Anna Arabindan-Kesson & Chika Okeke-Agulu: Black Bodies, White Gold — Art, Cotton, and Commerce in the Atlantic World

Oct 27, 2021, 6:00 pm7:30 pm
Virtual via Zoom
Labyrinth Books
Public / Open To All
Event Description

In Black Bodies, White Gold,  Anna Arabindan-Kesson uses cotton, a commodity central to the slave trade and colonialism, as a focus for new interpretations of the way art, commerce, and colonialism were intertwined in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. Artist, art-historian, and Anna Kesson’s colleague at Princeton, Chika Okeke-Agulu, joins her for this important conversation; we hope you can too.

Black Bodies, White Gold models an art historical approach that makes the histories of the Black diaspora central to nineteenth-century cultural production. Arabindan-Kesson traces the emergence of a speculative vision that informs perceptions of Blackness in which artistic renderings of cotton—as both commodity and material—became inexorably tied to the monetary value of Black bodies. From the production and representation of “negro cloth”—the textile worn by enslaved plantation workers—to depictions of Black sharecroppers in photographs and paintings, Arabindan-Kesson demonstrates that visuality was the mechanism through which Blackness and cotton became equated as resources for extraction. In addition to interrogating the work of nineteenth-century artists, she engages with contemporary artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Lubaina Himid, and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, who contend with the commercial and imperial processes shaping constructions of Blackness and meanings of labor.

Anna Arabindan-Kesson is an assistant professor of African American and Black Diasporic art at Princeton University with a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Archaeology. Her forthcoming monograph is called An Empire State of Mind: Plantation Imaginaries, Colonial Medicine and Ways of Seeing. She is the director of Art Hx, a digital humanities project and object database that addresses the intersections of art, race and medicine in the British empire. Chika Okeke-Agulu is an artist, art historian, curator, and professor in the African American Studies and Art & Archaeology Departments at Princeton. He is the author of Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text ; Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria; and (with Okwui Enwezor), Contemporary African Art Since 1980. He is co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, writes for Huffington Post, and maintains the blog Ọfọdunka.

This event is co-sponsored by Princeton University's  African American Studies Department

Event Type
In Conversation
Event Category
AAS Co-Sponsored Events


Any individual, including visitors to campus, who requires an accommodation should contact Dionne Worthy ( at least one week in advance of the event.