From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism, and Primitivism, 1919-1935

By Carole Sweeney | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
“I’ll say it’s getting darker and
darker in Paris”:
Josephine Baker and
La Revue Nègre

The Negroes are conquering Paris. They are conquering Berlin. They have
already filled the whole continent with their howls, with their laughter. The
Revue Nègre,
which is rousing the tired public in the Tliéâtre Champs-Elysées
top thrills and madness as otherwise only a boxing match can do is symbolic.

—Ivan Goll, January 15,1926


INTRODUCTION

In 1985 the Paris metro ran an advertising campaign using an image of a young black woman dressed only in a skirt made of a fringe of yellow metro tickets. From a distance the tickets resemble bananas. The woman’s hair is plastered down in a brilliantined Eton crop and her face is distorted by an exaggerated wide smile. The metro poster is a take on one of the many images of Josephine Baker that appeared around Paris in the 1920s to promote her appearances in La Revue Nègre and in La Folie du jour. The metro advertisement, framed by the caption “Tickets Folies 2ème Voiture le Plus Célèbre Spectacle de Paris,” recalls a time in the interwar years in Paris when Josephine Baker was one of the most celebrated “exotic” spectacles, both on and off the music-hall stage. Although Baker went on to appear in a large number of shows, reinventing herself as a grande chanteuse, and although her wartime work in France’s Resistance earned her the prestigious Croix de Guerre, this image of Baker, half naked, dancing frenetically in a suggestively phallic girdle of bananas, has persisted in popular cultural memory. The inclusion of three clips of Baker in François Mitterand’s 1988 election video testified to the endurance of this primitivist myth. Baker was variously figured as the modern incarnation of Baude

-37-

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