The construction and re-construction of black femininity through games and the  social psychology of the avatar.
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The construction and re-construction of black femininity through games and the social psychology of the avatar.



Presentation for "Alien Bodies: Race, Space, and Sex in the African Diaspora" at Emory University, February 8-9, 2013.

Presentation for "Alien Bodies: Race, Space, and Sex in the African Diaspora" at Emory University, February 8-9, 2013.



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  • In 2010Tate Liverpool presented Exhibiting Bodies that focuses on contemporary responses to the ways in which the black body has been positioned and represented in colonial imagery, modernist art and the mass media. This includes early twentieth-century art forms that frequently portrayed the black female body in particular as exotic or ‘other’. The image on the left shows African American Kara Walker's use of the silhouette as an abstracted, fictional Negress. The image on the right is from Berlin-based South African artist Candice Breitz's Ghost Series.Walker is the author of her own character’s narrative but refers to Thomas Dixon's narrative of the "negress" from "The Clansman". The Negress doesn't have to have real characteristics. She simply has to have a body (e.g. dark, tawny, swarthy). In Dixon's book she is understood to be a bad influence on the direction of the country. Breitz appropriates photographs and visual fragments and recontextualizes them. The artist uses white-out to reconstruct the spectacle of racially marked gendered bodies on display in ethnographic postcards, which would ordinarily circulate in a predominantly white tourist market. 'Ghost Series' foregrounds and acknowledges the violence of whiting-out as a process at social and political levels.
  • Avatars offer their creators different possibilities for constructing or re-constructing self. The virtual avatar plays a major part in many social interactions and has been used to bring about social change, as well as a need to develop new social techniques and devices. Advances in communications extend the need for creative people to find appropriate social mechanisms to explore the self or the essential being of a person, whether he or she is physical or virtual – as avatars which are complex, capable of movement, allowed personalities, and referred to as ‘she’ or ‘her’ or something else entirely.
  • In the wide, wide world of gaming women, in general, are highly sexualized and made to fit into the violent worlds of game boys’ fantasies. With the creation of virtual 3D worlds like Second Life and alternative, serious gaming new types of characterizations have emerged.
  • In virtual worlds, creators can release or extend perceptions of self beyond material, superficial, or traditional ideas. For example:In The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions Niobe is a supporting character and one of the main characters of the video game Enter the Matrix.Within the virtual world of the Matrix, Niobe is one of Zion's most gifted martial artists. In the real world, she is the most skilled pilot among the rebel forces.
  • The player controls Nilin, an amnesiac 'memory hunter', through the streets of Neo-Paris in the year 2084. This dystopian future features a surveillance state. Nilin's former employer, Memoreyes, erases her memories to neutralize her and she must discover why and how to restore them. The game introduces the mechanic of 'memory remixing': entering and rearranging a target's memories to manipulate them. Players accomplish this by replaying a memory and modifying details to change the target's recollection of the outcome.
  • HERadventure by artist AyokaChenzirabegins when HER, a warrior woman and inhabitant of Earth’s sister planet, comes to Earth to investigate why it is causing her native planet to freeze and slowly die. HER discovers that the auras of Earth’s women are diminishing. Consequently, Earth and other parts of the universe are negatively impacted. HER enlists a corps of “superheroes in training” (HERadventure users) to take meaningful action and offer solutions to issues such as negative self-esteem, discrimination, eating disorders, and depression, which are causing women’s auras to suffer. These issues are dealt with through visual metaphors in a 3-D environment. HERadventure users “teleport” through various levels of the gaming experience by using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, with a goal of helping the superhero save her planet and ultimately serve as catalysts for positive change in the virtual and real world.
  • The Apparition Series (2005 - present) is an on-going multi-media project by artist Camille Norment in which an apparition or ghost, appears as an African-American woman in an ironic combination of historical attire and hair-dress that would be unlikely for a black woman during the period the clothing itself suggests. Her pristine white ‘Southern Belle’ dress of the Civil War era stands in contrast to the body it covers and the tuft of dreadlocks that spill out over the head. Throughout the series, the formal qualities of the apparition as an image create a linkage between historical and contemporary representations of the body through its combinatory use of references to black and white portraiture and photomontage, and to the surreal cybernetic qualities of avatars in virtual reality environments.
  • The virtual avatar represents the human or a fantasy-based representation of self that can constantly be altered or changed. Creators explore these representations in their work, often using their avatar as an object to affect agency, or as part of an artwork, adding to it, or using it to perform. Thus, Niobe and avatars like her challenge what Alondra Nelson refers to as the "raceless future paradigm" or what Gary Zabel calls ‘ambiguity of identity.’ Although avatars and the names that uniquely identify them, can be altered, multiplied, discarded, or exchanged at the will of the user they can also be used to create an enhanced mirror image of a person’s identity, circle of influence, and perceived worlds or realities.

The construction and re-construction of black femininity through games and the  social psychology of the avatar. The construction and re-construction of black femininity through games and the social psychology of the avatar. Presentation Transcript

  • The construction and re-construction ofblack femininity through games and thesocial psychology of the avatar. Nettrice R. Gaskins, Digital Media Ph.D. candidate School of Literature, Media & Communication, Georgia Tech
  • Exhibiting Black Bodies Pre-DigitalLeft: Kara Walker. Linoleum Cut (1998). Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York © Kara Walker; Right: Candice Breitz. Ghost Series (1994-96).Courtesy White Cube, London. © Candice Breitz.
  • The Virtual Avatar & Transcendence Nettrice Gaskins. Personal Avatar (2006 - present). © Nettrice R. Gaskins.
  • The Sexy Brown Women of Gaming Sheva from Resident Evil 5., 2009. © Capcom.
  • Enter The Matrix: Niobe Niobe from Enter the Matrix, 2003. © Shiny Entertainment.
  • Remember Me: Nilin © Dontnod Entertainment.
  • Ayoka Chenziras HERadventure Ayoka Chenzira. HERadventure, 2012. © Ayoka Chenzira.
  • Camille Norment’s Apparition Camille Norment. The Apparition Series (2005 - present). © Camille Norment Studio.
  • Questions? Nettrice Gaskins. Alternative Futures (Afro-Pop), 2010. © Nettrice R. Gaskins.