Race and Aesthetics: A British Society of Aesthetics Connections Conference took place at Leeds Art Gallery on May 19th and 20th, 2015. Our aim with this conference was to reunite philosophy of race and philosophical aesthetics. The conference was generously supported primarily by British Society of Aesthetics, and additionally supported by Centre for Aesthetics and Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies at University of Leeds and by Leeds Art Gallery.
Diversity was a recurring feature at the conference.
The conference included speakers who approached the intersection of race and aesthetics from diverse philosophical perspectives. In addition to the invited speakers who work centrally in aesthetics (A.W. Eaton, Sherri Irvin, and Paul C. Taylor), the other invited speakers work in political philosophy (Charles Mills and Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman), epistemology (Kristie Dotson), cognitive science (Ron Mallon), phenomenology (Alia Al-Saji), and feminist philosophy (Katharine Jenkins and Jennifer Saul). There were also two submitted papers selected via anonymous review (by James Camien McGuiggan, and by Nils-Hennes Stear and Robin Zheng). Moreover, there was also diversity in the career stages of all speakers, who range from postgraduate students to senior professors.
There was even more diversity in the conference audience. In addition to aestheticians and other philosophers, the conference attracted academics from Sociology, English, and Education. Moreover, the conference also attracted museum professionals, artists and curators, and other members of the public. Altogether, 55-60 people participated in the conference.
The papers presented also exhibited a level of diversity that reflected the richness of the intersection between race and aesthetics. To just give a small sample, the talks covered topics such as: the challenges of racialized desire and bodily taste, the role of aesthetics in maintaining White Supremacy, the experiences and normative evaluations of racialized art, and the mechanics of racial humour. Abstracts of the talks are available at http://raceandaesthetics.weebly.com/abstracts.html . Better yet, the Twitter hashtag #raceaesthetics15 provides a stream of conference snapshots from multiple conference participants’ perspectives.
To conclude the conference report, we would like to quote a (completely unsolicited) comment, posted on Facebook, from James Camien McGuiggan, who is a postgraduate student at University of Southampton and one of the (non-invited) speakers at the conference:
“The BSA Race and Aesthetics Conference in Leeds this week was perhaps the best conference I’ve ever attended. It was enlightening, humbling, invigorating, depressing, inspiring. I felt more vividly than ever what I’d before merely thought: that philosophy must be politically urgent, and that it shies from this obligation at the cost of philosophy itself, not just because philosophy thereby commits itself to irrelevance but because the rigour and clarity philosophy demands is impossible without (intellectual, emotional, perceptual) awareness of how power structures and ideology can shape and distort philosophy’s foundations and framework. I was also incredibly humbled by how everyone attending the conference embodied this philosophical excellence, this mutually enriching combination of rigour, bravery, honesty, collegiality and fury. I cannot express enough my thanks to everyone involved; and I mean this ‘cannot’ deeply: I not only lack the means to thank as much as I know I should, but I do not know how deeply I learnt from the conference; I know only that I learnt much more than I can now appreciate.”