Date of Award

Winter 9-26-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Moving Image Studies

First Advisor

Jennifer M. Barker

Second Advisor

Alessandra Raengo

Third Advisor

Angelo Restivo

Fourth Advisor

Andrea Barnwell Brownlee


This dissertation examines the artistic gestures in the artists’ portrait films made by women of color, including: Howardena Pindell, Blondell Cummings, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Mickalene Thomas, and Jumana Manna. As an interdisciplinary genre, artists’ portrait films rethink the moving image’s relationship to cinematic vocabularies of narrative and develop innovative choreographies, or aesthetic arrangements, of the moving body and the moving image. This dissertation adopts the term artistic gesture to engage the ways artists use aesthetic experimentation from other mediums to create intimate portraits that call our social contracts into question. Through an engagement with choreography, this dissertation examines the central role of gesture in artists’ portrait films as a mode of making that is responsive to the subjects in the artists’ works. By engaging gesture at the intersection of the social and the aesthetic, this dissertation engages gestures as physical, theoretical, and interdisciplinary exchanges. Each chapter focuses on the work of an individual artist through dance practices such as contact improvisation, social dance, polyrhythms, and intertextuality. By engaging the moving image choreographically, I examine the ways destabilizing gestures create porous archives that reposition the intimate lives of women of color within the histories of the avant-garde.


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