O is for Orientalism

O is for Orientalism

When entering the back room through a small corridor, it is like stepping from the gallery’s public space into a private chamber. I have wanted to emphasize that feeling by showcasing all the works with water, plants and gardens in the first room. The Back Room is reserved for vibrant social life, bars, clubs, models and muses  – and a girl who doesn’t want to party. Read more about Marika Maijala‘s work Mademoiselle (A Guilty Self-Portrait In Front of Colonial Wallpaper) here.

On the wall opposite to the Mademoiselle one can see Maria Herreros‘ representation of a cultural, racial, and sexual other – an entertainment icon, Josephine Baker, who arrived to Paris in the fall of 1925 as a dancer with the black American vaudeville troupe called La Revue Nègre. The 19-year-old Mississippi-born singer and dancer became an overnight sensation and her path from child servant to a major star in France was a real-life Cinderella story.

She was an exception to white hegemony in early show business and “she crystallized a kind of fusion between orientalism, jazz, cubism, and the 1920s passion for African art”, says José-Louis Bocquet, one of the authors of the graphic biography, “Josephine Baker.“(2017) She became the first Afro-American star in the 1920s and reached international stardom in spite of her ethnicity but also because of it. Her career and success were based on her exoticization.

Maria Herreros, Josephine Baker/ Watercolor and graphite on paper, 2018

“I have two loves, my country and Paris, Josephine Baker sang at the Casino de Paris in the 1930s and later, to the troops in Africa and the Middle East.

The celebrated African-American dancer and singer is often reduced to her banana costume in the Revue nègre in 1925. Yet she was also a freedom fighter, a spy for the French Resistance during the German occupation of France and an activist for African-American civil rights. (Dozol, 2016) In later years, she adopted 12 children from different ethnic backgrounds to prove that racial harmony was possible.

Another émigré artist that changed art in Paris in the 20th century is Tsuguharu Foujita (born in 1886 in Tokyo). He was a part of the School of Paris, within Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso, Chaïm Soutine and Chagall, and his western paintings, filled with orientalism, made him a bridge from French and Japanese cultures.

Read more:

Vincent Dozol: Josephine Baker, a French-American heroine. France-Amérique. February 4, 2016.

Elisabet Ezra: The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France. Cornell University Press, 2018.

Bennetta Jules-Rosette: Josephine Baker in Art and Life. The New York Times. June 3, 2017.

Collecting guide: Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita


To see in the exhibition:

Maria Herreros, Josephine Baker #1

Maria Herreros, Josephine Baker #2

Maria Herreros, Foujita #1

Maria Herreros, Foujita #2

Maria Herreros, Foujita’s cat

Maria Herreros, Kiki & Foujita