Date of Award

Fall 9-6-2018

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Susan Smith

Second Committee Member

Laurie Hicks

Third Committee Member

Amy Smith

Additional Committee Members

Alison Chase


The African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was an organized effort by and for Black American populations to receive equal treatment by law. Its legacy has much reason to be celebrated: not only for its accomplishments and successes in unifying the Black community but also in bringing issues of segregation, violence, and racial discrimination to the forefront of the public’s attention. The decade was a pivotal point in contemporary race relations, and served as an apex in attempts to bridge America’s past and what America is striving to become. Today however, the social and political climate surrounding the Black community still leaves much to be acknowledged, developed, and understood. Over five decades later, many voices still speak loudly of racism, discrimination, violence, marginalization, and colorism that is still institutionally and systemically played out interracially. Simultaneously, much of it is also perpetuated intraracially, between members of the same race.

Due to this turbulent, rich, and complex history many social issues that are specific to the Black female community also leave much to be understood. The roots of these nuanced matters frequently lie within communities in which true intimacy and accessibility are often out of reach or inaccessible to those external to them, due to the oppressive structures under which they exist. The aim and importance of this work lies in the need for these conversations and exchanges to be furthered. A greater understanding of the Black experience as politically informed will aid in ending continued segregation and marginalization. It is my aim to gain a deeper understanding some of the social phenomena that result in contemporary forms of colorism, or discrimination with favor given towards the fair-skinned that was and is practiced both interracially and intraracially; racial passing as the involuntary or voluntary ability to pass as white, as well as in the hair politics of the Black experience.

Developed through a Black feminist lens, this body of work considers the embodied experience(s) of the Black female as ‘Other’ in the United States and the gains and losses that derive from these experiences. It has been created through an interdisciplinary research-based creative practice, explored at the intersection(s) of performance, installation, and social practice and draws on methodologies found in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Gender Studies, and Design Thinking.

With a background in digital video production, photography, illustration, and theatre I draw on process and materials from these disciplines, while finding inspiration in popular culture, her/history, and personal narratives. This work reflects and builds upon a rich, pre-existing body of creative work found throughout art history, allowing the space to explore and engage these topics while drawing exciting and significant parallels between United States history, Capitalism, and contemporary race relations.

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