New Publication: “Dark Stars” in American Art

Dark Stars: Reinventing Blackness in the Interwar New York – London Circuit


Carl Van Vechten created a set of portraits of African American entertainers who knew each other through an interracial New York—London circuit during the interwar period. Less studied than the New York—Paris axis, this network offers rich insights for those interested in this important moment in modernist and African American cultural histories. Best known for the controversial racial views promulgated in his infamous novel Nigger Heaven (1926), Van Vechten, in his photographic practice, reveals a different approach to race. An analysis of his photographs reveals that he and this cohort refashioned Blackness in their own terms. Blackness was displaced to expressive shadow, becoming a malleable sign divorced from the body that allowed them to negotiate racial identities that were distinguished from inherited stereotypes. The acknowledgment that race was a social construct opened up new possibilities for living unfettered by traditional constraints on African American lives.

Performing Black Womanhood Symposium

I will be giving the talk, “I, Too, Am America: Edna Thomas and Black Stardom in Interwar Harlem,” on Friday, April 28th at Cambridge University. The abstract is as follows:

This presentation will consider the life and career of the African American actress Edna Thomas (1886-1974). Thomas is best remembered for her role as Lady Macbeth in the Federal Theatre Program’s production of Macbeth in 1936. Thomas was also a lesbian who was involved in a relationship with the British aristocrat, Olivia Wyndham, who moved to Harlem in the early 1930s to live with Thomas. Thomas sustained her liaison with Wyndham even as she navigated roles as the wife to Lloyd Thomas to whom she remained married, as a race woman, as a Harlem society hostess, and as a member of elite transatlantic queer circles. Surviving photographs will illuminate how she performed her myriad public and private roles, balancing the demands of her stardom while sustaining her queer lifestyle. As a fair-skinned woman, light skin privilege and the phenomenon of passing informed how Thomas negotiated her racial, gender, sexual and class identities.

“Breaking Free? Anna May Wong in London” at ACRAH/CAA2023

Anna May Wong in Chu Chin Chow (1934)

I will be presenting “Breaking Free? Anna May Wong in London” at the Association for Critical Race Art History (ACRAH) session at the 2023 College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference. The talk is part of a session titled, “Harlem-on-Thames: NY/LON, 1919-1939.” The panel explores the global impact of the Harlem vogue on London, considering the movement and exchanges amongst Black and British persons along this transatlantic axis during the interwar period.

The other talks are “Unruly Desires, Unruly Geographies: Mapping Black and Queer Interwar London,” by Idroma Montgomery, Birkbeck, University of London; “The Unnnamed James Van Der Zee: Londoner’s Cecil Beaton’s Encounter with a Harlem Photographer,” by Emilie Boone, NYU; and “Modernist Clarence “Buddy” Bradley: NY/LON,” by Jacqueline Francis, California College of the Arts.

The panel is February 16th, 2023 at 9:00am. The session will be held virtually on Zoom.

Register for CAA:

Photographers on Bearden: a conversation with Frank Stewart and Chester Higgins Jr. on 11/9

Photographers on Bearden: a conversation with Frank Stewart and Chester Higgins Jr. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022 at 6:30 pm ET on Zoom 

Register here

Join renowned photographers Frank Stewart and Chester Higgins, Jr., in a conversation moderated by Dalila Scruggs, Curator of Photography and Prints at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, who will discuss their relationship with the acclaimed African-American artist, Romare Bearden, and their experiences photographing African-American artists and culture over the years. 

This event celebrates the initial release of the Romare Bearden Papers by the Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI). The WPI has worked closely with the Romare Bearden Foundation to make the artist’s archival collection accessible to the public in anticipation of the forthcoming Romare Bearden Digital Catalogue Raisonné

The Romare Bearden Papers are accessible to the public on the WPI’s Digital Archives

Frank Stewart shot his first photographs at the 1963 March on Washington and has gone on to make compelling images ever since. Stewart earned a BFA in photography from Cooper Union in 1975 and counts Roy DeCarava, Garry Winogrand, Jack Whitten, and Romare Bearden amongst his mentors. Stewart was the first photographer-in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, where he also taught photography. He has been a member of Kamoinge, Inc. since 1982, and was the lead photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center almost three decades. Stewart is widely published, has had more than thirty solo exhibitions and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. His work is held in the collections of major museums including Bowdoin College Art Museum, Brunswick, Maine, the Detroit Institute of Arts; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Washington, DC, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. Stewart is the subject of an upcoming retrospective titled, Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960’s to the Present, that opens at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, in June 2023.

