by Lilyana D’Amato
In the decade following the First World War, French popular culture was dominated by images of negrophilia: the disconcerting obsession with and seizure of Black — specifically African — culture.
Introduced to African folk art through global imperialism and colonialism, the French became fascinated with racialized depictions of the “savage” Black body, fetishizing Blackness through painting, sculpture, film, and performance. In the early 1920s, avant-garde Parisian artists began appropriating Black culture as a means of exploring what they saw as the juxtaposition between the “primitive” and changing notions of modernity.
When entertainer Jospehine Baker, the hugely influential African American expatriate, arrived in Paris in 1925, she became the face of this racialized mania. Her body and persona came to signify the exotic, used to satisfy colonialist sexual fantasies.