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Living Cargo

How Black Britain Performs Its Past

2016
Author:

Steven Blevins

Living Cargo

A sweeping survey of the historical turn in contemporary black British art and literature

Living Cargo examines contemporary literature, film, visual art, and performance by writers and artists in the U.K. who maintain strong ties to postcolonial Africa and the Caribbean. It explores how contemporary black British culture makers have engaged with the institutional archives of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade to reimagine blackness in British history and make claims for social and political redress.

Living Cargo is an elegant and beautifully imagined book that reactivates archival records and makes them speak anew.

Shane Vogel, Indiana University

Offering a wide-ranging study of contemporary literature, film, visual art, and performance by writers and artists who live and work in the United Kingdom but also maintain strong ties to postcolonial Africa and the Caribbean, Living Cargo explores how contemporary black British culture makers have engaged with the institutional archives of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade in order to reimagine blackness in British history and to make claims for social and political redress.

Steven Blevins calls this reimagining “unhousing history”—an aesthetic and political practice that animates and improvises on the institutional archive, repurposing it toward different ends and new possibilities. He discusses the work of novelists, including Caryl Phillips, Fred D’Aguiar, David Dabydeen, and Bernardine Evaristo; filmmakers Isaac Julien and Inge Blackman; performance poet Dorothea Smartt; fashion designer Ozwald Boateng; artists Hew Locke and Yinka Shonibare; and the urban redevelopment of Bristol, England, which unfolded alongside the public demand to remember the city’s slave-trading past.

Living Cargo argues that the colonial archive is neither static nor residual but emergent. By reassembling historical fragments and traces consolidated in the archive, these artists not only perform a kind of counter-historiography, they also imagine future worlds that might offer amends for the atrocities of the past.

Living Cargo

Steven Blevins holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Davis. From 2008 to 2015 he served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Florida International University, and affiliated faculty in FIU’s interdisciplinary programs in African and African Diaspora Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He currently works as a research analyst for the State of California and resides in Sacramento.

Living Cargo

Living Cargo is an elegant and beautifully imagined book that reactivates archival records and makes them speak anew.

Shane Vogel, Indiana University

Grounded in rigorous theoretical inquiry, archival research, and sophisticated textual analysis, Living Cargo is a rich and nuanced contribution to black Atlantic studies, gender and sexuality studies, and cultural theory.

Nicole Fleetwood, Rutgers University

Living Cargo

Contents
Introduction. History Unhoused: Performing the Life of Human Bio-Cargo
Part I. History and Human Cargo
1. Beautiful Remnants, Brutal Remains: Dwelling on the Melancholy Archive
2. Living Rough: The Disposition and Dispensation of Aleatory Life
Part II. Assembling Human Bio-Cargo
3. Compound Fractures: Archival Constellations, Narrative Violations
4. Blood Pressures: Queer Inheritance and Intimate Affiliations
Part III. Exorbitant Life in an Age of Austerity
5. Bespoke History: Redressing the Past, Tailoring the Present, Fashioning the Future
6. @Bristol: Dissident Publics in a Neoliberal City
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index