On being black and visiting museums

by Jendella Benson Deciding that it is never too early to take the task of cultural reproduction seriously (see David Osa Amadasun’s article, “‘Black people don’t go to galleries’ – The reproduction of taste and cultural values”), I took my fourteen month old son to the National Portrait Gallery one brisk November afternoon. The exhibition […]

via The unbearable whiteness of history — Media Diversified

This post on Media Diversified echoes some recent discussion about the enduring perception that museums are not meant for people of color, who have been historically unwelcome and underrepresented in their collections.

I remember my experience attending museums as black child growing up in post-de-Segregation era Washington, DC differently. Maybe it was a Chocolate City thang, maybe it was that both my parents had advanced degrees, maybe it was that museums were being pressured to abandon exclusionary practices both official and de facto that a decade earlier would have certainly made the climate different, but as a frequent museum-goer I felt that those spaces belonged to me. Moreover, I felt just at home at the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery as I did at the National Museum of African Art (in its previous incarnation at the Frederick Douglass House before its move to the Mall).

Fortunately, I only learned later that most people like me perceived museums as antithetical to them and it is a shame that this belief persists. Was my sense of entitlement to the works of art that I saw regardless of whether they were by El Greco, an Aztec, a French Impressionist, an African, or by Bearden, due to whatever unique thing that prompted me to become an art historian or was it because an open door policy works?

New exhibition of photos of 1957 civil rights march by Lee Friedlander

Check out this exhibition Let Us March On: Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom at the Yale University Art Gallery curated by my former student, La Tanya Autry.

The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, a virtually forgotten civil rights gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on May 17, 1957, was photographed by Lee Friendlander.

This look back can hopefully provide inspiration for our trying times…

 

 

James Barnor, photographer

Having spent several summers in Accra, I was delighted to learn about the incredible photographer, James Barnor, who operated the Ever Young studio in Jamestown. Autograph mounted an exhibition of his work: http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/james-barnor-ever-young and an accompanying monograph has been published of his work. He has visited the US for the first time and spoke at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Anna May Wong and Cross-Racial Masquerade

The Chinese-American star, Anna May Wong, regularly appeared in films in roles that were non-Asian but always racialized. I am currently obsessed with how often imagery linked her with blackness, as in this Paramount Studio photograph by Eugene Robert Richee:

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Afrochic Safari

Bergdorf & Goodman Fall 2015 Window Display

You can’t make this stuff up!

African Americans perform in Frank Buck’s Jungleland, a popular attraction at the 1939 World’s Fair. Paul Gillespie Collection of New York World’s Fair Materials, New-York Historical Society.
African Americans perform in Frank Buck’s Jungleland, a popular attraction at the 1939 World’s Fair. Paul Gillespie Collection of New York World’s Fair Materials, New-York Historical Society.

Celestial Sphere, Color Movies, Gardens on Parade!

Worthy cause.

MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Ephemera from the Collection on the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.  Museum of the City of New York, X2013.156.6024.Promotional ephemera from the Collection on the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Museum of the City of New York, X2013.156.6.

Help the Museum digitize its 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection!

The Museum’s New York World’s Fair collections continue to be a major resource for researchers all over the globe, and past research inquiries span a broad range of subjects, including: small format cinema technology, Cleveland artists who exhibited at the 1939 American Art building, and the Fair’s poetry contest.  The Museum first shared information about these collections in January 2013, shortly after learning we had received funding from Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to embark upon a collaborative 18-month project with the Queens Museum of Art to make our collections from both the 1939/40 and 1964/65 New York World’s Fairs more accessible as a result of a generous grant from the Council on Library and…

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Anna May Wong for Daughter of the Dragon (1931)

FROM THE BYGONE

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Portrait of Anna May Wong for Daughter of the Dragon directed by Lloyd Corrigan 1931

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Anna May Wong and Warner Oland in Daughter of the Dragon directed by Lloyd Corrigan 1931

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Desperately Seeking Photographer

I have been unable to identify the photographer of the following portrait of Anna May Wong. It was likely taken in 1934 when Wong was starring in a film tltled Chu Chin Chow, aka Ali Baba Nights.

Anna May Wong

If anyone knows, please let me know using the comment field or email me at camara.holloway@icloud.com

Picturing Americans…Insights come from everywhere!

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in a convo, “Picturing Americans,” about Thomas Hart Benton as part of the opening festivities for “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

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Opening Reception (one of several!)

Thinking about Benton’s relationship to Hollywood and parallels with my research on Carl Van Vechten revealed an interesting thread via the director King Vidor. Benton went to Hollywood in 1937 on assignment for LIFE magazine. Van Vechten had gone a decade earlier in 1927 to write a series of articles for Vanity Fair. Both of them found Hollywoodland fascinating and at times repulsive.

Thomas Hart Benton by Carl Van Vechten
Thomas Hart Benton in 1935 by Carl Van Vechten

Van Vechten helped to catalyze the production of all-black cast musicals in the late 1920s. His infamous 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, was considered for adaptation but this never came to pass. Talks with Vidor eventually led to his making the 1929 film, Hallelujah!, one of the first all-black cast feature films. Vidor admired Benton’s work and later purchased one of his paintings, The Negro and Alligator (1927) in the 1940s.

All three held complex views of African Americans that ranged from egregious stereotype to genuine admiration and empathy. All, of course, were the product of their times where the black vogue and jazz craze coexisted with the second heyday of the Klan, lynchings, and race riots. (Doesn’t sound much different from 2015, does it!?)

“American Epics” is a great exhibition and I had the chance to look at my research from a new angle. Win-win!