Black Bodies, White Gold

Art, Cotton, and Commerce in the Atlantic World

Black Bodies, White Gold

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 88 color illustrations Published: May 2021

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art History

In Black Bodies, White Gold Anna Arabindan-Kesson uses cotton, a commodity central to the slave trade and colonialism, as a focus for new interpretations of the way art, commerce, and colonialism were intertwined in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. In doing so, Arabindan-Kesson models an art historical approach that makes the histories of the Black diaspora central to nineteenth-century cultural production. She traces the emergence of a speculative vision that informs perceptions of Blackness, where artistic renderings of cotton—as both commodity and material—became inexorably tied to the monetary value of Black bodies. From the production and representation of “negro cloth”—the textile worn by enslaved plantation workers—to depictions of Black sharecroppers in photographs and paintings, Arabindan-Kesson demonstrates that visuality was the mechanism through which Blackness and cotton became equated as resources for extraction. In addition to interrogating the work of nineteenth-century artists, she also engages with contemporary artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Lubaina Himid, and Yinka Shonibare, who contend with the commercial and imperial processes shaping constructions of Blackness and meanings of labor.


“Beautifully conceived, consummately researched, and effectively presented, Black Bodies, White Gold makes an important contribution to art history, African American and black diaspora studies, American studies, and British Empire studies.” — Lisa Lowe, author of The Intimacies of Four Continents

“Anna Arabindan-Kesson's book offers an expansive visual accounting of cotton and its representations, from ‘negro clothe’ to contemporary art, which impressively charts the materiality, meaning, and memory of 'white gold' in the making of the Atlantic world and beyond. It is an exemplary model of African diasporic and globally oriented histories of art.” — Krista Thompson, author of Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anna Arabindan-Kesson is Assistant Professor of Black Diaspora Art at Princeton University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction  1
1. Circuits of Cotton
2. Market Aesthetics: Color, Cloth, and Commerce
3. Of Vision and Value: Landscape and Labor after Slavery
4. Material Histories and Speculative Conditions
Coda: A Material with Memory
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1406-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1192-7