A Planet Yet Undiscovered: Nicki Minaj's Grotesque Aesthetics


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color photograph of "Embodied Avatars" book cover
Uri McMillan, Assistant Professor of English, African American Studies, and Gender Studies, University of California - Los Angeles
Event Date: 
February 19, 2016
Event Time: 
2239 Lane Hall
Event Accessibility : 
Ramp and elevator access at the E. Washington Street entrance (by the loading dock). There are accessible restrooms on the south end of Lane Hall, on each floor of the building. A gender neutral restroom is available on the first floor.
color photograph of "Embodied Avatars" book cover

Uri McMillan zeroes in on Nicki Minaj’s canny manipulation of her voice in her zesty cameo on Kanye West’s single “Monster”; her thrilling scream in that song recalling antebellum circus exhibit Joice Heth’s earlier outburst, indexes their shared wielding of grotesque aesthetics. Building off of art historian Kobena Mercer’s scholarship, McMillan restages this term in the context of black women's slippery performance work and develops this term through Minaj’s artifice-laced performance in the music video accompaniment to Kanye West’s single, a particularly fraught piece that was swiftly banned upon its release.

Tracing a dynamic genealogy of performance from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, Uri McMillan's recent book (from which this talk draws), Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance (NYU, 2015) contends that black women artists practiced a purposeful self- objectification, transforming themselves into art objects. In doing so, these artists raised new ways to ponder the intersections of art, performance, and black female embodiment.


Cosponsored by the Department of English and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.