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Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Hosts a Symposium on “Racial Masquerade in American Art and Culture”

Two-Day Symposium To Be Held Nov. 4 and 5

October 19, 2016

The National Portrait Gallery will host the symposium “Racial Masquerade in American Art and Culture,” Nov. 4 and 5 in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. It is the first symposium facilitated by the National Portrait Gallery’s Center for Visual Biography. This event is organized by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, associate professor of the history of art at University of Pennsylvania and senior fellow at the National Portrait Gallery. This event will bring together scholars and artists to examine instances of people performing as a race other than their own—known as racial masquerade—and how this continues to shape the way people are viewed in American society. 

Throughout American history, different forms of racial masquerade have been used to engage issues of difference and group identity. While this kind of dress-up has sometimes been celebratory or used by oppressed communities to mock those in power, more often it has been employed to dehumanize minorities and emphasize social hierarchies. In the 19th century, minstrels and theatrical performers in blackface emerged as popular entertainments in the United States and parts of Latin America. In the 20th century, racial masquerade became a regular part of Hollywood films, as white actors impersonated Native American and Asian-descended characters through the use of often- grotesque make-up and mannerisms. 

Scholars from various universities will offer insight from their areas of expertise on how cultural identity is shaped by these representations. Two days of programming will conclude with a performance art piece by Sheldon Scott in the Portrait Gallery’s Great Hall. 

Registration for the free symposium is available at http://npg.si.edu/richardson-symposium

Friday, Nov. 4

5 to 5:30 p.m.        Welcome and Introduction
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, University of Pennsylvania 

5:30 to 7:30 p.m.    Keynote: Eric Lott, CUNY Graduate Center 
Racial Hauntology in the Age of Obama  

7:30 p.m.        Reception

Saturday, Nov. 5

10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.     Historical Masquerade

Introduction and Panel Moderator:
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, University of Pennsylvania 

Mia L. Bagneris, Tulane University 
Painting the Queen Black: Exploring Portraiture, Performance, and the Materiality of Blackface through Inigo Jones’s Designs for Queen Anne’s Masque of Blackness 

Janet Catherine Berlo, University of Rochester
Reginald and Gladys Laubin as Cultural Transvestites, 1930 to 1960 

Anthony W. Lee, Mount Holyoke College
Racial Masquerade: The Case of F. Holland Day 

Christopher J. Smith, Texas Tech University
Dance Revolutions: Bodies, Space, and Sound in American Popular Culture

2 to 4:30 p.m.         Artistic Practice

Introduction: Jillian B. Vaum, University of Pennsylvania

Cherise Smith, University of Texas at Austin

Beverly J. McIver, Duke University

Michael Ray Charles, University of Houston

5:30 p.m.        Identify: Sheldon Scott, Precious in Da Wadah, A Portrait of the Geechee
Sheldon Scott’s performance in the Portrait Gallery revisits the ingenuity of enslaved Africans in the Gullah and Geechee regions of coastal South Carolina. 

“Racial Masquerade in American Art and Culture” is made possible by the National Portrait Gallery’s Center for Visual Biography, with support from the Edgar P. Richardson Symposium Fund, and is organized by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw.

National Portrait Gallery
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story. 

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at Facebook; Instagram; blog; Twitter and YouTube.

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