Sep 17 2021

Lucy Mensah, “Museum Intimacies: The Erotics of the White Cube in Black Feminist Art”

Art History Colloquium

September 17, 2021

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM


Email for Zoom Link


Las Vegas, IL 89120



Dr. Lucy Mensah

As part of the 2012 landmark exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston (CAMH) titled Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, uneasy museumgoers watched on as the Black, queer, woman performance artist, Tameka Norris (a.k.a “Meka Jean,” b.1979 in Agana, Guam), produced a morbid art installation in real time. 

Wearing a bright-red jumpsuit, Norris carries out her performance in this sequence: she presses a knife firmly between her lips, drops onto her hands and knees, and proceeds to trace the gallery’s perimeter with her tongue. While in action, Norris leaves a continuous trail of saliva—and presumably blood— in her wake, beads of which trickle downward from the white walls onto the gallery’s wood flooring in dramatic, sensual fashion.  

 Tameka Norris’s squeam-inducing display of intimacy with the “white cube”, called  “Untitled,” is the subject of Mensah’s presentation. Her reading of this documented performance offers a departure from prevailing discourses about the white cube that reduce it to being a fundamental antagonist to Black artistic expression. Mensah suggests that Tameka Norris problematizes this reductive attitude toward the white cube by bringing its paradoxical nature into relief as both a disciplinary space for the commodified Black female body and as a seductive, ambivalent muse for the daring Black woman artist. 

Lucy Mensah is an assistant professor of Museum and Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University, where she researched the intersection of spatiality, race and gender in contemporary African American literature and visual culture. Her current project examines the role of the Western museological imagination in shaping modern Black female subjectivities. Mensah has held curatorial appointments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) in Washington D.C., the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Mensah has written for the NMAH, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the American Federation of Arts, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids), and Prospect New Orleans. 


Emmanuel Ortega

Date posted

Sep 12, 2021

Date updated

Sep 12, 2021