About the Talk
Coming out of the Civil Rights Movement and political struggles of the middle-twentieth century, the Afro has endured as an icon of black liberation aesthetics. Through a mixed-media archive of photojournalism and print advertisements, this particular image has often been associated with the term “freedom” without sufficient exploration of hair’s suppression in public culture or visual representation. This talk explores the historical and cultural contexts informing repression where black hair is a stand in for black aesthetics. Cobb argues that the shifting significations associated with “natural hair” — the concept and characteristics of black hair textures in the absence of chemical and mechanical straighteners — begins with slavery, but endures through racial capitalism. Accordingly, this talk thinks through hair as an image and images about hair in order to limit the relationship between black visual culture and capitalism, shifting our scholarly focus away from issues of entrepreneurship, labor and commodification, and toward a question of violence. Hair as a kind of media presents an opportunity to think about representations of black freedom, but also through questions about race, citizenship, and social mobility.
About the Speaker
Jasmine Nichole Cobb is the Bacca Foundation Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and of Art, Art History and Visual Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Picture Freedom: Remaking Black Visuality in the Early Nineteenth Century (NYUP 2015) and New Growth: The Art and Texture of Black Hair After Emancipation (forthcoming). She has written essays for MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, American Literary History, and Public Culture, and she is the editor for African American Literature in Transition, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, forthcoming).
A scholar of African American cultural production and visual representation, Cobb is involved in two additional projects that examine the cultural aftermath of slavery. Her third monograph, The Pictorial Life of Harriet Tubman, offers a visual history of the abolitionist, from the middle nineteenth century through the present, including the persistence of the abolitionist’s image in contemporary art and popular culture. Cobb is also a co-director of the “From Slavery to Freedom” (FS2F) Franklin Humanities Lab at Duke University. This project explores the life and afterlives of slavery and emancipation through experimental modes of inquiry. Drawing on the lab model, FS2F hosts several vertically-integrated research projects to develop new ways to imagine freedom as a historical experience, a representation, and a lived reality. Cobb’s work for FS2F includes supervising undergraduate research related to digital humanities, including the development of “African Americans & the US Presidency,” a living timeline to represent the relationship between African Americans and the U.S. presidency, and The Photographic Life of Harriet Tubman, an online catalog about diverse media portrayals of the abolitionist icon, curated by students and in collaboration with Story+ at Duke.
Cobb earned a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania, as well as a graduate certificate in Africana Studies. Prior to her appointment at Duke, Cobb spent one year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Africana Research Center, Pennsylvania State University and four years on the faculty at Northwestern University. She is a recipient of the American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).