Kunsthistories Jubileumsforelesning: Dr. Nicholas Miller (Gettysburg College)
Velkommen til Kunsthistories Jubileumsforelesning! Tirsdag 28. mai, kl. 17.00-18.00 på Nordnorsk kunstmuseum.
I 2019 er det 30 år siden faget vårt, Kunsthistorie, ble etablert ved Universitetet i Tromsø. Vi feirer dette gjennom en serie gjesteforelesninger denne våren. I samarbeid med Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, presenterer vi en forelsning av Dr. Nicholas Miller. Miller kunsthistoriker ved Gettysburg College, USA, og forsker på moderne og samtidskunst med fokus på afrikansk-amerikansk kunst, den afrikanske diasporaen og maleri på 1900-tallet. Forelesningen hans diskuterer bruken av afrikansk primitivisme kunsten til William H. Johnson (1901-1970).
Unfamiliar Weapons: African American Modernist Painting and the Ambiguities of Primitivism
Dr. Nicholas Miller
In this talk, I will provide a historical and theoretical framework for understanding African American primitivist artistic practices. I argue that African American artists’ utilized primitivism to redress the traumatic separation inaugurated by the slave trade and facilitate the construction of an African diasporic community. Yet, in their pursuit of historical restitution, the appropriated objects lost their original cultural specificity and were abstracted to signify a more generalizable and exotic representation of Africanness. To articulate the logic behind this argument, I will first lay out the conceptual frame of the project and then turn to the work of painter William H. Johnson. Upon his return from Northern Europe in 1938, Johnson drew upon sketches of African sculpture and American folk art—a burgeoning site of primitivist discourse—to model black figures situated in the urban North and rural South, the geographies most readily associated with the Great Migration. Alongside these American locations, Johnson also painted a set of nudes—inspired perhaps by his own sojourn to Tunisia—which exoticized the black, presumably North African, female body. Aiming to “paint his own people” and craft his own vision of the African diasporic community, Johnson also endeavored to cultivate an identity as a modernist artist. In these works, Johnson works through the visual syntaxes of Picasso and Henri Matisse while refracting the visual tropes of Orientalism in order to position North Africa as a site of African diasporic connection.
Nicholas Miller is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Art History at Gettysburg College. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. His primary areas of specialization are modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on African American art, twentieth-century painting, and the historiography of the African diaspora. In his current research project, Unknowable Weapons: African American Painting, Diasporic Objects, and the Making of Modern Art, 1927-1977, he provides a social, cultural, and formal history of African American painting that tracks the interplay between primitivism, modernism, and the African Diaspora. His writing has appeared in Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art and caa.reviews and his research has been supported by Northwestern University, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.