Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Heather M. Shirey

Second Advisor

Todd Lawrence

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall


Bessie Harvey (1929-1994) was a Black American sculptor and multi-media assemblage artist working in Alcoa, Tennessee. Although not considered to be amongst Black feminist artists in the art historical record, by actively reclaiming her life after her childrearing years through her artistic practice, Harvey rose to be an unconventional and wholly unrecognized figure parallel to the feminist art movement of the late 20th century. Fiercely proud of her ancestral heritage, Harvey often sought to inculcate her diasporic legacy into her artworks while maintaining her contemporary identity and challenging the limitations of the white patriarchy. The outright ostracism of Black autodidact artists from the feminist art historical record mirrors the manner in which Black women have been and continue to be excluded from the feminist spaces that their ideologies help to construct and maintain. The prejudices against vernacular artists, alongside the limitations of feminist art history, result in a canonical failure to see the full complexity and sophistication of her work. Harvey actively sought to liberate her people from the hegemonic forces that act to simultaneously disempower and disenfranchise, a pursuit accomplished through her applied inherited diasporic African memory, critical knowledge of the Bible, and recognition of the stake that Black Americans have held in the construction of the United States.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.