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Eos: Black Classicism in the Visual Arts

Eos: Black Classicism in the Visual Arts

Eos is a scholarly society dedicated to Africana Receptions of Ancient Greece and Rome. For our next workshop at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) in Washington, DC (January 2-5, 2020), we invite abstracts for papers that trace and interpret visual responses to classical materials among people of African descent and relate them to the typically more text-based study of Black Classicisms.

In conceiving of this event, we have sought to combine several convergent strands of scholarly inquiry in the study of the Greek and Roman Classics. The discipline has long noted--and in the recent past increasingly sought to disrupt--the strict separation between the study of literary texts and of material objects, including works of visual art. At the same time, greater attention has been paid to previously marginalized voices, both ancient and modern. Finally and concurrently, Classical Reception Studies has moved closer to the center of the discipline’s attention, as growing numbers of classicists have recognized that one cannot help but look at the past from a perspective that is shaped by the needs of one’s present.

In the words of Romare Bearden, African American artist and creator (among many other works) of a series of collages and water colors entitled “Odysseus Suite”: “An artist is an art lover who finds that in all the art that he sees, something is missing: to put there what he feels is missing becomes the centre of his work.” To foreground these “missing” centers through discussions of visual engagements with classical materials is our workshop’s objective. We hope to deepen our understanding of the intellectual, emotional, and creative responses elicited by the ancient world in people of diverse backgrounds, and contributors therefore need not—and indeed: should not—restrict themselves to the classical “half” of these inter-medial dialogues. Rather, there should be an equal emphasis on the messages the relevant artists seek to send to their contemporaries, and/or on how Greco-Roman materials are combined with other artistic traditions of (e.g.) Africa, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, etc. in the pursuit of artistic and creative expression. One exemplary study of such processes is Robert G. O’Meally’s 2007 examination of Bearden’s “Black Odyssey,” which reveals among other influences the impact that Jazz improvisation has had on Bearden’s art and how the very method of presentation (i.e., collages availing themselves of rich color palettes) informs the creation of meaning in his work.

Nor need the piece(s) of visual art that stand at the center of each paper necessarily provide the sole focus of discussion. An alternate direction is hinted at in Kwame Dawes’s and Matthew Shenoda’s 2017 collection of poetic responses to Bearden’s Odyssey. On this model, a paper could put classical materials in multi-directional conversation both with visual and with literary reactions. In fact, the presenters should not try too stringently to exclude themselves from the creation of meaning in the multimedial interchanges they uncover. Rather, they should feel free to pursue what Lorna Hardwick and Emily Greenwood have called “frail” or “fuzzy connections.” Any interpretation of a point of contact between different works of art ultimately emerges from the viewer’s or reader’s own mind, not always necessarily from the artist’s. Yet it can still provide insights into the mechanics underlying the ancient and modern materials in question. Another way to make sense of this dynamic is to understand the artist’s role in the process as an act of Signifyin(g). According to Henry Louis Gates’s 1986 exploration of this trope, allusivity in Africa and the African Diaspora tends to combine repetition with revision, even as it remains deliberately open to varied interpretations.

Topics to consider include the work of Romare Bearden himself, but there are many additional artists whose sculptures, paintings, drawings, architecture, etc. invite the attention of Classical Reception scholars. Examples include, but are in no way limited to, Lorraine O’Grady, Simone Leigh, or Jack Whitten.

Eos is committed to creating a congenial and collaborative forum for the infusion of new ideas into Classics, and hence welcomes abstracts that are exploratory in nature as well as abstracts of latter-stage research. Above all, we aim to create a supportive environment for scholars of all stages working on Africana Receptions of Greco-Roman antiquity.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words should be sent as an email attachment to cfp@eosafricana.org by Friday, March 1, 2019. The abstracts will be judged anonymously: please do not identify yourself in any way on the abstract page. All presenters must be members of the SCS.

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