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Sculpture Against the State: Anarchism, Censorship and Jacob Epstein's Tomb of Oscar Wilde

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Friday, October 18, 2019
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9:30 am - 11:00 am
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Mark Antliff
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Join the Franklin Humanities Institute for its Friday morning series, tgiFHI! tgiFHI gives Duke faculty in the humanities, interpretative social sciences and arts the opportunity to present on their current research to interlocutors in their fields. A light breakfast will be served at 9am.

About the presentation:

This talk considers the French State's punitive censorship of Jacob Epstein's celebrated Tomb of Oscar Wilde as 'indecent,' following its installation in 1912 at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. I show how Epstein's conjoining of anarchist notions of sexual liberation, martyrdom, and radical individualism in his evolving designs for the Tomb cast that monument as a symbol of resistance to governmental authority. Such politics also account for Epstein's alliance with French anarchists affiliated with the Action d'art movement in marshalling a public protest in defense of the Tomb. These anarchists furthered Epstein's cause by drawing on Wilde's anarchist theory to posit a concept of contagious joy as a life-affirming riposte to the French State's puritanical censure of the monument. Thus a state of mind that would condemn Epstein's sculpture as obscene is here challenged by a counter-discourse that called for new psychological and interpersonal relations, premised on Wilde's own anarchism.

About the presenter: Mark Antliff Anne is Murnick Cogan Professor of Art and Art History. His research and teaching interests focus on art in Europe before 1960.

Contact: Sarah Rogers