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 in which 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 engages with contemporary artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Lubaina Himid, and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, 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 cloth’ to contemporary art, that 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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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
Illustrations  xv
Introduction: Threads of Empire  1
1. Circuits of Cotton  29
2. Market Aesthetics: Color, Cloth, and Commerce  67
3. Of Vision and Value: Landscape and Labor after Slavery  121
4. Material Histories and Speculative Conditions  171
Coda: A Material with Memory  203
Notes  213
Bibliography  247
Index  285
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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