Professor Arabindan-Kesson is an assistant professor of African American and Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Archaeology and is a faculty fellow at Wilson College. Born in Sri Lanka, she completed undergraduate degrees in New Zealand and Australia, and worked as a Registered Nurse in the UK before completing her PhD in African American Studies and Art History at Yale University.
Professor Arabindan-Kesson focuses on African American, Caribbean, and British Art, with an emphasis on histories of race, empire, and transatlantic visual culture in the long 19th century. In her teaching, she is committed to expanding and amplifying the spaces, and narratives, of art history. Her students are encouraged to engage directly with art objects and their socio-historical contexts through close visual analysis, interdisciplinary readings and discussion along with regular class sessions in the study rooms of Princeton’s libraries and museums, and local area collections.
Her courses include survey classes on African American and Caribbean Art, and more specialized undergraduate and graduate seminars such as Seeing to Remember: Representing Slavery Across the Black Atlantic and Art of the British Empire. An online exhibition curated by students enrolled in Seeing To Remember can be viewed here.
Her first book, under contract with Duke University Press, is entitled Black Bodies White Gold: Art, Cotton and Commerce in the Atlantic World. It uses the networks created by the Anglo-American cotton trade to examine connections between art, slavery and colonialism in the nineteenth century and in contemporary art practice. She has published articles on antebellum trade textiles connecting East Africa and Salem, portraiture and painting in the Black Diaspora and public art forms. Most recently she completed an essay on the late Barkley L Hendricks for the Tate Modern’s In Focus series and her chapter on Photography and South Asian Indentured Laborers in Jamaica will be published later this year in Victorian Jamaica (Duke University Press). An article on Robert S Duncanson and his depiction of Native Americans will be published in 2019, along with an essay on Caribbean Absences in African American Art Historiography. In 2017 Professor Arabindan-Kesson and Professor Mia Bagneris of Tulane University were awarded an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship to complete a second book entitled Beyond Recovery: Reframing the Dialogues of Early African Diasporic Art and Visual Culture 1700-1900. Her work has also been supported by several other fellowships, including from the Huntington Library; the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art; Winterthur Library, Museum and Gardens; the Terra Foundation for American Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Two new projects in the works focus on migration, memory and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, and the visual permutations of the plantation and unfree labor outside the United States in the nineteenth century.
Professor Arabindan-Kesson has presented papers on her research at domestic and international conferences and symposiums, and has delivered public museum lectures and appeared in the media. She serves on the board of advisors for the arts space NLS Kingston in Jamaica. She is also a Trustee of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. She has been involved in curating several exhibitions, including the 2009 traveling exhibition Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery and Barkley L. Hendricks: Oh Snap! (2015) for Art Sanctuary in Philadelphia. She has also written for international art and fashion publications in Europe and Australia.