UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

From Celebrity to Saint : Angela Davis in East Germany Watkins, Jamele


This lecture examines various objects taken in the Free Angela archive. In it, Dr. Watkins analyzes multiple curious objects, meaning-making, and their relationship to Davis and to East Germany. Dr. Watkins reads these objects (e.g., charms, scarves, shoes, a purse) as gifts, small tokens meant to encourage Davis while in prison. Gift culture has been discussed thoroughly, and oftentimes in conjunction with capitalism. The question becomes, what is global communist gift culture like? As a prisoner in a capitalistic society, to what extent does prison remove Davis from capitalistic gift giving? How do you show someone that you are thinking of them when you everyone supposedly has the same thing? Interestingly, East Germans found ways to show their care and love for Davis with the things they sent. In this lecture, Dr. Watkins argues that these gifts work truly in the realm of fandom and religious offering over a productive reading because they allow for emulation and intimate knowledge as East German give gifts. Davis becomes saint-like in the many campaigns to support her release. This is fascinating because of the anti-religiousness about communist society. This larger-than-life quality explains the many small tokens and gestures, the offerings she received. The performative nature of this part of the archive is Davis’ transformation from celebrity to saint.

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