La Baker Redux

Josephine Baker by Huene, 1927
Josephine Baker by Huene, 1927

The perennial interest in our first black international star seems to be on an uptick again. Huffington Post put this style feature-ette about Josephine Baker up today–with a very glossed over mention of her “dark skin” when in fact the fairness of her skin was just as problematic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/josephine-baker-beauty-photos_n_3267033.html Colorism anyone?

Another post appeared on the Huffington site recently with a photo of La Baker in an ostrich-drawn carriage–yes, ostrich: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/josephine-baker-in-an-ostrich-carriage_n_2966419.html

As specialist on this area, I find the enduring fascination with La Baker fascinating. In the public imagination and the scholarly literature, La Baker has become touchstone for the era that far exceeds in some respects the fame that she had during her heyday between the Wars.

A CATTY ASIDE: Various links on the site suggest the very real possibility that Rihanna may be tapped to star in a biopic (quel horreur!)

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Fashioning Fashion exhibition in Paris: European style from 1715 to 1900

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One of my favorite museums in Paris, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, is organizing the beautiful exhibition Fashioning Fashion until April 14th. Initiated by the LACMA in Los Angeles, this show presents the evolution of European style from 1715 to 1900 with more than 100 looks. A fascinating travel in the past and a true feast for the eyes!

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I was surprised by the magnificence of the embroideries, the number of layers worn to create one look and the sophistication of the clothes in general. Dressing oneself seemed to be a complicated affair, especially for women, and little details could reveal the social status of a person. Embroiderers, hatters and corset-makers were once popular trades.

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The exhibition is organized chronologically, bringing us to the magnificent clothes of the 18th century right at the entrance. At the time, there was a huge interest in the Far East…

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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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