Black Sexualities Collection

Investigator: Amaris Brown, PhD Candidate, Africana Studies

Collaborator: Cheryl Finley, History of Art; Brenda Marston, Cornell University Library

Arts & Sciences, 2019

A bare blackened back is the subject of the gaze. Folding their broad shoulders inwards, the model turns away from the camera’s lens. Head downward and limbs pressed towards each other, three vertebrae catch the light revealing the dark silhouette’s otherwise muscular anatomy. Racial histories of sexuality, physical labor, and unstable gender identity narrate the contours of a blackened back postured tensely against a grainy distant field. In one sense the photograph portrays what C. Riley Snorton has challenged as “the dominant logic of identity” where ““race” and “gender” are fixed and knowable”[1]. This photograph of Rachael Williams taken by the late Honey Lee Cottrell, provides a preview for researchers into the Black Sexualities Collection[2]. The collection takes cue from the historical erasure of black masculine, femme, and trans/gender embodiment and explores the potential of these narratives to disrupt paradigms of legible gender and sexuality. By exploring the contours of blackened subject matter at the limits of racial/sexual/gender representation, the Black Sexualities Digital Collection is devoted to addressing the epistemological, ontological, and social construction of black gendered life and sexual expression.

The collection draws together photographs, video, surveys, brochures, and travel pamphlets held by the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Historical materials are of particular interest to scholars researching visual arts of the black diaspora, histories of black sexuality/black sexual cultures, genealogies of queer publishing, literary erotic print culture, black performance studies, queer nightlife, and the study of racialized genders transnationally.

[1] Snorton, C. Riley. Introduction to Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017 p. 2

[2] Image from the Honey Lee Cottrell Papers, #7822. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.