Imaging the Invisibles: Cross-dressing and Gender Play in the French Caribbean

Charlotte Hammond

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores visual and embodied representations of the practice of crossdressing in Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe and diasporic communities in France. The study examines the strategic performativity of dress as both a covert and overt means of resistance to the gendering, racialization and categorization of bodies during slavery. It pays particular attention to anti-colonial tactics of mimicry, masquerade and mirroring, as deployed in the artistic practices of contemporary Caribbean, diasporic and non-Caribbean film and performance makers. Underpinned by archival research into early performance activities and the historical control of bodies and dress during the Haitian revolutionary period (1791-1804), the study focuses on current expressions of cross-dressing in films and other visual media that negotiate and question this colonial and patriarchal paradigm. It interrogates to what extent corporeal stereotypes that continue to circulate as a legacy of French colonialism are repeated, re-configured and challenged through the performative power of dress, and includes close analysis of identities that cross gender, racial and class binaries in the African-derived religious tradition of Vodou. Beyond textual and historical analysis, the research includes a small scale qualitative audience study of selected works of my corpus, within both the context of the islands and metropolitan France. In its interrogation of these three aspects the thesis draws on Édouard Glissant’s theories of opacity and relationality (1981; 1990) with specific reference to cross-dressing and its reception in particular colonial/postcolonial contexts. The accompanying research blog can be accessed at: <>.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rose, Stephen, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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