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Re-Imaging the Black Woman's Body in Alexis DeVeaux'sI The Tapestry P. JANE SPLAWN Whether in her short fiction works like Adventures of the Dread Sisters or in her woman-centered, collaborative play No!, poet/playwright/fiction writer Alexis DeVeaux challenges hegemonic representations of race and gender. In DeVeaux's The Tapestry, for instance, the black woman's body functions as a site of gender and cultural confrontation on at least two distinct levels. Against the first level of contestation - that of the black woman's body as a sign of cultural and gender accommodation - DeVeaux posits a second, more pervasive imaging of the black woman's body as a signifier of strength and survival. Though at first glance, the second image seems a newer, late twentieth -century revisioning of black womanhood, in fact, as this paper will argue, it is a re-imaging of previous historical images of the black woman's body. This paper discusses DeVeaux's use of gestures and other movements (stooping , bending, leaning, etc.) within the historical context of the visual representations of black women's bodies. In her appropriation of Jean Comaroff's discussion of the self as inscribed by imagings of the body in Body ofPower, Spirit ofResistance, Catherine Bell discerns that she [Comaroff] "argues that the body 'mediates' all action upon the world: through the schemes of classification inscribed in it, reworked whenever the person needs to be remade, the body effectively constitutes both the self and the universe of which it is a part.'" As she builds on Comaroff's view of the body, Bell looks to Foucault in Discipline and Punish to help her unravel the relationship between the body and power. Bell turns to Foucault because he is concerned with "how power relations can materially penetrate the body in depth, without depending even on the mediation of the subject's own representations. If power takes hold on the body, this isn't through its having first to be interiorised in people's consciousness."3 It is indeed the exploration of the black female self that provides the basis of Alexis DeVeaux's The Tapestry. Explaining the significance of the black Modern Drama, 40 (1997) 514 Re-Imaging the Black Woman's Body 5[5 female self in the writings of contemporary black women, DeVeaux states "[t)here is a great exploration of the self in women's work. It's the self in relationships with an intimate other, with the community, the nation and the world. Self is universal in this context because it has an understanding of the one as the beginning one and then moves beyond that. Male writers don't seem to have this concept in their work yet.'" In DeVeaux's The Tapestry the protagonist Jet's remaking of the black female self can be seen as analogous to her efforts to remake her community. DeVeaux makes reference to Jet as a race-woman throughout the play, presenting her as heir to the legacy of race-consciousness displayed by black women from the early stages of America's history to the present. But it is to the issue of the black woman's body as object, shaped and made malleable by those who exercise agency over her to which I wish to address this portion of the paper. The black woman's body is a site of contestation for each of the three main characters: Jet, a young woman in her early twenties; Axis, a man in his late twenties; and Lavender, a woman in her late twenties. Most graphically symbolized by the "sacrificial chicken," the blood of which the surreal choir members drink ritualistically at the end of the play, the black woman's body is seen on one level as ancillary, even self-immolating.' Significantly , in the play Jet is always seen washing her face, picking at pimples, images which reveal her concern with cleanliness, perfection, and physical attractiveness. On the level of race, however, Jet's pimples symbolize for her societal views of the black female body as imperfect, needing to be cleansed. DeVeaux deepens the symbolism of water as purifier by having Jet's parents splash water on her...


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pp. 514-525
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