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Defying the Shadow
On view through December 18, 2021
RISD Museum
Providence, Rhode Island

“Defying the Shadow” presents images by Black artists and of Black figures that resist the consumptive impulses of looking. As anti-portraits or visages that challenge the impulse to be known, comprehended, categorized, or easily identified, these works oppose a historical narrative of dispossession and domination that continues to violate the humanity of Other-ed bodies. By examining how Black subjects operate in and against contemporary political systems—and their constant negotiation of surveillance and the risk of violence—this show considers the defiant body as not only a site of possibility, but also a challenge to authoritative systems of knowing, including the white-supremacist function of the traditional gaze. Beginning with Sojourner Truth’s abolitionist portraits stamped with the slogan “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance,” these assembled works—ranging from 19th-century photographs to contemporary prints—focus on the appearance of shadows in formal and metaphorical settings.

[Image: I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance, Sojourner Truth, 1864]