The Historians of British Art (HBA) annually awards prizes to outstanding books on the history of British art, architecture, and visual culture. Anna Arabindan-Kesson’s Black Bodies, White Gold: Art, Cotton, and Commerce in the Atlantic World (Duke University Press 2021) received this year’s award for a single-authored book with a subject between 1800–1960.
From the HBA awards website:
“Arabindan-Kesson’s book investigates what at first seems obvious: the equivalence of black bodies and white cotton produced by slavery and the networks of racial capitalism. But Black Bodies, White Gold’s exploration of this equation, as played out on material and visual as well as economic registers, is a richly layered, nuanced, and illuminating account of not only reification and exploitation but also challenges to this logic through self-fashioning, haptic intimacies, and transatlantic solidarities. Contemporary artworks centering cotton and its histories by Lubaina Himid, Yinka Shonibare, and Hank Willis Thomas frame and anchor the discussion, which loops back to them repeatedly on its journey from the 18th century onward and around the Atlantic. Primarily grounded in a 19th-century archive that includes “negro cloth” and chintz as well as paintings, prints, and texts, Arabindan-Kesson’s book demonstrates the endurance post-slavery of what she terms a speculative vision that sees the natural world and black lives as raw materials, through a lens of profit. Beautifully written and theorised, it offers a model of art history that traverses national boundaries to unfold a legacy of visual commodification while opening up glimpses of alternatives.
Anna Arabindan-Kesson is an Associate professor of Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Departments of African American Studies and Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. She focuses on African American, Caribbean, and British Art, with an emphasis on histories of race, empire, medicine, and transatlantic visual culture in the long 19th century. Black Bodies, White Gold is her first book. Other projects include a co-written book with Prof Mia Bagneris on 19th-century Black Diaspora artists, and a monograph on the intersection of art and medicine in plantation imagery. She is the 2022 Terra Foundation Rome Prize Fellow, a Senior Research Fellow of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the director of the digital humanities project Art Hx: Visual and Medical Legacies of British Colonialism (www.artandcolonialmedicine.com)."