University of Illinois at Chicago
MORGAN-THESIS-2023.pdf (14.69 MB)

Negative Space: Methods of Exclusion and the Shaping of a Southern Myth

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posted on 2023-05-01, 00:00 authored by Emily Autumn Morgan
The foundations of accessible knowledge are formulated around constructed absences through a calculated procedure of exclusion. This project proposes a theory of exclusion as a means from which to view the processes of art history, asking the field to critically engage with the gaps in visual narratives. One possible method of theorizing these absences is the consideration of the historical frameworks of exclusion, the effects of exclusion, and the communal acts of disruption against these practices. This project exemplifies this process through the recognition of Black queer southern exclusion by engaging with the Black lesbian magazine Women in the Life, which ran from 1993-2003 out of Washington D.C. I argue that this particular intersectional exclusion upholds the national enforcement of an invisible labor force. By incorporating Barthes’ conceptualization of myth, southern art history is viewed as a tool of identification, wherein controlled depictions formulate radicalized and gendered labor roles in the region. These roles shape national identity and place the burden of labor predominantly upon southern Black women. This results in socio-economic oppression amongst Black southern queer women, leading to independent creative acts within the community. Women in the Life is explored as an act of community placemaking through the reconceptualization of both public and private space. These acts do not attempt to serve White heteropatriarchal audiences or colonial institutions, but instead directly reflect the needs of their respective communities. The field of art history is encouraged to critically engage with such enactments, not necessarily to bring them into the hierarchal cannon, but as a vanguard of disruption against institutional violence. Understandings of labor and identification are disrupted through an outright dismissal of oppressive space, wherein Black queer women are able to formulate new conceptualizations of space within the American South.



Ortega, Emmanuel


Ortega, Emmanuel


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Masters

Degree name

MA, Master of Arts

Committee Member

Finegold, Andrew Bost, Darius

Submitted date

May 2023

Thesis type



  • en

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