Code Switching: Aruna D’Souza and Steven Nelson in conversation

MAR 09, 2020 | 6:30 PM

Aruna D'Souza and Steven Nelson



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


9100: Skylight Room


March 09, 2020: 6:30 PM




Intellectual Publics


Aruna D’Souza’s recent book Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts and Steven Nelson’s forthcoming On the Underground Railroad, for all their differences of subject matter and approach, share a common desire to move beyond academic prose in order to find new modes of writing about history and understanding audience in their explorations of the historic and contemporary complexities of race, race relations, and racism in the United States. 
Steven Nelson’s forthcoming book On the Underground Railroad traces the author’s roadtrip from Mobile, Alabama to St. Catharines, Ontario during summer 2009. It explores Underground Railroad locales and lore, extant escape narratives, archives, and interviews. Sometimes with intellectual distance; often without it, this book, is part art historical treatise, part historical study, part literary work, part travelogue, and part memoir. Residing in the murkiness of fact, fiction and the making of myth, this book considers the centrality of the Underground Railroad and the complicated nature of race in American life. 
Aruna D’Souza’s Whitewalling addresses three moments in the history of Black protest of art institutions in the US, from 1969 to 2017: the first, the controversy around Dana Schutz’s contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial, a painting of Emmett Till that was decried by many for its irresponsible appropriation of an image of violence and pain; the second, a 1969 exhibition at the independent gallery Artist’s Space whose title incorporated the most incendiary racist epithet in the English language; and the third, the 1969 show “Harlem on My Mind” at the Metropolitan Museum. In its form, the book makes a case for a form of writing in which history and advocacy are inextricably linked.
Aruna D’Souza is a writer based in Western Massachusetts whose work focuses on art, intersectional forms of politics, and museums. Her most recent book, Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest in 3 Acts was published in 2018. She is a regular contributor to 4Columns, and serves on its advisory board. She is editor of the forthcoming volumes Lorraine O’Grady: Writing in Space, 1973-2019 and Linda Nochlin: Making it Modern, and co-curator of a Lorraine O’Grady retrospective that will open at the Brooklyn Museum in November 2020. 
Steven Nelson, professor of art history at UCLA, is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and tresurer of the National Committee for the History of Art. In addition to his award-winning 2007 book, From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa, his writings attend to the arts and architecture of Africa and it diasporas. He is completing two books titled,  “Structural Adjustment: Mapping, Geography, and the Visual Cultures of Blackness,” and “On The Underground Railroad.”