At the turn of the last century, Bert Williams and George Walker performed as a minstrel duo in which only Williams wore burnt cork. By mixing the surfaces of blacking and their own black skin, Williams and Walker offered an aesthetic critique of the subject/object status of the black body—animating the inanimate substance of burnt cork while objectifying animate black skin. Examples from portrait photography and the visual art of Whitfield Lovell and Kara Walker support arguments about the agency of surface.

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