Art, Art History and Design, School of


Date of this Version

Spring 5-2014


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, Under the Supervision of Professor Marissa Vigneault. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Shadé R. Ayorinde


In this thesis I reference artworks and installations by Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker, as well as contemporary mass media images, to offer a reading of various constructions of black identity in the 1990s and into the 21st century. I specifically note the continuation of social biases against black bodies, which in large part stems from historical conditions of 19th century America and the lingering legacy of slavery. I also address how the absence or implied absence of the black male body, as referenced in works by both Ligon and Walker, relates to contemporary social conditions in which black male bodies and black families are profiled and negatively categorized by the American media.

I draw a connection between 1990’s American print media and Ligon and Walker’s art from the same period, as I believe both address cultural discourses on the categorization of black men and women, as well as the subsequent elimination of individual identities in favor of social stereotypes. I argue that this drive towards social categorization is based on a tension between visibility and invisibility that Ligon and Walker both explore by absenting the black male body in their work. Late 20th century newspaper and magazine photographs and headlines pushed black bodies into the spotlight and portrayed them as a threat to white Americans, and, more specifically, to white patriarchal power. In response, Ligon and Walker used their art as a means to question how the negativity surrounding black identity changes when the threat is removed from direct view, pointing out that the stigma of antebellum stereotyping still lingers even when the physical body is invisible.

Advisor: Marissa Vigneault