In the fall of 2019, the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press will present an exhibition of work by the African American artist Elizabeth Catlett (1915 – 2012). Drawn primarily from the collection of artist, scholar, and collector Samella Lewis, this exhibition will display prints and sculpture by Catlett in conversation with work by Lewis and by Catlett’s husband, Francisco Mora. In conjunction with this exhibition, the University of Delaware is pleased to announce a one-day symposium that explores the transnational perspectives of Catlett’s work, to be held on October 4, 2019.
With a career that spanned nearly seventy years, Elizabeth Catlett is best remembered for her feminist representations of black life and the fight for racial justice in the United States. However, she was also a Mexican citizen, having permanently resettled in Mexico City in 1947. Her leftist politics eventually led Catlett to be declared an “undesirable alien” by the U.S., and the artist was barred from re-entering the United States until 1971. Throughout and despite this exile, however, she continued to create politically charged work that transcended national borders. Drawing upon the art and artifacts of Africa and its diaspora, as well as Mesoamerican and indigenous Mexican culture, Catlett engaged with the activist arts movements in both the U.S. and Mexico. As a result, her work conveys not only her allegiance to black liberation movements back home, but also a solidarity with the Mexican people in their own struggle against racism and the legacy of imperialism. As Catlett famously described in the 1970 Ebony magazine article entitled “My Art Speaks for Both My Peoples”: “I am inspired by black people and Mexican people, my two peoples.”
For this event, we invite proposals for 15-minute papers that take Catlett’s art and activism as a starting point for broader intellectual engagement regarding intersections between black and Latinx art and activism in the Americas. We seek scholarly papers that explore transnational themes concerning art, activism, and definitions of race and gender in the Americas, as we aim to situate Catlett’s work within transnational conversations that expand our understanding of the geographic and aesthetic parameters of categories such as American art, African American art, Latin American art, and art of the African diaspora.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
- New perspectives on the art of Elizabeth Catlett
- The intersections between Latinx art and activism and black art movements in the U.S. and Latin America
- Transnational definitions of blackness and black life
- The history of expatriate African American artists in Latin America
- The relationship between black radicalism and social realist form, and/or whether formal considerations are relevant in terms of the efficacy of activist art
- The legacy of artist, scholar, and collector Samella Lewis and her role in revising the art historical canon to include African American and African diaspora art
- The history of the International Review of African American Art and the publication’s role in redefining what constitutes “black art”
- Printmaking as an activist medium in the U.S. and Mexico
- The roles of women, gender, and/or sexuality in the history of African American and Latinx art, activism, and art history
- The “Red Scare” as it was applied to the treatment of artists with left-leaning politics in America (and particularly artists of color)