American Negro Female, Oscar Wilde: The Archaeology of a Photograph

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 12:30pm to 2:00pm

Doctoral Student Robin Coste Lewis will be delivering the following lecture:

"American Negro Female, Oscar Wilde: The Archaeology of a Photograph"

In 1882, Oscar Wilde toured the United States, giving 140 lectures within 260 days. His tour was a visual spectacle, or what has been called an “extended visual event, with images of the poet saturating newspapers, magazines, advertising columns, sheet music, theater posters, billboards, storefronts, even trading cards.” What isn’t as well known, however, are the specific ways the media transformed Wilde visually, both in terms of gender and race. From the first day of his arrival, popular newspapers, cartoonists, and photographers caricaturized Wilde stereotypically, transforming him visually into monkeys, minstrels, and Negro dandies. Wilde’s lilies and sunflowers, his lush velvet breeches and long dark hair, and most of all, his insistence upon an aesthetic of “beauty,” were critiqued visually by the US media in racial and gendered terms. Indeed, one photograph forced the issue even further, transforming Wilde allegorically into a black woman. That is, seeking to disprove Wilde's aesthetic––that anything could be beautiful––photographer JA Palmer staged a satirical photo shoot of “Wilde” wherein he arranged objects he believed to be inherently repugnant: highly patterned fabrics, an ornately upholstered chair, a sunflower, a face jug, and a Negro woman.

This lecture will examine the historical context of Wilde’s visual persecution through a wider context of American visual culture of the late 19th century.

I very much hope you will join us!

Event Type

Lecture / Talk / Workshop

Audience

Students, Alumni, Faculty/Staff

Campus

University Park Campus

Department
Creative Writing & Literature
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