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This paper was part of the 2015-2016 Penn Humanities Forum on Sex. Find out more at


Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1986 Black Book was subject of much political controversy in the years following its release. In the drama of this controversy, Mapplethorpe’s figure—as an Artist and an Author—grew more dominant in discourse at the same time that it was battered by right-wing attacks. The growth of his figure cast a dark shadow over the other bodies implicated in his project: those of the black men he photographed. How might a history of their place in this books creation be written, given an archival silence? This project will engage the model’s pose as a performance that resists Mapplethorpe’s gaze and the many imperatives that structure his photobook as a consumable object of racial fascination.



Date Posted: 18 November 2016