Initially, I was appointed field editor with responsibility for African Diaspora-related publications. An inaugural position, the appointment was made over the summer of 2014. A little while later, I took on responsibility for assigning reviews in the area of African Art, taking over from the previous field editor of that area. Both African Art and African Diaspora art history are fields that reflect and embody knotty complexities that mean the work of the respective field editor(s) is not and cannot be particularly straightforward. In the first instance, African Diaspora is a category with certain vagaries, chiefly, perhaps, the matter of African American artists’ proximity to or relationship with African Diaspora artists. Coming from a British background, it was for me a cause of some puzzlement to arrive in the United States and realize that within academia, African America and African Diaspora are routinely regarded, taught, and constructed as separate entities. The culturally charged emergence and evolution of Black Britain, which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, owed much to a potent variety of factors, one of the most clearly defined being Black Britons’ admiration for and regarding of the histories and struggles of Black America as part and parcel of the international Black experience. It was quite a surprise to realize that the default academic position in the United States was pretty much to see Black America as somehow being, by and large, a self-referencing, somewhat quarantined entity, with little or no structural relationship with the lives and histories of other Black people—not even those of the wider Americas.
In beginning to assign reviews, I made no distinction between African American art history and African Diaspora art history, insofar as identifying publications for review. There are perhaps good reasons to respect the distinct academic characteristics of different demographics, regions, histories, and experiences, but from a Black British perspective, there are also perhaps good reasons to set to one side categories that lean toward a certain quarantining of said demographics, regions, histories, and experiences. None of this is, of course, straightforward. The centuries-old histories of African American artists consistently reflect the knotty questions of when should an artist be an “African American” artist and not simply, or just, an “American” artist? What are the motivations, rationales, and justifications for the creating of separate categories? Given that the core aspect of the ongoing struggle of African Americans for civil rights and full citizenship is the yearning to exist without the inevitable need for an often constraining raced prefix, the assigning of reviews became a particularly loaded process. If the publications of U.S.-born or U.S.-resident artists are identified on the basis of a perceived or assumed African American-ness, might that be of a piece with the histories of the art world’s oftentimes problematic engagement with African American artists, artists who are regarded for their perceived or apparent ethnicity, the supposed raced content of their work, and other pathologies that have been such a debilitating factor in the lives and aspirations of these artists? I was conscious that caa.reviews did not have a dedicated field editor for African American art and that reviews relating to African American artists had, perhaps, simply been assigned under the rubric of wider (though perhaps no less problematic) categories.
The above extracts are from “Re-View: Field Editors Reflections,” text for caa.reviews, synthesizing the “state of the field” for African art and African diaspora art history publishing, and my interventions as a caa.reviews field editor, published online on April 21 2016.