Indexical Disruptions and the Black Archive

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A talk presented at the 2017 James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora as part of a panel on African American photohistories. This talk focuses on Xaviera Simmons’ Index / Composition series and the ways the artist draws incongruous images and artistic practices into relation. In Index / Composition, found images and objects hang like totems from the waist of the body pictured. The upper half of the body is wrapped by fabric, creating two joined yet distinctly different object worlds. In some of the works, the body’s skin color is visible; in most of the works, neither the body’s race nor its gender are easily discernible. Formally, the compositions bring together the language of full-body portraiture with sculpture in their effacing, column-like arrangements. Theoretically, they coalesce issues concerning the relationship between photography, the self, and the archive, namely photography’s truth claims, the sitter’s identity, and the archive’s knowability. Simmons’ series ultimately constitutes counterintuitive meditations on the indexical relationship between the photographic archive and black identity.

View a recording of the talk on YouTube