“The Idea of Ancestry” in Contemporary Black Art
by Professor Elizabeth Alexander
The recent posthumous publication of the collected poems of Lucille Clifton, and the acquisition of her archive by Emory University provide the opportunity to consider the work of this great American poet in its full dimension. This talk will reframe her ouvre and focus specifically on the philosophical underpinnings of poems that speak across the porous scrim between life and death that is a premised understanding of Clifton’s work.
This talk will focus on the work of recently-deceased Eritrean-American painter Ficre Ghebreyesus and the painterly language of “near-ancestry” in his and other black diaspora art. Developing Etheridge Knight’s phrase “the idea of ancestry,” the talk will also look to the dances of Bill T. Jones and the work of Anna Deavere Smith and other art that speaks to intimate proximity to death and the ancestral imperative in black art.
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