Arts & Culture
Whitewashed? Whiteness And Femininity In Art History
- 8:30 pm
04 April 2022
Online | Donation
The colour white has long had a deep-rooted, ideological function in art and visual culture. From the seventeenth century onwards, the economic exploitation of peoples via the transatlantic slave trade relied heavily on notions of racial difference, whereby we see the first attempts to explain racial difference and white superiority by so-called science. The invention of the ‘white race’ helped to facilitate and even justify the exploitation of Black labourers. Can we therefore think of whiteness in colonial art as more than simply an aesthetic choice, but rather, a political one? In Western art, white skin can be more than just skin-deep: there are wider historical, sociological, and anthropological assumptions at play with regards to lightness and darkness of skin complexion. To go further, this ideology also takes a gendered turn; we also start to see a valorisation of female whiteness, which conflates white skin with beauty, morality, and virtue. However, far from being relegated to history, whiteness as we know it today is a legacy of colonialism, and these dangerous ideologies continue to exist in various forms.
This session will explore the construction of whiteness in art history, and in particular, white femininity. Looking firstly at whitewashing in Western art (where historically, women who would have been brown or Black are portrayed as white) it will go on to look closely at how portraits of white female sitters have been imbued with layers of ideology, such as notions of moral authority, innocence and even nationhood.
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About our Lecturer:
Melissa Baksh is a London-based Art Historian, Writer, Educator and Broadcaster/ DJ. A desire to open up art collections and make art accessible to a wide range of audiences underpins her work, and she has delivered lectures, tours and workshops in the National Gallery, Hayward Gallery and Wellcome Collection, to name a few. As a regular contributor of Art Quarterly (the magazine of Art Fund) and with past commissions in The Independent, Melissa writes on all things art history and visual culture, and in particular: Italian Renaissance art, contemporary art, the colonial history of art collections and public art and sculpture. In 2019 Melissa founded In Tune Art Tours: original, innovative audio-sensory art tours, and an alternative to the conventional museum tour. She is deeply interested in the intersections between art and music, and how both can help us to feel deeply, connect with ourselves and also each other.
Image Credit: BBC Culture