ALICE-ANNE PSALTIS | Artpolitical Environment: Richard Bell and Emory Douglas’s Burnett Lane Mural

Black activists have long crafted systems of identification that intersect politics and aesthetics as a means of promoting social change for oppressed communities around the world. This article uses the global history of black political aesthetics as a framework for interpreting the collaborative practice of two artist activists—Aboriginal Australian Richard Bell (b.1954) and African American Emory Douglas (b.1943). It is the first study to examine their collaboration and interpret it as a mode of political aesthetics. In doing so, it argues, through an analysis of their Burnett Lane mural, that Bell and Douglas create artpolitical environments, in which they synthesise their visual languages, combine overlapping influences, reference historic Black Power imagery, and present internationally recognisable symbolism to collectively challenge global inequalities. The concept of an artpolitical environment, termed by the American philosopher Crispin Sartwell, is discussed in relation to the Marcus Garvey movement of the early twentieth century, and conceptualised through what French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s calls the distribution of the sensible.

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