Maxine Walker: Imaging the Homeplace

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In 1990 American writer and feminist bell hooks theorised the value of the ‘homeplace’ as a powerful, and uniquely domestic, response to the material realities of American racial apartheid. A safe space away from the lived experiences of the culture of white supremacy, it represented a place of refuge, regeneration, and, crucially, resistance for generations of black Americans. ‘We could not learn to love or respect ourselves … on the outside; it was there on the inside, in that “homeplace” … that we had the opportunity to grow and develop, to nurture our spirits’, she writes. It was in the homeplace, made and kept by black women (mothers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, sisters) who often were simultaneously engaged in domestic labour for white households, ‘where all black people could strive to be subject, not objects’. Crucially, though hooks formulates her own engagement with the homeplace in an American context, she identifies in it a potency that crosses the boundaries of space and time – from the hands of her own mother and grandmother to the hands of mothers and grandmothers of black women around the world.

This contribution will examine the ways in which race, gender, and class converge upon the homeplace in works by British photographer Maxine Walker. Turning her camera to the ‘front rooms’ and bedrooms of the black Atlantic in works such as Auntie Linda’s House (1987) and Black Beauty (1991), Walker plays at the interstices of space and place, subject and object, presence and absence. She unravels the threads of consumerism, femininity, taste, and the rituals of self-performance woven through public and private domestic spaces fraught with the dynamics of diaspora. Summoning the spectre of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) and a uniquely black British aesthetic documented in Michael McMillan’s expansive The West Indian Front Room project, here Walker makes space for the possibilities of the ‘homeplace’ as a paradigm for a radical domesticity rooted in black womanhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-184
Number of pages15
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2017

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Black Humanities

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