Race and Representation in Northern Britain in the Context of the Black Atlantic: A Creative Practice Project

Montserrat, Jade de (2022) Race and Representation in Northern Britain in the Context of the Black Atlantic: A Creative Practice Project. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Digital ID: http://doi.org/10.17030/uclan.thesis.00047470


This thesis is a combination of critical and creative practice. Creative practice includes performance (Shadowing Josephine/Revue; Figures: 4-7, 10, 18-24, 29-34), performances-to-camera (Clay, Peat and Cage; Figures: 35-44), and performance drawing installation/live art/works on paper (No Need for Clothing, and its iterations; Figures: 45-63, 72-74). These artworks, each endowed with their own methodology and references, combine to inform an aesthetic and praxis, draw from personal experience and memory, and are
constructed by means of an inherent analysis of the materials used. The body of work considers community and communality as a material axis for belonging and imagining, within and beyond the frame of artmaking and art discourse. This thesis asks the question: can making performance and live art be thought of as a grammar for drawing, with the body as a medium? Speaking of an emergent Black subjectivity in postcolonial Caribbean cinema in his essay Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall posed the question:
“From where does he/she speak?” Taking this further, I ask: how might his question expand the methodological role and function of performance and location from a Northern premise?1 And from where, therefore, is my (and by implication all Othered bodies’) space, and place? As a cisgender queer, millennial, postcolonial, mixed-heritage subject whose identity was formed in the borough of Scarborough in rural North Yorkshire, from where I currently work and live, my project provides a unique basis and new insight
for political and intellectual self-positioning within Black Diasporic cultural discourse, specifically Black2 British artmaking and the critical art history demanded by the age of Black Lives Matter.3 In Josephine Baker (1906-75) I found a cultural icon in whom to anchor this displacement. Baker, an African American music hall legend, Black activist, and world traveller, was born in poverty in St. Louis in the US, and took Paris by storm in 1925 as Fatou in “La Folie du Jour” at Les Folies Bergère. Baker’s life and work, particularly the idea of her pivotal twentieth-century experiment of the ‘rainbow tribe’, in which she adopted a group of twelve ethnically diverse children, has stimulated me to reclaim agency, autonomy and identity-making within my practice. The work explores and expands Baker’s fairy-tale-like ideas of a modern mixed-race family from today’s climate of global, twenty-first-century issues surrounding cultural diversity and political freedom within the context of the imperial movement. Baker’s idealistic family experiment was her flawed solution to a global problem: how to transcend race.

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