Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Fictive Kinship in the Aspirations, Agency, and (Im)Possible Selves of the Black American Art Teacher

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Fictive Kinship in the Aspirations, Agency, and (Im)Possible Selves of the Black American Art Teacher

Article excerpt

Fictions of Kinship

My own personal identity as a person of African descent is complex. I view my point of cultural reference as multiple-a Filipino/Spanish/Chinese/Black1 American woman. I am sometimes questioned about my identity and am reminded how often I must negotiate the intersections of competing identities: racialized, social, cultural, and professional. To say that locating a fixed group membership (Tajfel, 1982) has been challenging is an understatement. Yet, I have been embraced, both by Black2 and Brown3 racialized groups as family-or rather, fictive kin. This kinship has proven a salient feature in the structuring of my aspirational pursuits within the art world.

In this article, I ground my understanding of fictive kinship through a brief narrative of my subjective experiences as a Brown art educator and practicing artist. Additionally, I support my personal narrative to include the emerging narratives of fictive kinship from my study of three Black high school art teachers. Here, a theory of fictive kinship serves as a possible explanation for how the professional aspirations of an artist identity emerges among these individuals, despite historic and problematic (under)representation within the canon of art. To these ends, I offer an expansion of the anthropological use of fictive kinship to include the visual representation through imagination and imagery; this expansion includes how representation of Black identity through images located within (or absent from) visual culture is significant.

Ethnographic and anthropological research on Black families generally defines two types of fictive kinship. One involves unrelated individuals, such as close friends, and the other involves bringing unrelated individuals into an extended family network and addressing these individuals as "auntie," "uncle," "brotha," or "sistah" (Chatters, Taylor, & Jayakody, 1994; Speicher & McMahon, 1992). Though multiracial, for the purposes of this essay I must reveal my deep connection to a Black consciousness, which plays a large role in how I identify racially, and further, how I have managed my professional pursuits as an artist and art educator. Informing my "Black-sentient mixed-race identity" (Dagbovie-Mullins, 2013, p. 78) and experiences, I grew up the child of a father who shared stories of living as a Black American male in the Deep South. As such, I have turned to a theory of fictive kinship in order to give an account of its salience on racialized experiences in the pursuit and structuring of professional aspirations within an historically hegemonic art world.

Using Bruner's (1996) concept of Self (also described as agency) as a starting point, my aim is to reveal the complexities and (im)possibilities in the formation of professional identity, specifically, factors that might advance or impede such aspirations. Examining the life stories of Black American artist/ teachers enabled a deeper understanding of how they think about themselves in relation to the art world. In this way, the interconnectedness of multiple identities, one always informing the other, has been exemplified.

Bruner (1996) also suggests that in order to conceptualize and foster a positive sense of agency, one must be able to envision, "self with history and possibility" (p. 36). The personal narratives I offer are examples of this vision and are intended to expand on Bruner's concept of narratives, which, "help [people] create a version of the world in which, psychologically, they can envisage a place for themselves" (p. 39). I am suggesting that fictive kinship, through racialized bonding, presents a response to narratives of historical oppression for these Black Americans.

Fictive Bonds and Interaction through Racialized Identity

In the U.S. fictive kinship ties have played significant roles in the lives and culture of Black Americans (Gutman, 1976). Research by Fordham (1987) and Chatters et al. (1994) provided me with the foundation to use fictive kinship to describe the bonds of the kin-like personal relationships as a possible factor in identity development and professional aspirations of Black art teachers. …

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