Samantha A. Noël is an Associate Professor of Art History at Wayne State University. She received her B.A. in Fine Art from Brooklyn College, C.U.N.Y., and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History from Duke University. Her research interests revolve around the history of art, visual culture and performance of the Black Diaspora. She has published on black modern and contemporary art and performance in journals such as Small Axe, Third Text and Art Journal.
Noël’s book, Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism (Duke University Press, forthcoming 2021), offers a thorough investigation of how Caribbean and American artists of the early twentieth century were responding to the colonial and hegemonic regimes through visual and performative tropicalist representation. It privileges the land and how a sense of place is critical in the identity formation of early twentieth-century artists as well as their creative processes. By proposing an alternative understanding of the tropics, this book demonstrates how Aaron Douglas, Wifredo Lam, Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, and some masqueraders and designers of Trinidad Carnival effectively contributed to the development of Black modernity, and even Black sonic modernity. They employed what Noel calls “tropical aesthetics” in an effort to enact the naming of place. Tropical aesthetics allows for a critical imaging and reclaiming of space and proves how through art one can reify social geographies in order to have a sense of place, a rootedness that is desired in order to attain some semblance of sovereignty. Despite the pejoration with which Black people, along with their histories and cultural practices, were viewed, tropical aesthetics offers an emboldened means to project affirmative identity politics for a people so often linked to equatorial regions of the world that were also disparaged. Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism aspires to broaden the epistemological reaches of the discipline of art history by acknowledging the interdisciplinarity inherent in the study of creative production of any kind.
Noël is working on a new book tentatively titled Diasporic Art in the Age of Black Power. This book seeks to examine the impact of the Black Power Movement on visual art as it emerged in the political, historical, and social contexts of the United States of America and the Anglophone Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s. In particular, it aims to identify instances in which the iterations of the Third World Left in the United States and the Caribbean crossed paths and determined a need for internationalism in black creative expression during the 1960s and 1970s that worked in tandem with the political radicalism of that era. Diasporic Art in the Age of Black Power aims to determine whether or not these artists were able to create a connective notion of a trans-black aesthetic that was distinct from American art and Caribbean art altogether that could ultimately find an affiliation with art of the Third World. Within this trajectory, the international reach of art created in Kingston, Jamaica or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania could be vast. Despite the fact that abstraction created in the Western world may have been perceived as universalist, the art created by black Caribbean and American artists may very well have been just as universalist in the Global South, which has the majority of the world’s population. This book will consider these and other phenomena.
Currently, Noël is the 2020-2021 Leonard A. Lauder Visiting Senior Fellow at The Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. Her research has also been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. At Wayne State, Noël has received the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Faculty Creative/Research Award, the Wayne State University Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, and the Wayne State University Office of the Provost’s University Research Grant.