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DOI 10.1215/10757163-2009-005 © 2010 by Nka Publications Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 48 • Nka Whitfield Lovell, After an Afternoon, 2008. Radios with sound, 59 × 72 × 11 in. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York.© Whitfield Lovell Whitfield Lovell Autour Du Monde Julie L. McGee McGee Nka • 49 I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation. David Drake T he American artist Whitfield Lovell has been collecting and using vintage accoutrements —the material culture of late-nineteenthand early-twentieth-century African American life, including photographs—for many years. He is best known for his installations and tableaux, combinations of superb charcoal and Conté crayon drawings on weathered wooden planks or cream paper, and found objects.1 Lovell’s sustained engagement with historical subjects and themes was evident in his 2008 exhibition Kith and Kin, which included several large-scale images of World War I and World War II servicemen whose likenesses first spoke to Lovell through intimate, vintage studio photographs; they form part of an ongoing project that began nearly ten years ago. Pago Pago (2008) is an alluring, seductive, and otherworldly image: a debonair figure with an air of nonchalance reclines in a late Victorian cane or bamboo armchair. The title situates our thoughts: Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa in the South Pacific, is a village located on the island of Tutuila, near Pago Pago Harbor. Long a service port for the U.S. Navy, the harbor was shelled by a Japanese submarine in 1942. To enhance the languorous, horizontal repose of the figure, Lovell executes the Conté crayon drawing across two wide plywood panels rather than the narrow, vertical wooden boards more customary in his tableaux. The seated figure wears the uniform of an Army Air Force Enlisted Technician, Fourth Grade, and arranged before him are fifteen vintage radios that emit a sound track of Billie Holiday singing “I Cover the Waterfront.” A soulful song of longing, waiting, and watching the sea for a love’s return, Holiday recorded it multiple times between 1941 and 1956, turning it into a jazz standard.2 As an artist who draws inspiration from the past and its material culture, Lovell does not set out to teach us history, but the subjects and objects he brings together encourage us to deepen our knowledge of African and American history and culture. Pago Pago is one of several depictions of figures in military uniforms in Lovell’s oeuvre.3 Of these, most are developed from World War I– and World War II–era studio photographs, though Battleground, part of Lovell’s larger installation Visitation: The Richmond Project (2001), portrays a Civil War–era Union soldier.4 Pago Pago is among the most recent works of this sort and was exhibited with At Home and Abroad (2008) and Autour Du Monde (2008) in Lovell’s Kith and Kin exhibition at DC Moore Gallery in New York.5 Embedded in each reworked image are the oppositional histories of the black body in relation to uniform, rank, service , opportunity, self, and nation. Developed individually , the tableaux relate to an expanded installation concept that Lovell envisions, part encomium and part memorial. His interest in blacks in the military is multilayered: his maternal grandfather, Eugene Glover (1904–84), traveled from his home in Winnsboro, South Carolina, to the state’s capital , Columbia, to try to enlist. He wanted to see the world, travel to Africa, become “more worldly.” For many, the U.S. military did provide a conduit for travel abroad. But Eugene Glover was rejected on the dubious grounds of physical height: he was told he was too short, while a different prospective black enlistee was told he was too tall. Glover’s rejection reflects the American armed forces’ considerable resistance, at that time, to full racial integration. The United States entered World War I in 1917, two years after the release of the racist film Birth of a Nation, and the same year as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the armed forces: a series of riots at Fort Logan, near Houston, Texas. The Fort Logan race riots stemmed from...


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