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Theresa Leininger-Miller

[Negro Colony]

Group of African American artists active in France in the 1920s and 1930s. Between the world wars Paris became a Mecca for a “lost generation” of Americans. Hundreds of artists, musicians, and writers from all over the world flocked to the French capital in search of a sense of community and freedom to be creative. For African Americans, the lure of Paris was enhanced by fear of and disgust with widespread racial discrimination experienced in the United States. They sought a more nurturing environment where their work would receive serious attention, as well as the chance to study many of the world’s greatest cultural achievements. France offered this along with an active black diasporal community with a growing sense of Pan-Africanism. Painters, sculptors, and printmakers thrived there, studying at the finest art academies, exhibiting at respected salons, winning awards, seeing choice art collections, mingling with people of diverse ethnic origins, dancing to jazz, and fervently discussing art, race, literature, philosophy, and politics. Although their individual experiences differed widely, they had much in common, including exposure to traditional European art, African art, modern art, and proto-Negritude ideas. As a result of their stay in Paris, all were affected artistically, socially, and politically in positive ways and most went on to have distinguished careers....

Article

Nizan Shaked

(b Buffalo, NY, May 9, 1968).

American painter and draftsman. She studied English and Studio Art at Williams College, Williamstown, MA, graduating with a BA in 1991. Shortly thereafter, she attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York, and completed her MFA in 1994 at Washington University, St Louis. Ali became known for her painting series Greenheads, in which round-headed characters perform choreographed activities against flat, light-blue backgrounds. These cartoon-styled allegories of American history and culture examine the sublimated or overt aggression inherent in activities such as team sports, ceremonies, military training, court marshaling and lynching. Referencing folk art or hieroglyphs, Untitled (Greenheads) (gouache on paper, 1998) depicts a sequence of disputes between uniformed characters and injured figures in athletic apparel. As with most of Ali’s oeuvre, the gestures and expressions of the figures communicate a sense of violent intensity, while the exact nature of the interaction remains enigmatic. Addressing the power dynamics of race, religion and gender, her scenarios respond to personal experience as well as local or world events, yet do not serve to represent them directly. Correspondingly, the single figures that appear in her later drawings and paintings display what initially seem to be specific ethnic tributes or dress codes, subsequently revealed to be invented and constructed by Ali. As it remains up to the viewer to interpret who these characters are or what may distinguish them as individuals, the perspective and biases of the viewer become part of the artwork’s meaning. The young, green-faced character in ...

Article

James Smalls

(b Knoxville, TN, Dec 30, 1901; d Paris, March 29, 1979).

African American painter. Beauford Delaney was the eighth of ten children born to John Samuel Delaney, a Methodist minister and barber who came from a sharecropping family, and Della Johnson Delaney, a strong and formidable figure who instilled in her children Christian virtues and a love for art and music.

In 1923, with the encouragement and financial help of a white patron, Delaney departed for Boston and informally enrolled in several art schools there including the Copely Society, the South Boston School of Art, and the Lowell Institute. While in Boston, Delaney befriended a white, liberal and quasi-aristocratic family, the Bryants, who introduced the aspiring artist to influential people of liberal Boston society. It was through his experiences with this circle that Delaney was introduced to activist politics and radical racial ideas of the time. It was also at this time that Delaney had his first homosexual encounter.

With his artistic and political education complete, Delaney decided to venture to New York City. He arrived nearly penniless in Harlem in ...

Article

Geoffrey Belknap

(b Paris, c. 1816; d New Orleans, LA, Jan 9, 1866).

African American lithographer, daguerreotypist, and painter of French birth. Lion was born in Paris and trained as an artist in France before moving to the United States in 1837. He is noted as the first African American to adopt the daguerreotype method, and one of the first daguerreotypists active in the United States. For much of his life, Lion resided in New Orleans and operated his photographic studios in the city. He was active as a photographer for a relatively short period of time—between 1840 and 1845—and because of this only a small number of his views of New Orleans streets remain, primarily in the form of lithographic prints made from daguerreotypes (now presumed lost). In addition to making his lithographic copies, Lion gained notoriety in New Orleans for offering lectures and exhibitions of the daguerreotype process following the announcement of its invention. After leaving photography behind in 1845...