a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert

Video | Black & White | 2004

In my performance and video works I have explored in the role of fantasy and of images in the construction of cultural memory about race. My experimental video a/k/a Mrs. George Gilbert, is about the role photography played in generating and circulating racial stereotypes during the FBI hunt for and trial of Angela Davis. In that piece, I attempted to highlight the ways that racialised fantasies about Davis and about black radicals in general in the 1960s and 70s interfered with a “scientific” or “objective” use of the photographic image by American law enforcement agencies. While I was inspired by Allan Sekula’s landmark essay on nineteenth-century photographic portraiture, “The Body and the Archive,” I was attempting in the video to demonstrate how racial fantasies had disrupted the seemingly inexorable archival logic of criminal indexing that Sekula so brilliantly described. That Davis’s image attained iconic status in American culture hardly bears noting; however, the conventional cultural activist response has been to seek more faithful or more positive renderings of Davis or to use audiovisual media to amplify and disseminate her voice. Instead, I chose to focus on the ways that the “Angela-effect” entails its own undoing, which is to say how the hyper-circulation of her image contributed to misrecognition of her person, rather than to her identification.