Skip to main content
A photograph of the book cover for "Mortevivum" next to a headshot of author Kimberly Juanita Brown.

Book Talk: Kimberly Juanita Brown | Mortevivum

A powerful examination of the unsettling history of photography and its fraught relationship to global antiblackness.

Part of the Spring 2024 Lecture Series. In collaboration with MIT Press. This lecture will be held in person in the ACT Cube (E15-001). Following Kimberly Juanita Brown’s presentation/reading, she will be joined by ACT lecturer Hector Membreno-Canales and Sandy Alexandre, Associate Professor, Literature at MIT for a moderated Q+A.

The lecture is free and open to the public, though registration is required.
Please register here.

Copies of Mortevivum will be available to purchase from the MIT Press Bookstore.

Since photography’s invention, black life has been presented as fraught, short, agonizingly filled with violence, and indifferent to intervention: living death—mortevivum—in a series of still frames that refuse a complex humanity. In Mortevivum, Kimberly Juanita Brown shows us how the visual logic of documentary photography and the cultural legacy of empire have come together to produce the understanding that blackness and suffering—and death—are inextricable. Brown traces this idea from the earliest images of the enslaved to the latest newspaper photographs of black bodies, from the United States and South Africa to Haiti and Rwanda, documenting the enduring, pernicious connection between photography and a global history of antiblackness.

Photography’s history, inextricably linked to colonialism and white supremacy, is a catalog of othering, surveillance, and the violence of objectification. In the genocide in Rwanda, for instance, photographs after the fact tell viewers that blackness comes with a corresponding violence that no human intervention can abate. In Haiti, the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, photographic “evidence” of its sovereign failure suggests that the formerly enslaved cannot overthrow their masters and survive to tell the tale. And in South Africa and the United States, a loop of racial violence reminds black subjects of their lower-class status mandated via the state. Illustrating the global nature of antiblackness that pervades photographic archives of the present and the past, Mortevivum reveals how we live in a repetition of imagery signaling who lives and who dies on a gelatin silver print—on a page in a book, on the cover of newspaper, and in the memory of millions.

Mortevivum is the inaugural title of On Seeing, a new publication series devoted to visual literacy. Publications foreground the political agency, critical insight, and social impact inscribed in visuality and representation. The MIT Press will publish each On Seeing volume as a print book, ebook, and open access digital edition created by Brown University Digital Publications.

Kimberly Juanita Brown is the inaugural director of the Institute for Black Intellectual and Cultural Life at Dartmouth College where she is also an Associate Professor of English and creative writing. She is the author of The Repeating Body: Slavery’s Visual Resonance in the Contemporary. Brown was the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Assistant Professor for 2017-2018, hosted by MIT Literature and MIT Women’s & Gender Studies.

Sandy Alexandre is an Associate Professor, Literature at MIT, whose research spans the late nineteenth-century to present-day black American literature and culture. Her first book, The Properties of Violence: Claims to Ownership in Representations of Lynching (Mississippi 2012), uses the history of American lynching violence as a framework to understand matters concerning displacement, property ownership, and the American pastoral ideology in a literary context.

Hector R. Membreno-Canales, ACT lecturer, was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (1988) and grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He served more than a decade as a US Army Photographer working in Iraq, El Salvador, Poland and more.  Hector used the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to study Photography at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and earned his MFA from the Dept. of Art & Art History at Hunter College, The City University of New York. Hector’s work explores official histories, American patriotism, and the Military-Industrial Complex.

Date: 03/18/2024
Time: 6:00pm - 7:30pm

ACT Cube (MIT Bldg. E15-001)
20 Ames Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States