A Black Gaze
Artists Changing How We See
232 pp., 6 x 8 in, 78 color illus., 33 b&w illus.
- Published: March 7, 2023
- Published: August 24, 2021
- Published: August 24, 2021
Examining the work of contemporary Black artists who are dismantling the white gaze and demanding that we see—and see Blackness in particular—anew.
In A Black Gaze, Tina Campt examines Black contemporary artists who are shifting the very nature of our interactions with the visual through their creation and curation of a distinctively Black gaze. Their work—from Deana Lawson's disarmingly intimate portraits to Arthur Jafa's videos of the everyday beauty and grit of the Black experience, from Kahlil Joseph's films and Dawoud Bey's photographs to the embodied and multimedia artistic practice of Okwui Okpokwasili, Simone Leigh, and Luke Willis Thompson—requires viewers to do more than simply look; it solicits visceral responses to the visualization of Black precarity.
Campt shows that this new way of seeing shifts viewers from the passive optics of looking at to the active struggle of looking with, through, and alongside the suffering—and joy—of Black life in the present. The artists whose work Campt explores challenge the fundamental disparity that defines the dominant viewing practice: the notion that Blackness is the elsewhere (or nowhere) of whiteness. These artists create images that flow, that resuscitate and revalue the historical and contemporary archive of Black life in radical ways. Writing with rigor and passion, Campt describes the creativity, ingenuity, cunning, and courage that is the modus operandi of a Black gaze.
“At once an incomparable critical inquiry, a rapt personal itinerary, and a cadenced poem, A Black Gaze by Tina Campt opens the mind, and eyes, to some of today's most transformative Black art and artists.”
Thelma Golden, The Studio Museum in Harlem
“Tina Campt is a champion for the contemporary Black imagination; a critical and self-reflective ally who helps us see the complexities of a Black interiority.”
Theaster Gates, Professor, Department of Visual Arts, University of Chicago
“A compelling meditation on the labor of witnessing, and writing about, the discomforting work of several artists who are transforming the contemporary visual cultural landscape.”
Krista Thompson, Mary Jane Crowe Professor of Art History, Northwestern University; author of Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice
“What is a Black gaze? Tina Campt explores this question profoundly by tracing the long history of looking at Black art practices and successfully merges the sensory of the sonic, the touch, and the optic. This dazzling book untangles in lively prose the impact Black diasporic archives have had on contemporary Black artists.”
Deborah Willis, New York University
"A BLACK GAZE is a methodological offering, a theory of what Blackness brings to making and viewing art, and to perception in general. Campt meditates thoughtfully on eight contemporary artists and, along the way, models a positively disorienting approach to visuality, compelling us to think about the interplay between Black art and the ways we exist in the world. Rather than tethering racial identity to an essentialized mode of looking, Campt describes the Black gaze as a heuristic approach to visuality."
Art in America
"Tina M. Campt's 'A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See' is deeply invested in visibility. Through close engagement with the work of nine lens-based artists variously picturing Blackness, the book boldly articulates a new way of apprehending the visual order of everyday life....For her, a Black gaze is both a way of understanding how artists work and a term for the active modes of engagement demanded of attentive viewers...The signal contribution of 'A Black Gaze' is its call to active engagement with art that depicts Black people not as objects but as agents. For Black viewers, it offers license to be at home in one's own skin. For non-Black viewers, it issues an invitation to action, not of a performative sympathy but of rigorous reflection. Personal identifications, Campt argues, are not the only bridges viewers can build between themselves and a work of art. One can bear witness. One can trust the vision of those who can see what you may never see."
Washington Post Book World
"Contemporary artists from all disciplines (Khalil Joseph, Deana Lawson, Dawoud Bey) reveal the shifting role of the viewer, from onlooker to participant — engaged, even implicated in the pain and wonder of Black life."
New York Times Book Review
“In this beautiful volume, Black feminist theorist of visual culture and contemporary art Tina M. Campt disrupts the normative passivity applied to art and artistry to build an (inter)active, intimate, radical and necessary Black gaze. “
"Campt writes with elegance and probing intellect."
"Tina Campt examines what it means to exist within a Black gaze and how our interaction with visual art and curation nurtures that existence. Visual artists such as Deana Lawson, Arthur Jafa, Khalil Joseph and Dawoud Bey form their work in such a way that the viewer is forced to reassess the way they see Black art, but how it makes them feel."
Contemporary Black artists are dismantling the white gaze. This book is an exploration of that process, through the lens of contemporary Black artists like Deana Lawson and Kahlil Joseph. Curated by Tina Campt, a professor of humanities and modern culture and media at Brown University, A BLACK GAZE, demands that we see Blackness anew."
"Campt's new book, A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See, elevates the theoretical examination of visceral and unsettling art through a deeply personal and fresh perspective. By sharing her experiences, Campt brought me closer to my own relationship with disconcerting art, forcing me to reconsider how I gaze and how I use the term. "
Black Art in America
“Campt argues for the experiential over the historical, and in doing so, offers a comprehensive survey of contemporary Black artists…throughout the book, Campt skillfully unpacks the 'labor' of reading Black perspectives (it's 'a' not 'the' Black gaze) challenging the canonical view of art that prevents real and tangible connection.”
"Tina M. Campt's A Black Gaze helped me see Black visual art anew."