Entanglements: an exploration of the digital literary work FISHNETSTOCKINGS

Stereotyping and Silhouettes


Like its innovative use of mermaids, FISHNETSTOCKINGS' multiple silhouettes clarify how symbols of racial hybridity and fetishism function within economies of representation. From Josiah Wedgewood’s abolitionist medallion to the infamous broadsides of the Brookes slave ship, the silhouette has occupied a singular place within slavery’s iconography. While we cannot reduce the silhouette to this racial history, as a style of illustration it is inescapably bound to the stereotype. This is in no small part due to the role the silhouette played in the racial pseudoscience of physiognomy. Because physiognomy presumes a correspondence between physical features and moral and intellectual characteristics, its practitioners sought to produce images of the body that minimized individual variations. Their goal was to render visible only those characteristics that were indicative of a more general type or trend. Resolving the tensions between the universal and particular characteristics of race therefore required the evacuation of more obvious racial markers. The silhouette provided physiognomists with an abstract form onto which they could project an imagined relationship between the body’s external features and an individual subject’s internal essence. We can observe this more clearly in the work of contemporary artist Kara Walker.

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