How Black Britain Performs Its Past
“Living Cargo is an elegant and beautifully imagined book that reactivates archival records and makes them speak anew.”—Shane Vogel, Indiana University
“Grounded in rigorous theoretical inquiry, archival research, and sophisticated textual analysis, Living Cargo is a rich and nuanced contribution to black Atlantic studies, gender and sexuality studies, and cultural theory.”—Nicole Fleetwood, Rutgers University
Offering a wide-ranging study of contemporary literature, film, visual art, and performance by writers and artists who live and work in the United Kingdom but also maintain strong ties to postcolonial Africa and the Caribbean, Living Cargo explores how contemporary black British culture makers have engaged with the institutional archives of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade in order to reimagine blackness in British history and to make claims for social and political redress.
Steven Blevins calls this reimagining “unhousing history”—an aesthetic and political practice that animates and improvises on the institutional archive, repurposing it toward different ends and new possibilities. He discusses the work of novelists, including Caryl Phillips, Fred D’Aguiar, David Dabydeen, and Bernardine Evaristo; filmmakers Isaac Julien and Inge Blackman; performance poet Dorothea Smartt; fashion designer Ozwald Boateng; artists Hew Locke and Yinka Shonibare; and the urban redevelopment of Bristol, England, which unfolded alongside the public demand to remember the city’s slave-trading past.
Living Cargo argues that the colonial archive is neither static nor residual but emergent. By reassembling historical fragments and traces consolidated in the archive, these artists not only perform a kind of counter-historiography, they also imagine future worlds that might offer amends for the atrocities of the past.
Steven R. Blevins is a writer and teacher living in northern California.
University of Minnesota Press | October 2016 | 368pp | 9780816697168 | PB | £24.99*
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