Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art

Wainwright, Leon (2017). Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art. Value: Art: Politics, 13. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.



Featuring attention to works by the following artists:
Said Adrus, Zarina Bhimji, Sonia Boyce, Vanley Burke, Chila Burman, Mona Hatoum, Bhajan Hunjan, Permindar Kaur, Sonia Khurana, Juginder Lamba, Manjeet Lamba, Hew Locke, Yeu-Lai Mo, Henna Nadeem, Kori Newkirk, Johannes Phokela, Keith Piper, Shanti Thomas, Aubrey Williams, Mario Ybarra Jr.

Phenomenal Difference grants new attention to contemporary black British art, exploring at length its critical and social significance through attention to embodied experience, the senses, affectivity and bodily perception.

Much before mainstream scholarship made its current ‘ontological turn’ toward the new materialism, black British art since the 1980s had already begun to complicate and unsettle the familiar concepts of textuality, representation, identity and difference at the core of black and diaspora cultural studies.

This book investigates that historical development, while showing how works of art themselves can provide the basis for an engaged sort of philosophy that simultaneously promotes aesthetic and critical analyses. Numerous, detailed and extended descriptive studies highlight the affective relations between individual works of art, their viewers and the world at hand. These disclose the place of art and the emotions in remembering personal and collective pasts; the ‘equivalence’ of texture and colour, and their ‘rupture’; the perceptual reversibility and agency of objects; the grounded materialities of mediation; the interconnections between art, politics and emancipation.

Drawing first hand on the founding texts of early and mid-twentieth century phenomenology (Heidegger; Merleau-Ponty), recent advances in ontological thought on materiality, as well as art history, curating and visual anthropology, the author transposes black British art into an expanded and diversified intellectual field. What emerges is a vivid understanding of phenomenal difference: the material process of interworking philosophical knowledge and political strategy at the site of black British art.

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