Welcome to Black Baroque
“Cameo Bust of an African Woman,” by lapidary artist Girolami Miseroni, Italy (c. 1575-1600), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Stretching from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and from Amsterdam to Cartagena, Colombia, the Baroque age saw the racialization of Blackness in the Western world as color-based slavery spread across the Atlantic and around the world. Hitherto conceived as one type of difference among others, Blackness emerged in Baroque culture as a determining racial category organizing power relations and justifying the unequal distribution of rights and resources. Blackness is thus a fundamentally Baroque concept.
Beyond the historical realm, Baroque also refers to an aesthetic movement, a stylistic departure from Renaissance classicism. Most likely derived from the Portuguese word barocco—an irregular pearl often used to create gorgeous and eccentric jewelry—the term refers to an aesthetic based on beautiful irregularity and characterized by complexity, surprise, dizzying folds, metamorphoses and illusions, perpetual movement, self-referentiality, and a lavish profusion of carefully contrived ornaments.
Launched in 2021, the Black Baroque Project organizes remote and in-person conversations with Black-identifying artists (in theatre, visual culture, dance, music, etc.) who work with, against, and through Baroque culture in our own moment. Despite the Baroque age’s anchoring of Blackness in slavery, many Black artists today are reworking this aesthetic tradition, exploring the paradoxical space between the Baroque and the Afro-diasporic. In that sense, there is a gap, or slash, at the core of the phrase “Black/Baroque.” The artists featured in our series all probe that originary moment of epistemological shift, speak back, and reveal the ways in which it still lives in the present, even as they turn Baroque performance culture into a vehicle for critique.
So, if you are a Black artist working in any medium who would like to be featured on the Black Baroque Project (or for any other question or inquiry), please use our contact page–we’d love to meet you!
The Black Baroque project has received sponsorship from the University of Chicago Humanities Division, the Center for Race and the Study of Politics, the Center for Renaissance Studies, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, the Court Theatre, the Department of Romance Languages & Literatures, the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, the Department of Music, and the Department of English Language and Literature.