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Unit information: Modernism and the 'Black Atlantic' in 2020/21

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Unit name Modernism and the 'Black Atlantic'
Unit code HART30048
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Ms. Robles
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This research-led unit examines the complex relationship between artists in the ‘Black Atlantic’ (a space of exchange between the UK, the USA and the Anglophone Caribbean) and Modernism. It traces the impact of Black Atlantic creative culture on Modernism – from Picasso’s bronzes to the American Jazz influences of Dada – and the impact of Black artists on the story of twentieth-century art. It will pay special attention to the development of Black creative culture in Bristol and the South West and the ways in which developments in and around the city have become woven into the complex intersection of the Black Atlantic and Modernism.

The unit will also introduce students to the rapidly developing debates around the use of ‘b/Black’ as a political identity in the visual arts and the formation of the ‘Black Atlantic’ as a site for cultural production.

In particular the unit aims to introduce theoretical frameworks of modernism, gender, post-colonialism and, more specifically, the ‘Black Atlantic’; to introduce students to a wide variety of artists and artworks that tend to be marginalised in discourses and University curricula around Modernism and the artistic developments of the 20th century; to provide students with insight into the most recent developments in this rapidly-changing field with a research-led approach to the ways in which historical developments continue to shape contemporary practices; and to build an interest in engaging with Bristol as a hub of creative activity by placing an emphasis on local artists and community initiatives.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1) demonstrate broad knowledge and an excellent understanding of discourses and frameworks around race, gender, nationality and ethnicity in the visual arts

2) differentiate between and assess critically academic interpretations in this still emerging field of scholarship

3) apply these frameworks to artworks in the broadest sense - to include community-based projects, music, digital exhibitions and artworks, new media, etc.

4) demonstrate skill in writing with a sophistication appropriate to level H/6

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

One 3000-word essay (50%) One timed assessment (50%) [both elements will assess ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

  • David A. Bailey, Ian Baucom, and Sonia Boyce (eds), Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005)
  • David A. Bailey and Richard J. Powell (eds.), Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997)
  • Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present (London: IB Taurus, 2014)
  • Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993)
  • Kobena Mercer, Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Richard J. Powell, Black Art: A Cultural History (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002).