The endless toggling between fascination and suspicion—or what I call my love affair with visual culture—began in Boston after I emigrated from a sun-drenched peripheral town at the edge of a sugarcane plantation. I was thirteen when I landed in the stuffy eighth-grade classroom commandeered by Mrs. R., a skinny white woman with boisterously curly red hair. Mrs. R. combined her instruction in English grammar and pronunciation with lessons on watercolor and entomology. She also taught us how to make pinhole cameras out of tin cans and introduced us, an energetic bunch of black and Brown teens, to the Surrealist masters. I remember being in awe of the meticulous flamboyance of...

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