The Other Body, The American Body

Friday May 19, 9-10.15 am

Moderator: Tristan Husby

Caitlin Beach, “Visual Currency- Sculpture, Emancipation, and the Enslaved Body”
Osman Nemli, “Du Bois Alternative Critique of Bio-Political Economy”
Khalfani A. Lawson, “Of Zero-Point Freedom: The Cost of Othering”

Caitlin Beach, “Visual Currency- Sculpture, Emancipation, and the Enslaved Body”

This paper examines how, why, and to what ends sculptural bodies entered into dialogues about slavery and freedom in decades after the American Civil War. It takes as its focus Francesco Pezzicar’s The Abolition of Slavery in the United States, 1863, an over-life size bronze statue depicting a formerly enslaved African American man holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. The sculpture made a highly public debut at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, where it proved to be a contested site of criticism. The differing interpretations of the sculpture expose the complex structures of race and power that shaped art criticism in a post-Emancipation moment. Responses to the work are striking for the ways in which some critics urgently sought to connect the work of art to the slave past by identifying a specific individual who had once been enslaved and posed as a model for the artist. Such a preoccupation with the authenticating value of the artist’s model, this paper argues, opens onto a larger problem regarding the visual currency of the enslaved black body in processes of making and signification in sculptures about Emancipation.

At the time The Abolition of Slavery was made and exhibited, sculptural practice and theory underwent a transformation regarding attitudes towards the representation of the human body and the place of artist’s models in particular. The increasing valuation of concepts of truth and verisimilitude that permeated discussions about models in the late nineteenth century came to bear invidious weight on the making and meaning of statuary created to commemorate the end of slavery – complicating the idea of freedom that Pezzicar’s sculpture purported to convey. This paper draws from period discourses on sculptural realism and modern theorizations of the aftereffects of slavery in a post-Emancipation world to stress how the production and reception of The Abolition of Slavery was in many ways contoured by the afterlives of the institution itself.

Caitlin Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, where she studies American and European art of the long nineteenth century. Caitlin has been the recipient of fellowships from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At present she is the 2016-2018 Wyeth Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts of the National Gallery of Art, where she is completing a dissertation on the entanglement of sculpture, slavery, and commerce in nineteenth-century Atlantic spaces. Her writing on sculpture and other topics has appeared in Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, and in exhibition catalogues on American art.


Osman Nemli, “Du Bois Alternative Critique of Bio-Political Economy”

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Osman Nemli is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Emory University, where he received his PhD in 2016.  His work is in 19th and 20th century social political thought, specifically in locating sites for alternative critiques of political economy.


Khalfani A. Lawson, “Of Zero-Point Freedom: The Cost of Othering”

The goal of my essay, in light of the conference theme, is to offer a platform from which to examine the theological, ontological, and existential “costs” of being, and having been, Black in and throughout the history of the American project. I look to provide an entry point into a conversation of freedom, debt, and cost that maintains a sensibility and concern for both non-material and corporeal elements of striving for freedom.

Beginning with a definition of objective freedom, I will use a concept coined by Santiago Castro-Gomez, echoed by Gabriel Soldatenko, called “zero-point.”[1] I will unpack my understanding of the concept as and why I find it important within the conversation of slavery, cost, debt, and freedom. In short, the residual costs of striving for freedom, in a zero-point sense, I will argue, throughout American history has been paid for by people of color. As stated above the aim is to outline the cost of American freedom in this sense in theological, ontological, and existential terms.

I will provide evidence for American striving towards zero-point freedom since emancipation while outlining the “prices to be paid” for said freedom. Secondly I will offer several reflections of the authors outlined in the attached bibliography as evidence of Black resistance and responses to othering/paying the “costs” of freedom in the aforementioned terms.

In conclusion I will highlight offerings from several author’s works that I believe will afford us a new, complimentary, lens through which to conceptualize how we view freedom and who pays the price for our abstract strivings.

[1] “The concept of ‘zero point’ describes the imaginary position whereby one can assume neutral objectivity, a position that presumes to see all and is yet unseen.” (Soldatenko, 2016)

Khalfani A. Lawson is currently a third year Master of Divinity candidate at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and for the 2016-17 academic year his is on exchange at the Theologie Fakultät of Georg-August Universität Göttingen. While in Germany his is writing a thesis that examines notions of Black exile and the experience of perpetual homelessness in one’s own “home.” I hold a Bachelor of Science in Political Science (Global Affairs) with a minor in African & African Diaspora studies from Kennesaw State University.