Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance

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NYU Press, Nov 4, 2015 - Social Science - 304 pages

How black women have personified art,expression,identity, and freedom through performance

Winner, 2016 William Sanders Scarborough Prize, presented by the Modern Language Association for an outstanding scholarly study of African American literature or culture

Winner, 2016 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History, presented by the American Society for Theatre Research

Winner, 2016 Errol Hill Award for outstanding scholarship in African American theater, drama, and/or performance studies, presented by the American Society for Theatre Research

Tracing a dynamic genealogy of performance from the nineteenth to the twenty-first
century, Uri McMillan contends that black women artists practiced a purposeful self-
objectification, transforming themselves into art objects. In doing so, these artists raised
new ways to ponder the intersections of art, performance, and black female embodiment.
McMillan reframes the concept of the avatar in the service of black performance art,
describing black women performers’ skillful manipulation of synthetic selves and adroit
projection of their performances into other representational mediums. A bold rethinking of
performance art, Embodied Avatars analyzes daring performances of alterity staged by
“ancient negress” Joice Heth and fugitive slave Ellen Craft, seminal artists Adrian Piper and
Howardena Pindell, and contemporary visual and music artists Simone Leigh and Nicki
Minaj. Fusing performance studies with literary analysis and visual culture studies,
McMillan offers astute readings of performances staged in theatrical and quotidian locales,
from freak shows to the streets of 1970s New York; in literary texts, from artists’ writings
to slave narratives; and in visual and digital mediums, including engravings, photography,
and video art. Throughout, McMillan reveals how these performers manipulated the
dimensions of objecthood, black performance art, and avatars in a powerful re-scripting of
their bodies while enacting artful forms of social misbehavior.

The Critical Lede interview with Uri McMillan


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Performing Objects
The Curious Case of Joice Heth the Ancient Negress
Ellen Crafts Fugitive Selves
Adrian Pipers Adamant SelfAlienation
4 Is This Performance about You? The Art Activism and Black Feminist Critique of Howardena Pindell
Ive Been Performing My Whole Life
About the Author

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About the author (2015)

Uri McMillan is Assistant Professor of English, African American Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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