition in a crime scene. Thus, together with published supportive findings and discourse, knowledge gaps are identified. These then justify the need for more comprehensive, directed, concerted and global research towards state-of-the-art microecophysiology method application and/or adaptation for subsequent successful exploitations in this additional context of microbial forensics.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Open Access (free)
A Review of Hilton Als’ God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin

This essay reviews Hilton Als’ 2019 exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin at the David Zwirner Gallery. The show visually displays Baldwin in two parts: “A Walker in the City” examines his biography and “Colonialism” examines “what Baldwin himself was unable to do” by displaying the work of contemporary artists and filmmakers whose works resonate with Baldwin’s critiques of masculinity, race, and American empire. Mirakhor explores how Als’ quest to restore Baldwin is part of a long and deep literary and personal conversation that Als has been having since he was in his teens, and in this instance, exploring why and how it has culminated via the visual, instead of the literary. As Mirakhor observes, to be in the exhibit is not to just observe how Als has formed and figured Baldwin, but to see how Baldwin has informed and made Als, one of our most lyrical and impassioned contemporary writers and thinkers.

James Baldwin Review