Dark Designs and Visual Culture

Dark Designs and Visual Culture

Book Pages: 528 Illustrations: 61 b&w photos Published: December 2004

Author: Michele Wallace

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Art and Visual Culture > Feminist Art, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

Michele Wallace burst into public consciousness with the 1979 publication of Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, a pioneering critique of the misogyny of the Black Power movement and the effects of racism and sexism on black women. Since then, Wallace has produced an extraordinary body of journalism and criticism engaging with popular culture and gender and racial politics. This collection brings together more than fifty of the articles she has written over the past fifteen years. Included alongside many of her best-known pieces are previously unpublished essays as well as interviews conducted with Wallace about her work. Dark Designs and Visual Culture charts the development of a singular, pathbreaking black feminist consciousness.

Beginning with a new introduction in which Wallace reflects on her life and career, this volume includes other autobiographical essays; articles focused on popular culture, the arts, and literary theory; and explorations of issues in black visual culture. Wallace discusses growing up in Harlem; how she dealt with the media attention and criticism she received for Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, which was published when she was just twenty-seven years old; and her relationship with her family, especially her mother, the well-known artist Faith Ringgold. The many articles devoted to black visual culture range from the historical tragedy of the Hottentot Venus, an African woman displayed as a curiosity in nineteenth-century Europe, to films that sexualize the black body—such as Watermelon Woman, Gone with the Wind, and Paris Is Burning. Whether writing about the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas hearings, rap music, the Million Man March, Toshi Reagon, multiculturalism, Marlon Riggs, or a nativity play in Bedford Stuyvesant, Wallace is a bold, incisive critic. Dark Designs and Visual Culture brings the scope of her career and thought into sharp focus.


Dark Designs gave me that fuzzy, blissy, slightly brainwashed feeling you get when you realize you’ve absorbed some new insight without even noticing. It’s clearly evident that, besides being a well-known and well-respected black feminist and cultural critic, Wallace is a gifted storyteller. . . . Wallace’s recipe of personal history and cultural study critiques in Dark Designs makes for a sweet, satisfying treat indeed.” — Narkhunda , M/C Reviews

Dark Designs is an overall revealing, exciting gathering of Michele Wallace’s work over the years as one of this nation’s most daring cultural critics.” — Natalie Maxwell , Feminist Review blog

"Dark Designs is a thick book that communicates broader ideas by collecting together simple, readable essays into a fascinating mosaic that is definitely more than the sum of its parts." — Emily Patterson-Kane , Altar Magazine

"[A] fascinating critique of popular and intellectual culture. . . . It brings to life a time when artists and intellectuals actively tried to change the cultural landscape and engage with issues of identity and politics in controversial and innovative ways." — Danny Voloch, Bust

"[T]he writing is energetic, direct, and thoughtful. . . . The autobiographical background is doubly interesting because it sheds light also on Wallace's mother, artist Faith Ringgold. Essential." — J. Tharp, Choice

"From the author of Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman comes another groundbreaking black feminist critique. This collection offers much for lesbian readers. . . ." — Diane Anderson-Minshall , Curve

"Prefaced by a powerfully personal and characteristically bold introduction, Wallace's collection of essays and articles take the reader on a retrospective romp through the last two decades and beyond." — Tara Lake , Girlfriends

"Those interested in the fields of women's studies, visual and cinema studies and cultural studies might be especially drawn to this book. For those who have not read her before, Dark Designs and Visual Culture serves as a fine introduction to Wallace and her work; and while readers' responses to Wallace's arguments will be varied, many will find something of value-whether in the brief, vignettelike pieces or the longer selections from scholarly journals-within these pages." — Denise Simon , Black Issues Book Review

"Wallace possesses a rare gift for honesty in her writing, something that is refreshing in the world of cultural studies, where discourses and generalizations normally take precedence. Her language forces the reader to admit things that he/she may not normally admit and to consider perspectives that are usually silenced, such as that of Black women." — Angela Morris , Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire

"Whether revising decades-old opinions or reaffirming them, this collection of work including thoughts on her mother, artist Faith Ringgold, the Million Man March, the sexualizing of the black female body and the continuing debate on black visual culture crystallizes Wallace's sharp criticism and concerns for the state of black existence and feminist culture. Evolve on, Michele Wallace. Evolve on." — Jenoyne Adams , Ms.

