UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The vanishing point : a black feminist paradigm on the early modern canon in the national galleries Casini, Ilaria


The Vanishing Point series of drawings by contemporary British artist Barbara Walker consists of replicas of early modern paintings in which a Black figure is depicted in a service, subordinate role within the composition, creating clear and harmful power dynamics with the white main subjects. With the help of technology Walker removes the overall scene leaving it almost abstracted through the technique of embossing and draws out the Black figure in graphite. By transferring visibility back to the Black subject, and offering another perspective or interpretation on the works, to contrast with the institutional position, Walker emphasises the absence of Black representation in the national archives and, by extension, in the collective memory of British society. This thesis considers Walker’s series potential as paradigm of anti-racist, Black feminist approach/action in order to challenge and disrupt the very conception of National Galleries’ Western canonical art historical discourse. By analysing Walker’s work, I do not contend it to be purely her — or any other minority artist’s— responsibility to challenge the canonical discourse. On the contrary, employing Giorgio Agamben’s theories on profanation, I argue for the public national institutions’ urgent active engagement in an act of self-profanation, explicitly exposing the construction of their self professed authority and of the Western art historical narrative. The main narration of my thesis considers the implications of Walker’s drawings as critical replicas of past epistemologies establishing a dialogue with early modern ideologies and reflecting on their repercussions on the social fabric of the present. A parallel discussion, taking place through interludes between the main chapters, speculates over the future of institutional handling of historical art, and the changing positions towards museum-going among the public. The research aims at expressing the necessity of new readings of canonical texts and works, in order to make whiteness and its power visible, while simultaneously acknowledging the interpretative powers and agencies of minorities in defining and expressing their experiences as subjects.

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