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Dark Designs and Visual Culture.

Dark Designs and Visual Culture by Michele Wallace Duke University Press, January 2005 $84.95, ISBN 0-822-33427-5

In 1979, a young instructor in New York University's journalism program published a book titled Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (Doubleday), a groundbreaking analysis of the twin effects of sexism and racism on the lives of African American women. The book helped to provide a forum for black feminist thought and drew widespread attention to issues of gender and race that that had long been neglected--even as black leaders across the nation pushed for racial equality. That journalism instructor was Michele Wallace, the 27-year-old daughter of noted black artist Faith Ringgold. Wallace would go on to become a prominent scholar and cultural critic, often taking positions that left her open to attack even as they established her reputation as an intellectual and a writer of considerable talent.

Dark Designs and Visual Culture, Wallace's third book, is a collection of 50 essays, articles and interviews that touch upon everything from the marginalization and representation of blacks and women of all colors in the art world to her thoughts on the Million Man March. Written over a 15-year period, Wallace's writings allow readers to observe the author's evolution as a black female academic whose journey has required great courage in both her personal and professional lives. Wallace's writing is often confrontational--while making her point, she is unsparing in her critiques of other black scholars, mainstream academia and those whom she feels perpetuate misogyny or racism at any level.

Many of the strongest and most heartfelt pieces concern black visual artists, a group that Wallace was first exposed to at an early age through her mother's influence. Her introduction to this collection is a must-read for those interested in understanding the conditions under which the various essays and articles were produced. Throughout, Wallace shares intensely personal details about her life, acknowledging some of her most painful insecurities, challenges and errors in judgment.

The essays and articles cover a wide range of topics, contemporary events and public figures and aren't necessarily written for a general audience (though some were published in newspapers and national magazines). Those interested in the fields of women's studies, visual and cinema studies and cultural studies might be especially drawn to this book.

For those who have not read her before, Dark Designs and Visual Culture serves as a fine introduction to Wallace and her work; and while readers' responses to Wallace's arguments will be varied, many will find something of value--whether in the brief, vignettelike pieces or the longer selections from scholarly journals--within these pages.

Denise Simon is a frequent contributor to Black Issues Book Review. She lives in New York City.
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Author:Simon, Denise
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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