History of Art and Architecture

Posing with the Dead: Rest in Peace T-shirts and Postmortem Visual Histories

Monday, March 18, 2024 - 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Rikki Byrd

125 Frick Fine Arts 

Rest in Peace (R.I.P.) T-shirts are a form of material culture popularized in Black working-class communities, where mourners purchase them in the wake of a person’s death. In this talk, Rikki Byrd will traverse a history of postmortem visual culture from twentieth-century photography to Black contemporary art to consider the ways Rest in Peace T-shirts uphold the methods and interventions of Black practitioners whose respective works have challenged systems of representation and reoriented Black visuality. Byrd will analyze R.I.P. T-shirts alongside James Van Der Zee’s 1978 publication The Harlem Book of the Dead; a visual culture of premeditated postmortem hip-hop album covers and music videos; and paintings by contemporary artists Fahamu Pecou, Sedrick Huckaby, and Jammie Holmes, who have taken the R.I.P. T-shirt as their primary subject across their respective series. This talk draws on a chapter in Byrd’s current research project, “In Loving Memory: Black Performance and the Sartorial Politics of Mourning,” which explores performances of mourning in everyday styling practices, visual art, and performance art that foreground the sartorial.




Rikki Byrd is a writer, educator, and curator who works across the academy, arts, and fashion industries. She has lectured at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, and her writing appears across exhibition catalogs, academic journals, and books, as well as arts and fashion media such as Hyperallergic and Teen Vogue. She has participated in speaking engagements with the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and worked on curatorial projects with the Baltimore Museum of Art, Saint Louis Art Museum, and Block Museum of Art. Rikki is the recipient of residencies from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the Modern Ancient Brown Foundation. She is the co-founder and editor of the Fashion and Race Syllabus, founder of Black Fashion Archive, and an editorial advisory board member for Bloomsbury Fashion Publishing. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri, a Master of Arts in Fashion Studies from Parsons School of Design, and a Master of Arts in Black Studies from Northwestern University, where she is currently completing her Ph.D. in Black Studies.