Anna Arabindan-Kesson Assistant Professor
Ph.D., Yale University, 2014
Professor Anna Arabindan-Kesson is an assistant professor of African American and Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Department of African American Studies. She specializes in African American, Caribbean, and British Art, with an emphasis on histories of race, empire, and transatlantic visual culture in the long 19th century. An international upbringing and interdisciplinary training—in the fields of African American studies and art history—have shaped her intellectual formation. Consequently her research focuses on processes of cultural exchange and geographical movement, underpinned by histories of colonialism, and the legacies of these encounters in contemporary art practice. Drawing on the transnational, even global, perspective that African American Studies provides, her scholarship lies in conceptualizing the ways Black Diasporic art compels us to rethink constructions of national identity, racial formation, and cultural production.
These interests are explored more fully in her current book project, The Currency of Cotton: Art, Empire and Commerce 1780–1900. Based on her prize-winning dissertation, the book uses the visual and material culture of the 19th-century cotton trade as a paradigm to untangle historical constructions of global connection, and their reappearance in contemporary art of the Black Diaspora. Her second book project expands this interest in travel and exchange by examining African American and Caribbean artists’ experiences of movement and conceptions of diaspora through their representation and understanding of the “oceanic.”
Working at the intersection of art history, postcolonial, and diaspora studies, her research and teaching moves between historical and contemporary art. A chapter on 19th-century cultural exchange between New England and Zanzibar is included in the book Global Trade and Visual Arts in Federal New England (University Press of New England, 2014). Another chapter, on 19th-century photography and South Asian identity in Jamaica, will be published in the edited collection Victorian Jamaica by Duke University Press later this year. She is currently at work on two articles on important, but understudied 19th-century African American artists, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Edward Mitchell Bannister. She has been commissioned by the Tate Modern Gallery in London to write an essay on the portraiture of Barkley L Hendricks, and by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center to write a catalogue essay on street photography and the work of Hank Willis Thomas.
As a curator she has been involved in several exhibitions, including the 2009 traveling exhibition Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery. She continues to write about and work with contemporary artists in various capacities. Her art criticism has been published in international art and fashion publications in Europe and Australia.
She currently serves on the board of advisors of the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia, and the arts space NLS Kingston in Jamaica.
Professor Arabindan-Kesson teaches courses that draw on scholarship across art history and African American studies. Topics include African American and Caribbean art, Black British art, visual and material cultures of slavery, South Asian art, Australian art, representations of empire, visual and literary cultures of travel, critical race theory, and the intersections between contemporary art, postcolonial theory, and identity. Her courses make regular use of collections at Princeton, as well as museums in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
“Portraits in Black: Styling, Space and Self in the Work of Barkley L. Hendricks and Elizabeth Colomba,” NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Black Portraitures Issue (forthcoming Fall 2016).
“The Visual Culture of South Asians in Victorian Jamaica,” in Victorian Jamaica, ed. Tim Barringer and Wayne Modest (Duke University Press, forthcoming 2015).
“Cotton and the Cultures of Commerce between Salem and East Africa, 1820–1861,” Global Trade and Visual Culture in Federal New England, ed. Patricia Johnston and Caroline Frank (University of New England Press, 2014).