This is a portrait of the actress Anna May Wong in tuxedo drag taken by Carl Van Vecthen in 1932. This image is the cornerstone of the introduction to Afrochic, the magnum opus that I hope to complete soon. I argue that this type of photographic portrait and its attendant racial dynamics is emblematic of the ways that moderns constructed their identity between the Two Worlds Wars. Intrigued…stay tuned!
Since I will never be able to include all the images that I would like into the final manuscript, I will share some of my favorites here as I work towards the completion of the manuscript.
This empty lot at 205 West 136th Street is the site of a former bookstore and cafe that catered to the black avant-garde. I just learned that my great-aunt went there back in the day. So thrilling!
To follow my earlier post, a performance by the master:
Fred Astaire performing “Bojangles in Harlem” number, where he dressed like a blackface minstrel and danced with his shadows to pay homage to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
In honor of Mr. Davis’s birthday, I present this comparison that I have been pondering since I stumbled across this image of Davis (top) on the web. Mr. Davis performing Mr. Bojangles here is an intriguing counterpoint to my discussion of Fred Astaire’s “Bojangles in Harlem” number in Swing Time (1936). [Props to Elizabeth Abel’s “Shadows” essay in Representations, of course] Davis’ adoption of Mr. Bojangles as signature song speaks back to Astaire’s racial masquerade/homage to Bill Robinson in forceful ways that I don’t yet know if I will include in my book. To be continued, perhaps…
Snippet of Astaire’s performance:
An exhibition that I wish I could see:
I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America.
Bel Geddes designs were very influential on the style of Jazz Age. A little known aspect of his career: the 1922 design of the interior of Palais Royal Cabaret where Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra performed.
George S. Kaufman dubbed the Cabaret “the Geddes triumph,” asserting that it “proved. . . that art and the night places can go hand in hand.”
The venue later became The Cotton Club when it moved downtown.
[Shout out to my colleague Sandy Isenstadt who contributed to the catalogue!]
Quintessential example of white modernists’ appropriation of blackness: The Congo by Vachel Lindsay, a poem from 1914
It was great to finally see this in person. Hide/Seek was a terrific show.
The influx of white folks to the new Harlem has led to many a grande folie! Shades of Godmother.
A portrait of Carl Van Vechten by E. O. Hoppe.
Carlo is a key player in Afrochic. He is a constant challenge and conundrum. Still trying to figure him out…