The Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature Art and Culture is delighted to announce that Professor Sarah Phillips Casteel will be delivering the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Marston LaFrance Lecture on March 23, from 3-4 pm. You can register here for this online event.

Professor Casteel’s talk, “Making History Visible: Black Lives Under Nazism in Literature and Art”addresses a little known chapter of World War II in which Black people living in Germany and occupied Europe found themselves caught up in the Nazis’ genocidal campaign.

While not specifically targeted for elimination, Black Europeans and African, Caribbean and African American expatriates suffered a variety of forms of persecution during the war including ostracization, forced sterilization, incarceration in internment and concentration camps, and death. Among them were children of German colonial subjects such as Theodor Michael, jazz musicians such as Freddy Johnson, visual artists such as Josef Nassy, Resistance members such as anti-colonial thinker Anton de Kom, and colonial soldiers such as writer and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor.

In the absence of public commemoration, African diaspora writers and visual artists have recorded and imaginatively reconstructed these events, actively reshaping the collective memory of the Holocaust. Probing the boundaries of Holocaust memory and art, Professor Casteel’s lecture will draw attention to a largely unrecognized corpus of African diaspora literature and visual art that challenges the erasure of Black European wartime history. Consisting of both testimonial art by victims of the Nazi regime and postmemorial artworks that imaginatively reconstruct the wartime period, this corpus decolonizes Holocaust memory by revealing the embeddedness of African diaspora experience within Holocaust history.

The lecture is drawn from Professor Casteel’s current book project, Making History Visible: Black Lives Under Nazi Persecution in Literature and Art. Among other works, the project addresses the wartime internment art of Dutch Caribbean painter Josef Nassy (see Professor Casteel’s recent essay on Nassy in Small Axe) and postwar novels by African diaspora writers that combine Holocaust fiction’s documentary effect with the thematic and formal strategies of jazz fiction (see Professor Casteel’s “Jazz Fiction and the Holocaust” published in Holocaust & Genocide Studies).

Overall, this project draws attention to the role of the creative arts in recovering occluded histories, bearing out cultural memory studies’ claim that art is not merely a conduit but also an agent of memory that can actively reframe our understanding of the past. The objectives of this research project book could not be more timely, aligning with our current decolonizing moment that has been propelled by the Black Lives Matter movement. In Professor Casteel’s own words,

Making History Visible advances scholarly understanding of the global and transcultural dimensions of the Holocaust. Bringing together Black studies and Holocaust studies—two fields not normally connected—the book challenges a compartmentalization of academic knowledge that has occluded both the stories of African diaspora victims of Nazi persecution and the artworks they have inspired.

Professor Sarah Phillips Casteel

Cross-appointed to ICSLAC and the Institute of African Studies, Dr. Sarah Phillips Casteel is a professor in the Department of English. Her full academic profile can be found here.

Her sustained and ongoing contributions to ICSLAC’s Cultural Mediations PhD Program include research seminars, doctoral supervisions and guest lectures. Dr. Casteel, a former Graduate Supervisor of the program, is also actively engaged in the governance of the Institute.

She is  currently supervising or co-supervising the following postdoctoral and doctoral projects:

  • Unsettled Jews: Jewish World Literature and Settler Colonialism (Cultural Mediations postdoctoral fellow Aaron Kreuter)
  • Entangled Relations in Asian Canadian Contemporary Art (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Victoria Nolte)
  • Beyond Postcolonialism: The Urban and Social Realist Turn in Indian and Nigerian Literatures (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Lale Eskicioğlu)
  • Remediating Memory: Narrating the Kindertransport in Literature and Popular Culture (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Marie-Catherine Allard)
  • Racial Passing in Comics: Representing Racial Ambiguity (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Kevin Pat Fong)
  • Holocaust Memory and the Dictatorships of the Southern Cone of Latin America: Interconnecting Memory and Trauma (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Jessica Marino)
  • Entangled Relations in Asian Canadian Contemporary Art (Cultural Mediations PhD candidate Victoria Nolte)