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“Much Too Busy to Die”: Josephine Baker’s Diva Iconicity

by Jeanne Scheper

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It’s Time (2003), a parody magazine cover from a graphic art series called “House for Josephine Baker (Parody Series)” by the contemporary architect Darell Wayne Fields, conveys how diva iconicity moves across time and place: captivating, yet captive (see figure 21). Appropriating the famous 1928 Adolf Loos architectural design for a house for Josephine Baker, Fields marks it with a large red X whose ink bleeds across a parodic Time magazine cover. The standard red frame of the magazine cover is echoed in the red of the X, referencing the May 7, 1945, cover of Time and its X over Adolf Hitler’s face, announcing his death and becoming Time’s X brand for marking the end of tyranny1—and here also invoking black militant resistance. The image of the house has been pasted over familiar line sketches of Baker dancing nude, topless, wearing the notorious banana skirt or Topsy overalls, and in other famous outfits. But instead of being erased or covered over, these sketched figures seem to break free from the page. Baker’s dancing body-in-motion seeps through the image of the house, across time, across space. And, as multiple dancing Bakers surround and overwhelm the outer periphery framing the house, her mobility strikes a marked contrast with the solid and staid block of high-modernist architecture designed to captivate her. The caption, “Notes on the Eviction of Josephine Baker,” imposed below the Loos design, exposes the historical irony of a modern house designed but never built for Baker, reinforced by the reality of her later very public eviction from Les Milandes, the communal farm she envisioned and created in France, the site where she staged the creation of her ideal modern family, the “Rainbow Tribe.” It’s Time stands at the juncture of multiple and conflicting receptions of Baker and her legacy, marking her iconicity and its afterlives as a space of contestation of meaning and memory

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