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Negrophilia!

New York, USA - 2015

St Helens, UK - 2015

Vienna, Austria - New Year’s Eve 2014/15

London, UK - 2010, 2014, 2015

‘…hot voodoo, black as mud, hot voodoo in my blood, that African tempo has made me a slave, hot voodoo dance of sin, hot voodoo worse than gin…!’

Marlene Dietrich, Blonde Venus, 1932

Negrophilia is a comprehensively documented Euro-American fascination with African and Black diasporic cultures. The allure continues to be prevalent in European cultures through many forms and guises, from academia to art and popular culture.

The African continent became a symbol of ‘primitivism’ in Europe in the early 1900’s through an assessment of its imperial and colonial history. Practitioners such as Picasso, Leger, Méret Oppenheim, the Dadaists, Surrealists, and cultural arbiters such as Nancy Cunard who devoted much of her life to eradicate fascism and racism (editing the immense Negro Anthology), and others whose activities across all art forms, including design and literature, became influenced by ideas of ‘primitivity’. Their inspirations were evident through various forms of interpretation of Africa and its diaspora exhibited in Europe in a number of expositions.

Negrophilia! (the live performance) is an exploration of the Parisian avant-garde culture of the 1920’s and its fascination with Africanism (negrophilia). It also references Hollywood’s simultaneous exploitation of tribal images of ‘otherness’, ‘other lands’ and exoticism in films such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Lost World, King Kong, I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People, and also artists such Man Ray, BrancusiCocteau and traditions of collage and sculpture, with aspects of Darwin’s much debated theories and the illustrations of evolution and consequently the dawning of evolutionary psychology, encapsulated through the image and political discourses of Josephine Baker.

The term negrophilia derives from the French 'negrophilie', which translated means 'love of the negro'. The term was widely used by avant-garde artists to express their love and passion for black culture. The fascination with African art, dance and performance, derivative of tribal cultures and jazz, boomed soon after the First World War. It was highly fashionable to dance to the Charleston and Black Bottom and to be associated with African art and engage in dialogues about African cultures. Artists sought simplicity in their work and a new desire to return to the ‘primitive’ nature of existing, and brought Africa under a new and continual translation.

Inspirations came from African art objects, significant in meaning, but reinterpreted according to European history, politics and sensibilities. 'L'art negre' came to Paris through colonial trade and African-American soldiers, settling in European cities after the war, introduced live performances and spectacles. The most popular revue and during this time, around 1925, were La Revue Negre, and its star performer, Josephine Baker.

"A dance performance in which he transforms from an ape to a chorus girl, skewering the histories of racism, evolution and exhibitionism in one long, seductive move." - Mary Paterson