The Black Visualities Initiative (BVI) queries the gendered and racialized politics of looking, seeing, erasure, and visibility. Its title is both a practice and a provocation. It is a practice that refuses to look away from the long history of precarity lived in the afterlife of slavery and encourages radical forms of active witnessing instead. It is a provocation to engage in the creation of new forms of visibility, awareness and encounter. Bringing together artists, theorists, critics, writers and poets, the BVI seeks to create a generative critical space for realizing the radical possibilities of black visuality as a political praxis of living otherwise.
The BVI was launched as a signature initiative of the Cogut Institute of the Humanities at Brown when Tina Campt joined the university as the Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Modern Culture and Media in Fall 2019. The initiative has since become an intra- and inter-institutional collaboration through an ongoing dialogue between Campt and Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, Graduate Program Director of Photography at RISD. The collaboration has recently expanded to encompass RISD students through a partnership that provides robust and expansive possibilities for academic and cultural improvisation and innovation among students at both institutions.
Collaboration is the core mission of the BVI. Its impetus and commitment are first and foremost about bringing artists, students, scholars and activists into conversation to think through the role of visual culture both in relation to the long history of Black dispossession, as well as its potentially transformative role in creating new possibilities for living and imagining black life otherwise. Since racial slavery and subjugation have been foundational to American culture, they are of essential importance in any effort to cultivate a generation of thinkers and makers attentive to the disparate differences that structure American social and political life. The image, and active intentional practices of imagination are central to any liberatory future, and the BVI is firmly committed to cultivating gatherings in which we might collectively undertake this work.