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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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

Ready for My Close Up: Anna May Wong

The heroine of the introduction to my book Afrochic: Anna May Wong.

Amber Butchart: Fashion Historian

Throughout summer it has been difficult to ignore the prolific Chinoiserie trend in stores and magazines, kick-started by the opulent Louis Vuitton show and merged effortlessly into autumn by Paul Smith. Cheongsam collars and qipao slits aside, this new-found interest in the East could have something to do with China’s growing appetite for high-end goods, which despite recent set backs, has left Western luxury brands competing for a share of this very sizeable market. The obsession with the ‘Orient’ has also seen a proliferation of Asian models on catwalks and throughout editorial spreads which has courted controversy for some publications and raises all manner of questions regarding ethnicity and standards of beauty. It was whilst researching my own interpretation of this trend that I started thinking about the first Chinese American movie star, Anna May Wong.

Louis Vuitton S/S 2011

Anna May Wong was third generation ABC (American…

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Style Cycles: Cheongsam

Egyptomania…encore!

AMW with nefertiti hat

I didn’t have the chance to discuss this photograph of Anna May Wong wearing a hat referencing the one worn by Neferetiti in her famous portrait bust in my recent talk about Egyptomania and fashion — and I don’t even know why Wong was photographed wearing it — but it’s such a great image so I couldn’t resist acknowledging it in some public manner.

Black Ops

My CAA talk went very well according to the feedback that I received. I focused on how shadows assumed a new expressive role as a racial metaphor in modernist photography. I previously shared some of the images that I was considering. Here are some of the ones that were included in my presentation:

A made particular note of the fact that shadows ultimately acquired their own autonomy in images like this:

Ruby Keeler

In praise of shadows…

It’s CAA time and I am participating in a panel called “Photography and Race.” My talk is about race and modernism in interwar photography. One key phenomenon that I have noted is that lighting and shadow take on a metaphoric role beyond their descriptive function that gives visual expression to the period’s racial imagination in new ways. Older notions of race as biology and blackness and whiteness as material properties of the body are supplanted with more elusive codes that reside in the darkness and the light. That is not to say that move traditional means of visualizing race entirely disappear but the burden of representation is removed from the body in subtle but significant ways that allow for the articulation of changing racial paradigms. The preponderance of these shadows that limn blackness makes it difficult to select which images to show in my fifteen minutes. What a dilemma! Here are some of my current objects of fascination:

Happy New Year!

AMW 4-20-32 MNY17476

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.

Postcards and Bloomsbury black history walking tour leaflets

This is an topic that I am very intrigued by. I am familiar with a couple of black entertainers that spent time in London during the Jazz Age (i.e. Paul Robeson, Florence Mills…) but I had not previously come across research on blacks who were members of the Commonwealth who lived in London during this period in the manner that Black Paris and the Negro Colony is discussed. Of course we have learned that black jazz entertainers circulated throughout Europe but that information is elusive at best. So I hope that this project endures and flourishes.

Of course if a lot of information were available I would want to include it in my book and I already have too much information to contend with dealing with New York, and its satellite in Paris (with a bit of a detour to Hollywood, and even Taos…)

Nancy Cunard is the main figure of English origin included in my dramatis personae but she spends most of this time based in Paris. I am trying to restrict myself to the Man Ray portraits of her but there are some important photographs by Cecil Beaton and Curtis Moffat that will require a mention. I justify their inclusion because of the network of fashion/celebrity/glamour photographers that Man Ray is part a of, with an obligatory connection to Carlo (Carl Van Vechten–he knows everyone LITERALLY).

Anna May Wong spends time in London but it is the portraits taken by Carlo and her Hollywood experiences that are most concern to me. (At present…)

Drawing over the Colour Line: Geographies of art and cosmopolitan politics in London, 1919 - 1939

We’ve recently created the first of a series of postcards and maps highlighting some of the artwork and histories which touch upon the themes of Drawing over the Colour Line. The postcard created is a reproduction of William Roberts’ 1923 The Creole, a portrait of a woman called Hélène Yelin who lived near Bloomsbury and was a friend of the Roberts  family – we’ll be blogging more about her in the next few months. We’ve also used this image as the front of our new walking tour leaflets entitled ‘A Walk Around Bloomsbury’.

The tour explores the black presence in Bloomsbury during 1919-1939 in relation to London’s artworld and focuses on places and spaces connected to individuals and organisations including African-American musician and performer Florence Mills, artists Nina Hamnett and Duncan Grant who created artworks depicting Black Londoners, Harold Moody, Jamaican doctor and President of the League of Coloured Peoples set…

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