Dark Designs and Visual Culture is a remarkable compilation of images, self-reflexive essays, and other critical works. It demonstrates Michele Wallace’s mastery of cultural criticism and indicates her interaction with American and African American visual culture during the past thirty years. A writer of extraordinary talent, she wields an ever sharpened insight and wit.” — Deborah Willis

“I can hardly think of a living critic who is as courageous as Michele Wallace—she says things no one else dares to—and this collection proves just how consistent her bravery has been over the years.” — Andrew Ross

“Michele Wallace has long been one of the most insightful and brave writers dealing with popular culture in this country. Her latest work continues that tradition of courage and wit.”—Nelson George — N/A


Availability: In stock
Price: $32.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michele Wallace is Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University. She is the author of Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory and Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. She has written for numerous popular and scholarly publications, including The Village Voice, The New York Times, Emerge, Aperture, Ms., October, and Renaissance Noire.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part I. The Autobiographical: 1989 through 2001

1. Whose Town? Questioning Community and Identity 81

2. Places I've Lived 85

3. Engaging and Escaping in 1994 88

4. To Hell and Back: On the Road with Black Feminism in the '60s and '70s

5. Censorship and Self-Censorship 111

6. An Interview 114

Part II. Mass Culture and Popular Journalism

7. Watching Arsenio 127

8. Black Stereotypes in Hollywood Films: "I Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout Birthin' No Babies!" 130

9. When Black Feminism Faces the Music, and the Music Is Rap 134

10. Storytellers: The Thomas-Hill Affair 138

11. Talking about the Gulf 141

12. Beyond Assimilation 144

13. "Why Won't Women Relate to 'Justice'": Losing Her Voice 147

14. For Whom the Bell Tolls: Why Americans Can't Deal with Black Feminist Intellectuals 149

15. Miracle in East New York 161

Part III. New York Postmodernism and Black Cultural Studies

16. The Politics of Location: Cinema/Theory/Literature/Ethnicity/Sexuality/Me 167

17. Black Feminist Criticism: A Politics of Location and Beloved 179

18. Why Are There No Great Black Artists? The Problem of Visuality in African American Culture 184

19. High Mass 195

20. Symposium on Intellectual Correctness 197

21. The Culture War within the Culture Wars 202

22. Boyz N the Hood and Jungle Fever 215

Part IV. Multiculturalism in the Arts

23. Race, Gender, and Psychoanalysis in Forties Films 223

24. Multicultural Blues: An Interview with Michele Wallace 238

25. Multiculturalism and Oppositionality 249

26. Black Women in Popular Culture: From Stereotype to Heroine 264

27. The Search for the Good Enough Mammy: Multiculturalism, Popular Culture, and Psychoanalysis 275

Part V. Henry Louis Gates and African American Poststructuralism

28. Henry Louis Gates: A Race Man and a Scholar 289

29. If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em: Stanley Crouch and Shaharazad Ali 297

30. Let's Get Serious: Marching with the Million 309

31. Out of Step with the Million Man March 311

32. Neither Fish nor Fowl: The Crisis of African American Gender Relations 314

33. The Problem with Black Masculinity and Celebrity 318

34. The Fame Game 324

35. Skip Gates's Africa 328

Part VI. Queer Theory and Visual Culture

36. Defacing History 339

37. When Dream Girls Grow Old 353

38. The French Collection 357

39. Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture 364

40. A Fierce Flame: Marlon Riggs 379

41. "Harlem on My Mind" 382

42. Questions on Feminism 386

43. Feminism, Race, and the Division of Labor 390

44. Doin' the Right Thing: Ten Years after She's Gotta Have It 401

45. The Gap Alternative 410

46. Art on My Mind 417

47. Pictures Can Lie 422

48. The Hottentot Venus 426

49. Angels in America, Paris is Burning, and Queer Theory 430

50. Toshi Reagon's Birthday 454

51. Cheryl Dunye: Sexin' the Watermelon 457

52. The Prison House of Culture: Why African Art? Why the Guggenheim? Why Now? 460

53. Black Female Spectatorship 474

54. Bamboozled: The Archive 486

Index 495
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3413-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3427-9
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