White Zombies and Black Labor: Specters of Slavery and Rebellion in José Clemente Orozco’s The Epic of American Civilization

Oct 24, 2019 4:00 PM

Free and Open to the Public

José Clemente Orozco’s The Epic of American Civilization provides a powerful critique of the Conquest and colonization of the Americas. And yet, it makes no mention of the institution of slavery in the formation of its modern nation-states. In this talk, Mary Coffey will address this silence and offer speculative readings of the Epic that speak to the specters of slavery and rebellion that haunt the mural. She will pay particular attention to Orozco’s vision of the “two Americas”—“Anglo” and “Hispanic”—as well as to the “Modern Industrial Man.” She explores the tropes of zombification that Orozco deploys throughout the modern half of the mural to disinter the “fear of Haiti” that structures normative identities in both Anglo- and Latin-America.  And she asks, what kinds of possibilities are opened up if we read the "Modern Industrial Man” as black? 

Mary K. Coffey is an Associate Professor of Art History at Dartmouth College. Her research concerns Mexican muralism and the politics of exhibition. She is the author of How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State (Duke 2012), the winner of the College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey Prize for a Distinguished Book in Art History in 2012. Her new monograph, Orozco’s American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race (Duke UP) will be available in January of 2020. 

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