Look Back at It (2016) is a cutting-edge interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by African American multidisciplinary artist Rashaad Newsome. The work is a collage of magazine cuttings. The action is set in the vogue ballroom scene, a counterculture sparked in the 1970s by the Black and Latinx Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ+) communities in New York. The muses are disenfranchised African American trans women who have faced a long-standing subjugation anchored in America’s history of racial slavery and classed transphobic capitalism. Their bodies are made of a collage of dazzling jewels cut from glossy magazines that have rendered them invisible. Drawing on beauty politics, this article maps the visual repertoire of Newsome’s aesthetic and its geopolitical implications. A formal and contextual analysis highlights how the use of high jewelry alludes to the global trade in minerals—most specifically, the diamond industry’s spoliation of South Africa’s natural resources, pionered by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Special attention is paid to the way Newsome’s subversion of the codes of high jewelry visually and conceptually echoes voguers’ transgression of high fashion in dance competitions. Newsome stages a transnational and transhistorical dialogue between two distinct but interconnected systems of oppression, imperialism and global capitalism, thus sketching a collective history of Black pain and of creative resilience, guided by trans women, that is essential at the time of the resurgence of global populist nationalistic discourses.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.