Austerity, abundance and race in post-war visual culture
In a post-war world of austerity and privation, visions of plenty often held out the possibility of liberation and regeneration. But those visions just as frequently codified “plenty” as something to be mistrusted, if not gravely threatening. Sharing a deep ambivalence over the abundance they depict, artitsts John Bratby and Richard Hamilton, and film makers Brian Desmond Hurst and Basil Dearden, all employ an “aesthetics of plenty” that both contests and contains competing post-war impulses of desire and denial. Further, they each locate the body as the critical site for the playing out of ubiquitous anxieties of race, gender, nationhood and decolonisation. Their shared visions of abundance simultaneously invoke a desirous world of plenty in the most unsettling and ambivalent terms. Bratby’s painting Jean and Still Life in Front of Window (1954), Hamilton’s collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956), and the feature films Simba (Brian Desmond Hurst 1956) and Sapphire (Basil Dearden 1959) each offer competing and complementary points of rupture where the discourses of empire, race, class, the body, and the nation all meet as images of compelling abundance become images of troubling abandon.
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