RACE AND REAPPROPRIATION

Interest in "Life in Philadelphia’s" vocabulary of race endures, in part, because visual culture continues to appropriate them. Contemporary artists deploy caricature’s techniques to construct new social and political critiques. Bodies, their adornment, proportions and postures, continue to express ideas about difference and power. Some artists, like Robert Colescott, have gone explicitly back to Clay-like caricature to comment on the politics of race and power in contemporary culture. For example, his “George Washington Carver Crosses the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook,” (1975) substitutes caricatured black figures for those of the first President and his crew as originally depicted by Emmanuel Leutze in 1850. Colescott challenges us to reconsider what might be the nation’s founding image, that of the regal and commanding Washington, or that of the grotesque and buffoon-like Washington Carver? Adrian Piper subtly deploys caricature’s techniques to suggest the constructed nature of race. In “Self Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features” (1981), Piper uses slight changes to her facial features and hair to transform her racially ambiguous visage into one that is more clearly understood to be that of a black American. In the hands of these artists, caricature’s vocabulary of race is re-appropriated to criticize and transform understandings about race and difference as they exist today.