Black princess housewives and single ladies : Reneé Cox's housewife enactments and the politics of twenty-first century wealthy black womanhood
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This dissertation explores representations of upper-class black womanhood in Reneé Cox’s The Discreet Charm of the Bougies photography series. It theorizes the significance of Cox’s artwork to contemporary discussions and representations of black womanhood in the dominant visual field by examining the ways that such images are informed by, and in conversation with, historical representations of the black female body. I argue that the photographs serve as visual remnants that document and preserve Cox’s performative enactments as various upper-class black women personae. Cox employs the genre of performance, the medium of her own body, and photographic technology, to interrogate the cultural and discursive imaging of the aestheticized black female body in twenty-first century popular culture. The artist’s performative enactments engage with historic and contemporary conceptualizations of black womanhood in the dominant visual field by exploring the marketability and desirability of the black female body in U.S. society alongside images and discourses in which black female subjects are rendered aberrant and dangerous. The project, then, situates Reneé Cox as an important black woman artist and cultural producer whose persona-performances highlight black women artists’ engagement with, and ongoing contributions to, discussions about black womanhood. Shaped foundationally by black feminist ideology and scholarship about postfeminism, Black Princess Housewives and Single Ladies: Reneé Cox’s Housewife Enactments and the Politics of Twenty-First Century Black Womanhood situates The Discreet Charm of the Bougies photographs as important cultural texts that register black women’s resourceful ways of naming and theorizing their own and other black women’s experiences. This dissertation aims to contribute to, in some small part, black women’s ongoing intellectual, activist, and artistic efforts to prioritize, celebrate, and honor black women’s life experiences and the extraordinary strategies they use to speak their truths.