Joan Morgan
Program Director
Center for Black Visual Culture
NYU Institute of African American Affairs

Program Director, Joan Morgan, Ph.D., develops the Center’s position nationally and internationally in relation to black visual culture throughout the diaspora.

The Center for Black Visual Culture is a space for scholarly and artistic inquiry into the understanding and exploration of images focusing on black people globally. It is both an incubator for new ideas and a center for the study of images. As an interdisciplinary space for students, faculty, post-doc fellows, and the public, CBVC is a place for conversations, exhibitions, and listening as well as a locus for the production of new scholarship and art projects.

Dr. Morgan writes: “Today, Black people globally find themselves at the pernicious intersection of a global pandemic — one in which Black mortality was disproportionately high —and yet another spate of Black murders at the hands of the police. Even as the casualties climbed, black visual narratives altered the course of history. From the harrowing visual capture of George Floyd’s murder to the widely circulating images of hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, “Black Lives Matter” became an international battle cry to end systemic, racialized and gendered injustice. Fueled by countless testimonies of black pain, fatigue, loss and anger, revolution has finally coupled with reckoning. And yet remarkably, and perhaps necessarily, the commitment to Black joy has been palpable. We plan to design programming that looks at Black Joy as Resistance.”

Dr. Morgan is an award-winning feminist author and a graduate of NYU’s American Studies Ph.D. program. A pioneering hip-hop journalist, Dr. Morgan coined the term “hip-hop feminism” in 1999, when her book was published, the groundbreaking When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost. Her book has been used in college coursework across the country. Regarded internationally as an expert on the topics of hip-hop, the Caribbean, and gender, Dr. Morgan has made numerous television, radio and film appearances — among them HBOMax, Netflix, Lifetime, MTV, BET, VH-1, CNN, WBAI’s The Spin and MSNBC. Dr. Morgan has been a Visiting Instructor at Duke University where she taught The History of Hip-Hop Journalism, a Visiting Research Scholar at Vanderbilt University and Visiting Lecturer at Stanford University’s Institute for the Diversity of the Arts where she was the recipient of the prestigious 2013 Dr. St. Clair Drake Teaching Award for her course The Pleasure Principle: A Post-Hip Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure. She is the first Visiting Scholar to ever receive the award. She is also a recipient of the 2015 Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship, the 2015 Penfield Fellowship, the 2016 American Fellowship Award and a 2020 finalist for the ACLU Emerging Scholars Fellowship.

Dr. Morgan’s dissertation, It’s About Time We Got Off: Claiming a Pleasure Politic in Black Feminist Thought interrogated black feminist theory’s historical scripting of black female sexuality as a site of ongoing racial and sexual trauma through the lens of a pleasure politic. For black women, the gendered manifestations of the “afterlife of slavery” include the trauma instigated by sexual and domestic violence, reproductive violence, and state-sanctioned violence. Pleasure politics acknowledges this trauma but reframes the existing narrative about black female sexuality by positioning desire, agency, and black women’s engagements with pleasure as a viable theoretical paradigm. Pleasure politics ask: What possibilities can a politics of pleasure offer for black feminist futures? Specifically, how can deepening our understanding of the multivalent ways black women produce, read and participate in pleasure complicate our understanding of black female subjectivities? Pleasure politics is a deliberate troubling of some of black feminist thought’s most trenchant theories — specifically “culture of dissemblance,” “the politics of respectability,” “controlling images,” and Audre Lorde’s deployment of the erotic. It challenges a methodological sluggishness in black feminist thought, one that assumes these critical interventions are impervious to the changes of time. Instead, Dr. Morgan argued that black women’s broad engagement with digital technologies, social media, communal viewing practices, gender queerness, and current ethnic diversity contest the ubiquity of the “politics of silence” to disrupt a master narrative that is static, heteronormative and mono-ethnic in its approach to blackness.

“Pleasure Politics” is a multi-pronged effort that includes Dr. Morgan’s public-intellectual work and several years of critical intellectual labor with “The Pleasure Ninjas” — a collective she founded during her tenure as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University. The collective consists of journalist and playwright Esther Armah and Drs. Yaba Blay, Brittney Cooper, Treva B. Lindsey and Kaila Story. As theorists, almost all of whom identify as feminist and black, they have made a commitment to reframe the existing narrative about black female sexuality by positioning desire, agency and black women’s engagements with pleasure as a viable theoretical paradigm. Both Dr. Morgan’s public intellectual work and dissertation research on pleasure politics have been generative. In addition to national and international panels with “The Pleasure Ninjas”,  she was a co-editor and contributor for a two-part special issue of The Black Scholar on the future of Black feminism. Her  piece, “Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure” was selected by the journal as one of the best articles of 2015. The article was subsequently reprinted in the New York Times bestseller Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. Her piece “Controlled Images and Cultural Reassembly: Material Black Girls Living in an Avatar World” was published in the collection Women in Migration: Responses in Art History.

In 2018 Simon & Schuster published her book She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the acclaimed and influential debut album. Her writing is interdisciplinary as she explores the ways in which music, literature, history, feminism, and the arts provide an entry into her work. In her work Dr. Morgan examines the complexity of representation of women in visual culture and music by focusing not only on the subjects but also by including a close read of archival materials that looks at the context in which these stories are created.

Dr. Morgan is a dedicated researcher and insightful scholar. We are excited that she has joined us as she will make major contributions to the advancement of IAAA & CBVC as her first projects will focus on notions of resistance and connecting with researchers on the black diaspora. She begins August 2020 and we are confident that she will bring new dynamic programming to the NYU community.