Anna Arabindan-Kesson  Assistant Professor

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Anna Arabindan-Kesson

Assistant Professor Visiting Fellow, Center for The Study of Social Difference, Columbia University


Ph.D., Yale University, 2014

Professor Arabindan-Kesson is an assistant professor of African American and Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Department of Art and Archaeology and is a faculty fellow at Wilson College. Born in Sri Lanka, she completed undergraduate degrees in New Zealand and Australia, and worked as a Registered Nurse in the UK before completing her PhD in African American Studies and Art History at Yale University.

Professor Arabindan-Kesson focuses on African American, Caribbean, and British Art, with an emphasis on histories of race, empire, and transatlantic visual culture in the long 19th century. In her teaching, she is committed to expanding and amplifying the spaces, and narratives, of art history. Her students are encouraged to engage directly with art objects and their socio-historical contexts through close visual analysis, interdisciplinary readings and discussion along with regular class sessions in the study rooms of Princeton’s libraries and museums, and local area collections.

Her courses include survey classes on African American and Caribbean Art, and more specialized undergraduate and graduate seminars such as Seeing to Remember: Representing Slavery Across the Black Atlantic and Art of the British Empire. Students enrolled in Seeing to Remember curated an online exhibition.

Her first book entitled Black Bodies White Gold: Art, Cotton and Commerce in the Atlantic World will be published in Spring 2021 with Duke University Press. It uses the networks created by the Anglo-American cotton trade to examine connections between art, slavery and colonialism in the nineteenth century and in contemporary art practice. She has published articles on a range of subjects: antebellum trade textiles, portraiture and painting in the Black Diaspora, the photography and portraiture of the late Barkley L Hendricks. Other articles and book chapters focus on the intersections of 19th century Black art and Indigenous representation, Photography and South Asian Indentured Laborers in Jamaica, Caribbean and African American Art Historiography and Art and Colonial Medicine in South Asia.

Professor Arabindan-Kesson and Professor Mia Bagneris of Tulane University were awarded an ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship to complete a second book entitled Beyond Recovery: Reframing the Dialogues of Early African Diasporic Art and Visual Culture 1700-1900. She is also at work on a book that examines the afterlives of the plantation in contemporary art, and organized a related symposium called The Global Plantation. She is also at work on a digital project called Pathologies of Difference which examines the intersections of art, race and medicine in the British Empire.

Her work has also been supported by several other fellowships, including from the Huntington Library; the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art; Winterthur Library, Museum and Gardens; the Terra Foundation for American Art; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Two new projects in the works focus on migration, memory and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, and the visual permutations of the plantation and unfree labor outside the United States in the nineteenth century.

Professor Arabindan-Kesson has presented papers on her research at domestic and international conferences and symposiums, and has delivered public museum lectures and appeared in the media. She serves on the board of advisors for the arts space NLS Kingston in Jamaica. She is also a Trustee of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center continues to work with contemporary artists through curatorial projects. 

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Teaching Interests

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.

Selected Publications

“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).

“Rewriting the Modern: New Perspectives on Romare Bearden and Archibald Motley,” Journal of American Studies 49.4 (Fall 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).