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Blackamoors, Noble Savages and Mungo Macaronis: the Black Male Body in Fashion Media


The Stuart Hall Library Animateur, Dr Christine Checinska  will be speaking at the Black Portraitures Conference in Florence. Christine will use Stuart Hall’s work as a departure point from which to discuss the image of the black man in fashion media. Christine has kindly provided the summary of her conference paper for readers of our blog (see below).

“Stuart Hall, commenting on the recurring (mis)-representations of the black male body, noted that for each depiction of the savage and the slave there exists a less threatening image of the black as a docile servant and ever-merry minstrel or clown. This paper argues that the Blackamoors, noble savages and Mungo Macaronis present in contemporary fashion media are little more than manifestations of the savage, the slave, the servant and the clown, revealing traces of the ambivalent colonial fantasies embedded in the field. How do these images shape our ideals and identities? How do they relate to self-representation and the everyday performance of black masculinities?

Since the slave trade, images of the black male body have not only adorned advertisements for ‘exotic’ colonial produce like tea, coffee, sugar and tobacco but also the surfaces of objects employed in the ritual of dressing such as boxes of bleaching agent, tins of shoe polish, hair pins, snuff boxes and trinkets. As early as the sixteenth century fashionable members of the English aristocracy donned black masks at courtly functions and, in some instances, painted themselves black as Mores. By the eighteenth century, the image of the black male body, partly through its association with expensive products, had become a marker of status, wealth and style. But could the (mis)-represented black male body, now an ‘object’ of desire, ever be deemed beautiful? How does today’s vernacular black male dress trouble certain Western notions of beauty? How does it challenge Western notions of black masculinities?

Through close readings of historical and contemporary imagery, this paper traces the origins and continued presence of Blackamoors, noble savages and Mungo Macaronis – each one a form of ‘black face’ that renders the individual invisible. It considers the tension between (mis)-representation and self-representation. Vernacular black male dress is seen as a form of counter-gaze able to temporarily overturn invisibility, as masculine identities that break free of the stereotypes noted by Hall are refashioned via the strategic tilt of a hat, or the glint of a bracelet, or the flash of a neon coloured lining on an otherwise sombre outfit.”

Dr Christine Checinska Biography

Dr Christine Checinska is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of East London, a Research Associate at VIAD, University of Johannesburg and the 2nd Stuart Hall Library Animateur at Iniva, Rivington Place, London. Christine’s work as a writer and curator is situated at the meeting point between fashion, textiles and contemporary art. A primary concern is the relationship between cloth, culture and race from the perspective of the African Diasporas. Her recent publications include Reconfiguring Diasporic Identities in Beyond Borders, John Hutnyk (ed.), Pavement Books, (2012) and Crafting Difference: Art, Cloth and the African Diasporas in Cultural Threads: Transnational Textiles, Jessica Hemmings (ed.), Bloomsbury Publications, (2014). She combines all this with her work as a design consultant in the fashion industry.