Towards a new vocabulary...

Submitted byJeeraik009 onTue, 04/03/2012 - 17:02


A recent trawl of antique websites, collector's magazines and gallery guides reveals that it is taking time for scholarly discourses about race to affect the way vintage items featuring black images are labelled. The tropes related to exoticism, primitivism and servitude appear to be engrained in the black body and the western psyche in ways that are difficult to decode and arrest. Popular sites such as Ruby Lane and eBay, where members upload and label their items for sale, suggest that stereotypes like SamboGolliwogs and Aunt Jemima are alive and well, but there is confusion about how to categorise them. Although the tradition of employing black people as ornaments within the decorative arts goes back to ancient civilizations, these black motifs (which are often pejorative) deny easy aesthetic catagorization. Black Americana, Tribal Art, Ethnic Art, and even Negro Art, are all terms used for this memorabilia with little institutional guidance for that labelling.

It would be good to see purveyors of luxury items such as Christie's and Sotheby's leading the way in reclassifying black ornamentation in ways that reflect their contemporary reading and the type of study that has gone into a re-appraisal and recovery of the Image of the Black in Western Art.