Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier



Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Laura A. Doyle, Chair

Second Advisor

TreaAndrea Russworm

Third Advisor

James E. Young

Fourth Advisor

A. Yemisi Jimoh

Subject Categories

American Studies


While critical analyses of loss and mourning in African American studies have tended to focus on narratives that primarily concentrate on the Atlantic slave trade/slavery and music, particularly blues and gospel spirituals, this project advocates reimagining the boundaries of our discussions of loss to include other art forms, including assemblage art and performative dance. From What Remains: The Politics of Aesthetic Mourning and the Poetics of Loss in Contemporary African American Culture includes the assemblage art of the 1966 exhibition Signs of Neon and Tyree Guyton’s ongoing Heidelberg Project that respond to the violence of urban rebellions and decay and Ralph Lemon’s performative piece, Come Home Charley Patton, which responds to foundational themes and sites of loss connected with racialized violence of the Twentieth Century. I also include two novels by John Edgar Wideman, Two Cities: A Love Story and Philadelphia Fire, which explore the 1985 bombing of MOVE. From What Remains attempts to reinterpret loss as traditionally understood in African American communities to instead consider its function as a philosophical and aesthetic theory in art that expresses and mourns various forms of loss. The artists’ desire to speak about and through complex losses requires them to confront structural limitations of their chosen aesthetic form and the difficulties of naming and representing loss. Thus, I analyze the ways in which—through nontraditional and multi-genre aesthetic forms—this art merges the material and symbolic “remains” of violated African American landscapes, bodies, communities, and psyches. Therefore, we see these artists sharing an interest in experimental visual and textual forms, including literary montage, assemblage, collage, and performance that rhetorically account for fragmented archives, absences, and disconnection. Through a process of seizing and reconfiguring what “remains” of loss, the artists expose and participate in a politics of mourning where they must respond to changing social, political, and physical landscapes.