Collusions of Fact and Fiction

Performing Slavery in the Works of Suzan-Lori Parks and Kara Walker

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268 pages, 14 b&w photographs, 6 × 9 inches
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“An accomplished work of scholarship. Drawing on an authoritative command of the literature and a dexterous use of theory, Saal puts forward a clear and compelling interpretation of two major contemporary Black artists. At the same time, she develops a novel theory of contemporary Black aesthetic production called historiopoeisis.”—Tavia Nyong’o, Yale University

Collusions of Fact and Fiction expands the critical discourse on two artists central to the Black postmodern: playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and visual artist Kara Walker. Highlighting the poststructuralist understanding of history that subtends both artists’ bodies of work, this book offers a new map to a vital territory in contemporary culture.”—Arlene R. Keizer, author, Black Subjects: Identity Formation in the Contemporary Narrative of Slavery

Collusions of Fact and Fiction traces a generational shift in late twentieth-century African American cultural engagements with the history and legacies of transatlantic slavery. With a focus on works by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and visual artist Kara Walker, the book explores how, in comparison to the first wave of neo-slave narratives of the 1970s and 1980s, artists of the 1990s and early 2000s tend to approach the past from the vantage point of a liberal entanglement of fact and fiction as well as a highly playful, often humorous, and sometimes irreverent signifying on entrenched motifs, iconographies, and historiographies.

Saal argues that the attempt to reconstruct or recuperate the experience of African Americans under slavery is no longer at stake in the works of artists growing up in the post–Civil Rights era. Instead, they lay bare the discursive dimension of our contemporary understanding of the past, and address the continued impact of its various verbal and visual signs upon contemporary identities. In this manner, Parks and Walker stake out new possibilities for engaging the past and inhabiting the present and future.