Chester Higgins Jr. is a photographer known for his eloquent images of the life and culture of African Americans and the people of the African Diaspora. He counts P. H. Polk, Arthur Rothstein, Cornell Capa, Gordon Parks and Romare Bearden amongst his mentors. He was a staff photographer for the New York Times from 1975 to 2014. Widely published, his photographs have appeared in magazines including Ebony, Essence, Fortune, LIFE, Look, Newsweek, and TIME, and in several books including Sacred Nile, Echo of the Spirit and Elder Grace. His work has appeared in numerous solo exhibitions, most recently The Indelible Spirit at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery. He has received fellowships and grants  from the International Center of Photography, The Ford Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. His photographs are included in the following permanent collections: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, the Library of Congress, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York.

Dalila Scruggs is Curator for Photography and Prints at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She earned a Ph.D. in Art History from Harvard University, where she focused on African American art. She has held curatorial positions at the Williams College Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, and served as the Brooklyn Museum’s Museum Education Fellowship Coordinator.

The Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc. (WPI) is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the study of art history and to fostering the accessibility, cataloguing, and digitization of archival materials that support critical research in the field.

Antagonistic Cooperation: Romare Bearden’s New Paris Blues

The Wildenstein Plattner Institute is proud to host Robert O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and founder of the Center for Jazz Studies. Professor O’Meally, the author of Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, will explore Bearden’s New Paris Blues, an unfinished series of books that spans media, cities, and artistic circles.

Join us on June 3rd as we explore this exclusive and elusive series in Romare Bearden’s oevure. Antagonisitc Cooperation is presented in cooperation with the Romare Bearden Foundation and Professor O’Meally.


Conversation on Harlem Renaissance and Fashion Rescheduled

This event has gone virtual and will be held on Zoom on 06/16. You must register to attend.

03/24 Convo on Harlem Renaissance Fashion Postponed

This event has been postponed in response to public health concerns but we hope to reschedule for a later date. Check back for updated information.

Upcoming convo on fashion and the Harlem Renaissance

I will be having a conversation with Liz Way from the Museum at FIT about the Harlem Renaissance and fashion. Join us on March 24th at the Harlem School of the Arts!

Harlem during the Jazz Age was renown for the style of its denizens. The twenties was a time of radical transformation for clothing, and Harlem was at the cutting edge of new trends, influencing mainstream fashion and culture in unprecedented ways. This conversation will examine what people wore during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond, from flapper dresses to Zoot suits. The style of fashionable Harlemites has had a lasting influence on fashion and is still felt today.

SAVE THE DATE: Newberry Seminar 10/04!

I will be participating in this year’s American Art and Visual Culture Seminar at the Newberry Library in Chicago on Friday, October 4th.

Check it out if you are in the area:

My paper is entitled, “Dark Stars, Bright Ambitions: Black Celebrity in Jazz Age NY/LON” and I will be sharing more of my research from my Harlem-on-Thames project.

Lecture next week 4/16

Romare Bearden Foundation presents the 
Cinque Artist Program Series at Harlem School of the Arts 

James L. Allen: Artist-Photographer of the Harlem Renaissance
With Dr. Camara Holloway

During the Harlem Renaissance, James Allen photographed Harlem’s luminaries and enjoyed a successful career as an award-winning artist. When the story of the Renaissance was later written, though, his name was virtually forgotten. Dr. Camara Holloway will revisit her research that recovered Allen from obscurity and discuss the landmark exhibition that restored Allen to his rightful place in the Harlem Renaissance’s art scene.

Tuesday APRIL 16, 2019
HSA Gallery 
Free & Open To The Public

Click here to register:

Dr. Camara Holloway was the curator for the exhibition “Portraiture and the Harlem Renaissance: The Photographs of James L. Allen” shown at the Yale University Art Gallery in 1999. Dr. Holloway is an art historian specializing in early 20th century American art with particular focus on the history of photography, race and representation, and transatlantic modernist networks. She is recognized for her expertise on African American Art, particularly African American Photography, Critical Race Art History, and as a seasoned consultant for exhibitions, museum collections, and symposia/lectures planning.  Dr. Holloway’s research centers on modernism and photography within the circum-Atlantic world, paying special attention to the impact of race on art and aesthetics. In addition to her ongoing research on Allen, she is developing an exhibition about the influence of Africa on fashion and a project about blacks who went to London during the Jazz Age.

In the spirit and legacy of the Cinque Gallery, founded by artists Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow, the Cinque Artist Program aims to continue the ideal of artists gathering to exchange information, advice and resources from their experiences. These programs are geared to adult artists, students, and enthusiasts, and are presented free and open to the public. 

For more information: 

This program is part of the centennial celebration of the Harlem Renaissance

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