Legacy Russell presents Black Meme: A History of the Images that Make Us, in conversation with J Wortham

Book CoverMonday
July 8th
McNally Jackson Seaport
4 Fulton St.
RSVP Required — see below

A history of Black imagery that recasts our understanding of visual culture and technology. 

"A riveting history of the images that have made and maimed Black people in an omnivorous white culture, one that stretches across centuries and technologies, from street to cyberspace; from the violence we suffer to the virtuosity we invent. You will be galvanized by Legacy Russell’s analytic brilliance and visceral eloquence." —Margo Jefferson, author of Constructing a Nervous System

"Unsettles, expands and deepens our understanding of the black meme. At the center of this book is work. How black bodies, divorced from context and circulating, are made to do all kinds of cultural work in perpetuity. Throughout, Russell stays with black/ness as viral material, encourages us to consider memes with "slowness," and wonders what might intervene in and end this perpetual labor. Black Meme is necessary reading; brilliant and utterly convincing" —Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes

In Black Meme, Legacy Russell, award-winning author of the groundbreaking Glitch Feminism, explores the “meme” as mapped to Black visual culture from 1900 to the present, mining both archival and contemporary media. Russell argues that without the contributions of Black people, digital culture would not exist in its current form. These meditations include the circulation of lynching postcards; why a mother allowed Jet magazine to publish a picture of her dead son, Emmett Till; and how the televised broadcast of protesters in Selma changed the debate on civil rights.

Questions of the media representation of Blackness come to the fore as Russell considers how a citizen-recorded footage of the LAPD beating Rodney King became the first viral video. And the Anita Hill hearings shed light on the media’s creation of the Black icon. The ownership of Black imagery and death is considered in the story of Tamara Lanier’s fight to reclaim the daguerreotypes of her enslaved ancestors from Harvard. Meanwhile the live broadcast on Facebook of the murder of Philando Castile by the police after he was stopped for a broken taillight forces us to bear witness to the persistent legacy of the Black meme. 

Through imagery, memory and technology Black Meme shows us how images of Blackness have always been central to our understanding of the modern world.

Author HeadshotLegacy Russell is the Executive Director and Chief Curator of experimental arts institution the Kitchen. Formerly she was the Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow, a recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award, a 2022 Pompeii Commitment Digital Fellow, and a 2023 Center for Curatorial Leadership Fellow. Russell’s written work, interviews, and essays have been published internationally. Her first book was Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto.


Author HeadshotJ Wortham is a sound healer, reiki practitioner, herbalist, and community care worker oriented towards healing justice and liberation. J is also an award-winning staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, co-host of the podcast “Still Processing,” and the proud editor of the visual anthology Black Futures, along with Kimberly Drew, from One World. J is also currently working on a book about the body and dissociation for Penguin Press called Work of Body.




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