Black Bodes White gold
23 April 2024

In conversation with Anna Arabindan-Kesson

PUBLIC EVENT | 23 April 2024 | 15:00 – 17:00 | Wereldmuseum Leiden, Gerbrandszaal 

On this special occasion, Anna Arabindan-Kesson, an esteemed RCMC Research Fellow, will be in conversation with the Research Center to talk about her publication: Black Bodies, White Gold. Art, Cotton and Trade in the Atlantic World.  


Black Bodies, White Gold

Arabindan-Kesson’s book investigates what at first seems obvious: the equivalence of black bodies and white cotton produced by slavery and the networks of racial capitalism. But Black Bodies, White Gold’s exploration of this equation, as played out on material and visual as well as economic registers, is a richly layered, nuanced, and illuminating account of not only reification and exploitation but also challenges to this logic through self-fashioning, haptic intimacies, and transatlantic solidarities. Contemporary artworks centering cotton and its histories by Lubaina Himid, Yinka Shonibare, and Hank Willis Thomas frame and anchor the discussion, which loops back to them repeatedly on its journey from the 18th century onward and around the Atlantic. Primarily grounded in a 19th-century archive that includes “negro cloth” and chintz as well as paintings, prints, and texts, Arabindan-Kesson’s book demonstrates the endurance post-slavery of what she terms a speculative vision that sees the natural world and black lives as raw materials, through a lens of profit. Beautifully written and theorised, it offers a model of art history that traverses national boundaries to unfold a legacy of visual commodification while opening up glimpses of alternatives.

Black Bodies White Gold

About the speaker

Anna Arabindan-Kesson is an Associate professor of Black Diasporic art with a joint appointment in the Departments of African American Studies and Art and Archaeology at Princeton University. She practiced as a Registered Nurse before completing her PhD in African American Studies and Art History at Yale University. Anna focuses on African American, Caribbean, and British Art, with an emphasis on histories of race, empire, medicine, and transatlantic visual culture in the long 19th century. Her first book is called Black Bodies White Gold: Art, Cotton and Commerce in the Atlantic World (Duke University Press, 2021). Other projects include a co-written book with Prof Mia Bagneris on 19th century Black Diaspora artists, and a monograph on the intersection of art and medicine in plantation imagery. She is the 2022 Terra Foundation Rome Prize Fellow, a Senior Research Fellow of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the director of the digital humanities project Art Hx: Visual and Medical Legacies of British Colonialism.

Anna Kesson