Memorializing Masculinity? Gendering the Iconography of French Colonialism and Anticolonial Resistance in Martinique and Guadeloupe

Laura McGinnis

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The Black Lives Matter movement has delivered a timely reminder of the colonial narratives underpinning commemorative statuary in the public sphere. Crucial to this renewed scrutiny of public memorialization is a consideration of the intersection of political and historical narratives with systems of oppression such as gender and race. This essay explores the gendering of colonial and anticolonial commemorative statuary on display in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. As overseas departments of France, these islands remain politically, administratively and economically tied to their former colonizer. The essay traces the evolution in Antillean memorialization from the glorification of the white male colonizer or abolitionist to the celebration of slave resistance through the figure of the maroon. It examines a range of public artworks dating from 1904 to 2002, questioning the extent to which these memorials, whether commemorating colonial history, abolitionist rhetoric or anticolonial resistance, uphold “great men of history” narratives. The essay explores the subversion of classical representations of colonial and abolitionist figures through the vandalism and destruction of a number of statues of abolitionist Victor Schoelcher. It examines the masculine iconography of resistance, often premised on the radical appropriation of classicist forms to celebrate male resistors, while women and their roles in anticolonial struggle are commonly obscured or depicted in ways which uphold dominant racial narratives and gender stereotypes. Finally, the essay explores the subversive anticolonial forms employed in several recent installations, which move beyond mimetic depictions of the male body to showcase elements usually excluded from representation, including the grotesque, disfigured or wounded body, or to eschew portrayals of the (gendered and racialized) body altogether. These works point to more inclusive ways of portraying not only resistance to colonialism, but also the suffering and the collective humanity of enslaved peoples.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInterventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
Publication statusPublished - 03 Apr 2022


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