Author Archives: Jean ʒɑ̃

Jean’s blog post (3) on fellowship proposal for Getty’s African American Art History Initiative

I’m planning to apply for a fellowship with Getty Research Institute (especially with their new initiative of African American art history) in a few years and after substantially modifying this proposal when my institutional position becomes rather stable. However, since the application material or research/project plan should be confidential until the moment of acceptance, I’m really reluctant to share the detail of my archival project here on the Commons. Instead of talking about the content of my proposal, I’d just like to address why I decided to apply for this particular fellowship coming from my backgrounds.

As I perhaps implied in my previous blog post (when talking about Beauford Delaney’s letters), I’m quite interested in African American artists (especially, queer or queer feminist) whose works are intersecting with the history of letters or otherwise epistolary writings. While researchers in literary criticism have been approaching artists’ letters more for the content or the transcription of the content, I’m more interested in highlighting the low art forms, undecodable secrets, and odd or campy mythology in artists’ letter writings. Fortunately, Getty’s new initiative (on African American art history) recently acquired the archive (including manuscripts and letters) of Los Angeles artist Betye Saar whose work is in line with my “underground” inclinations. I’ve been wanting to work with Getty’s as they are capable to pursue both analog and digital projects but I couldn’t really find a suitable fellowship where I would be able to contribute my training both in literature and film/video studies. And now that Getty owns the archive of significant portion of Saar’s writings, it feels rather comforting that I don’t have to resolve the copy right issues of artist’ objects. Also, I will partly pursue a digital project using my research and writing on a certain aspect of Saar’s work (which I won’t address here), working amidst the dirt of this physical archive (which needs much sorting and curation from now on) feels almost pastorally intimate and expansive to me.

Obtaining Getty’s fellowship in any kind isn’t easy, however. All of them are prestigious fellowships that many of PhDs and tenured professors in Art History seek after establishing their careers to some extent. My strength (as a Comparative Literature PhD), unlike most of art history PhDs, can be probably found in my scholarship and training with letters and notebooks as well as archival video art and oral history projects. And I have worked with some of artists’ archives for their publications which engage with artists’ writing and digital art, so I feel equipped to be a fellow with this initiative. I don’t feel comfortable to address my qualifications here, so I’m shortly closing my blog post. Anyhow, I’m excited to think of an opportunity of being in proximity to the physical archive while producing something digital out of it for Getty’s exhibition toward the public. Additionally, Getty’s African American art initiative is focused on collaboration with other institutions, so I feel that my project will be benefited by working with various scholars coming from other partnered archives.

Jean’s blog post (2) on reading of “scenes of speculation”

One reading that most resonated with me in this seminar would be David Kazanjian’s piece “Scenes of Speculation” from the week 2 (alas, a long time ago by now). Though, at the end of this post, I will also warn myself of a peril of elusive, ambivalent, or even opaque interpretation of ownership in a trendy archival practice, I admittedly felt attuned to what the author suggests and elucidates in their essay. I have been reading the Harlem Renaissance (and later Parisian expatriate) painter Beauford Delaney’s calligraphy in his letters in an interdisciplinary mode of attending to their sonic (and otherwise textual) composition, perhaps akin to Kazanjian’s Derridean practice. Since I have an essay in progress on this subject right now, I can’t describe the crux of my interrogation but my method could be also called “speculative”. (Note: A few weeks ago I decided to not pursue the archival project of Delaney’s handwritten letters and notebooks due to the copyright issues and I felt fine with it. Generally, I like to fully respect the ownership of works by marginalized artists and even relatively unknown persons, and I don’t think love for the public scholarship or open-ended interpretation of the archival material is more important than honoring that ownership especially siding with the historically or culturally dispossessed. I gave up only the public reproduction of those manuscripts but I can still write about my research, so everything feels fair to me.)

