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Tina M. Campt is Claire Tow and Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Africana and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women at Barnard College, and the author of Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe, also published by vis mere Duke University Press. vis mindre

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I wasn't completely sure what to expect from A Black Gaze by Tina M Campt. I was hoping for some new perspective on art, viewing art in particular, and perhaps find some new works to look at. This book delivered so much more and will, I suspect, continue delivering more as time goes on.

While there are several common uses of "gaze" in theory I was most familiar with Muivey's use and the many variations from that. While Mulvey, and others, are cited here this is not simply a variation on the usual ways of thinking about gaze. This is active, not passive, and more of a gazing with or through rather than at. My oversimplification of Campt's distinctions don't do the concept justice. The best thing a reader can do, in addition to simply reading the book, is bracket what one already "knows" about the gaze and approach this with a clean canvas. This is its own entity, not a footnote to another.

I have gone through the book twice, partly because I find it powerful and partly because I need repetition when learning something new. I am still wrapping my mind around the differences and similarities with other ways of looking at and appreciating art. While I still have a lot of questions, they seem to be getting answered with each subsequent reading.

What I also truly enjoyed was the manner in which Campt engages with an artwork and conveys that engagement to the reader. It is both simple and complex at the same time. Simple in that she states quite simply what is there. This straightforward translation of visual to linguistic brings many of the small details we might otherwise miss into conversation with the larger effect of the image(s). Yet in doing so Campt also highlights the complex interactions between parts of the work, between the work and the viewer, between the artist and the viewer, and between the work and society. I no doubt have missed some interactions, but you get the point.

I would suggest that a reader also take advantage of the internet to both learn more about these phenomenal artists and their work as well as learn more about Campt's ideas. She has both written and video available online that discusses the idea of a Black gaze, a couple of the most interesting are about 2 years old and show her thinking as she was working through the nuances of her theory.

I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in art, both the works themselves and the making of the works. In particular this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in African-American Studies or more broadly in replacing whiteness as the default dominant viewing, and thus appraising, position. My attempt to explain what I took away from this book is just a small portion of what is available to an active reader, so don't blame my inadequate explanations on the book.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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pomo58 | Jun 27, 2021 |

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