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.