As Kazanjian proposes, paying attention to the ambiguous dimensions of textual and also often quotidian aspects of documents (rather than the authenticity of obvious records) from an archive can indeed benefit a researcher with the critical profundity of questioning the seemingly transparent values of notions such as freedom, sovereignty, citizenship, and even the self and desire. In so doing, the archival object becomes a speculative object that propels thinking heterogeneously or under-commonly (if this word makes sense at all) about history and memory against the moral or societal dogma about the past and the time to unfold. In this seminar, I think, we reflected on the most of archival objects in this direction despite the variations of the archival contexts. Especially, in approaching to the archival material inscribed by socially abandoned or imputed subjects (such as fugitives, refugees, and otherwise migrants), we learned how we can envision a sensitive or politically aesthetic relationship to the ambiguity of struggle and hope (or even dream) nuanced or obscured in the material.

However, unlike what Kazanjian repeats, I cannot overstate the importance of the ownership of archival materials as well as the tangible records of the subjects involved in those records. Post-structuralism (Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Blanchot and many more) that Kazanjian and other researchers (including myself) trained in literary criticism and continental philosophy take even in their archival practice is largely a product of white labor for their own knowledge and pleasure of complex discourse. While there is a critical benefit of the speculative mode of archival intervention in ways of seeing a layer of history and consciousness in the objects, I don’t think that should be an intellectual excuse to diffuse the ownership of objects and ethical (or even spiritual) desire attached to the objects on the side of the dispossessed or the oppressed who made or will make them.

Jean’s blog post (1): review on Black Press Research Collective

Blog post on Black Press Research Collective

Archival Necessity

Black Press Research Collective (BPRC) aims to promote a digital scholarship centered on the subject matters of Black Diaspora and pan-Africanism through a digitization, analysis, and distribution of black newspapers (and at times, magazines) published by African descendants. BPRC believes, drawing on Colin A. Palmer’s notion of African Diasporas, African descendants are bound together in opposition to racial oppression in various periods and settings across the globe including the African continent. Also, modelled on The Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC)’s research service, BPRC, documenting global black press, seeks to generate new methodologies appropriate to this concept of Black Diaspora and a construction of pan-African communities, which evade or challenge the approaches in more traditional research methodology. In so doing, BPRC is intended to encourage new generations of scholars in the study of black newspapers and their significance in African Diasporic communities.

Audiences & Designs

BPRC’s audiences are primarily academic (and journalistic) scholars that are interested in global black press with their previous understanding of the concept and history of Black Diaspora. Also, BPRC provides digitized and analyzed resources for educators in this area of study. The level of knowledge and information (centered on the scholarship and publication of black press) appears directed toward a specialized audience rather than a general audience. The section of “Data Visualization and Multimedia” also is designed for academic educators (rather than students or unprofessional researchers). The section of “Resources” (which includes the information of conferences, call for papers, fellowship, and relevant organizations) is also specifically addressing the interests of specialized scholars and academics.

The Creator & Their Relationship to Materials?

BPRC’s founder/director is Kim Gallon, an Assistant Professor of History at Purdue University. At this time, the founder appears being in full charge of updating this archive though I’m not sure whether there are more members involved in consideration of the archive’s collective purposes in line with the modes of African Diasporas and pan-Africanism. It’s still unclear how the materials are gathered and distributed collaboratively. (The materials seemed accumulated, categorized, and displayed through Gallon’s scholarly investments.)

Technologies & Skills

BPRC looks like a conventional blog (without interactive function or anything multimodally complex.) I think, to create and operate this kind of archive (which mainly provides the written information with a bit of supplementary analysis of material using the methods in Digital Humanities), one needs to know HTML and Data Visualization tools.   

Learning from the BPRC (for future projects)

BPRC’s focus on global black press (tied to the historical conditions of African Diasporas) is admirably meaningful and ambitious, and its pursuit of new methodologies (for dispersed subjects and specificities) sounds adequate for a digital scholarship in that area of study. However, I’m not sure how much this project is materialized as a collaborative project of using researchers and resources from everywhere (in various languages) across the globe. I haven’t got in touch with the creator/director of the archive, but I’m curious to know the strategies of outreach for this archive as it appears that the archive couldn’t solicit decentralized contributions from other interested researchers and scholars.