Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface

Synopsis

What does a black burlesque star have to do with some of the most enduring and passionate ideas in modern aesthetic theory? The spectacular Josephine Baker emerges in this fascinating untold story as a principal figure in the drama behind the making of Euro-American Modernism. Instead of seeing her nude performances as a Primitivist given, Cheng argues that Baker's famous skin was central to the debates about and desire for "pure surface" that crystallized at the convergence of modern art, architecture, machinery, and philosophy. Taking the reader across the Atlantic - through real stages and imagined houses; banana plantations and ocean liners; metallic bodies and radiant cities - this study tracks the ardent and protean conversation between the making of a Modernist style and the staging of a new black visuality. In this account, Baker and the Modernists known to have adored and objectified her in fact shared a common dream: the fantasy of remaking and wearing the skin of the other.