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“Africana” Textiles: Imitation, Adaptation, and Transformation during the Jazz Age

by Susan L. Hannel

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Despite centuries of missionary work and trade along the African coasts, not until European colonization at the end of the nineteenth century did African art reach significant levels of visibility in Europe. French interest in Africa gained momentum when Picasso and others witnessed public performances by African-Americans of ragtime music and the cakewalk dance. This exposure led these artists to better appreciate the African sculpture they saw at Parisian flea markets, or in the many world and colonial expositions held after 1900 (Blake 1999). Contact with African music and art then contributed to abstraction in modern art. What began early in the twentieth century was, by the mid-1920s, a full-blown “negrophilia” fueled by jazz music, the Charleston dance, and the Harlem Renaissance (Archer-Straw 2000).

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