n De Arte - Tarred by history : materiality, memory, and protest

Volume 53 Number 2-3
  • ISSN : 0004-3389
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The act of defacing public monuments as a form of protest is by no means a new or a U.S.-based phenomenon. Roughly two weeks after white supremacists convened in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 to protest the removal of Confederate monuments within the city, killing one counter-protester and wounding several others, however, an act of vandalism was reported in nearby Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, assuming an unusual form: two buckets of pine tar were poured over the base of the statue of Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart on the city’s historic Monument Avenue. Analysing pine tar as a material resource to protest white supremacy, this essay argues that the use of pine tar engages with multiple, interlocking, yet at times competing, histories of race and racism across space and time. Invoking a series of historic and folkloric associations, the use of pine tar opened a space for the re-mediation of memory of the Lost Cause. Pine tar facilitated a cultural critique that materially inverted dominant narratives of Confederate heroism and valour while foregrounding narratives of black self-determination. Replete with semiotic possibility, tar, this essay suggests, offers particular opportunities in acts resisting oppressive structures and commemorative forms.

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