Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #7

Throughout my research into the history of the black Pin Up the aim has always been twofold: to educate myself and share what I learn and also to create a piece of art based on my findings. This was all inspired by Manchester's House of Ghetto, the black all female Vogue house who I saw perform at the Vogue Ball back in March.

 See more @gemma_parker_artist

Speaking with Darren Pritchard, their award winning choreographer and House Mother made me want to work with them and the 'the black Pin Up' was his suggestion for the starting point. Writing these blog posts over the past few months has been an interesting and fascinating journey.

For the art work, I want to make something that the dancers can move and dance with but could also be displayed as a standalone piece, and my immediate idea comes from the title of this project, The Hidden Pin Up. When I began my research I realised that even though she existed, the black Pin Up was hard to find, she was difficult to pick out and see against the more popular mainstream white Pin Up and the historic context in which she was based mostly altered her or blanked her out.

I began thinking of ways that I could literally cover up and obscure the dancers so that they were hidden from view but stay in keeping with the Pin Up aesthetic. One of the subjects I learned about that really caught my attention was Jean Idelle, the popular and successful burlesque 1950's dancer whose trademark routine was dancing with huge white feather fans. This was a great starting point.


I like the idea of using a traditional burlesque accessory but giving it a new twist. At first I thought of making fans out of canvas that I could paint onto, but I'm not sure which direction to take this into yet. The question is what to decorate the fans with?

I want to send a message with the piece about the misconceptions projected onto the black Pin Ups (and black women now to some degree). The big factor that has stood out throughout the whole project is how black women have been represented and disregarded in mainstream culture. Time and again the black female image is painted as primitive, uneducated, hyper sexual and angry (see past posts for more elaboration on this). 

My next idea was then to use the material of the fans themselves as the messenger. Rather than luxurious pure white feathers, the fans should be made of something that reflect the stereotype used in popular culture. Something rough and inexpensive with no finesse, and I thought that sackcloth/burlap would be perfect!


I like the texture and how it can be pulled apart and the frayed edges could be manipulated to imitate feathers. There are also a lot of historic and cultural connotations with this material that make it suitable to the work and the fact it is something that we connect with in many everyday situations yet take little notice of gives it a further layer of meaning. 



I really like the idea of making something that looks crude and uncultured that can then be interacted with to create something beautiful and refined.
So not only would the fans be working to cover and hide the dancer/model (and also reveal her) they will also be challenging the ideas that have kept the black Pin Up hidden from mainstream culture.

As a utility material, sacking has a lot of potential to be worked with, and makes a perfect counterpoint to the glamour of the Pin Up. I love this photo shoot of Marilyn making an old sack look sexy!



I have been researching how to make my own burlesque feather fans so my next step is to gather materials and start experimenting. I want to try making feathers from sacking, and also stitching into the weave and embellishing it too as well as giving embroidery a try (you can see examples of my other embroidery work HERE)

I'm really excited to see how it goes!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #6


Fetish - the pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to an object or bodily part whose real or fantasised presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
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Throughout my investigation into the history of the black Pin Up, it's been difficult not to notice a trend; The notion of claiming black females to be hyper-sexual and primitive because of their anatomy, and those ideas sticking as they have been represented through discourse and the media over the ages. From Sarah Baartman of the 19th Century, the earliest example I could find of a black woman being on display, through to the Afro Pin Up's of the 1970's, a similar narrative keeps being told and it relates to the white male audience...

 'They'll dazzle you... they'll stir your senses... luscious beauties of every shade'

It's the preconceived ideas and ideals based on centuries of racial bias and white privilege that set the black woman firmly apart from the white male making her a complete mystery and totally un-relatable to him. Through the white male gaze she becomes feisty, angry, primitive, uneducated and overtly erotic, she becomes a fetish.



These projected notions robbed the black sitter of her identity, her voice, and her agency in order to make her the acceptable version of the black ideal. There is an argument that all women are typecast to some degree in this fashion, but it is fair to say that when discussing issues of gender roles that mostly in this case, black Pin Up's have a different story to tell from their white counterparts.

While all Pin Ups, dancers, performers and models from the vintage era had to fit a prescriptive formula of safe Western feminine ideals in order to be admired for their beauty and talent (to a large extent this is still true), the black Pin Up also had the added hurdle of her skin colour, meaning that a further set of notions and margins were then (and to a large extent still can be) pasted onto her image setting the real women, and what she truly represented into an abstract that mostly never got considered.

In my last post I mentioned a 1940's actress by the name of Acquanetta who actively denied her black heritage in order to get film roles which wouldn't stereotype her despite her colour. She instead chose to take on the persona of a mysterious 'exotic', that while still typecast to some degree, didn't have the same negative stigma attached to it from a Western point of view.

Even though white women from the vintage era still had to compete with male dominance over their image they had somewhat more freedom to speak out about their thoughts and needs in the real world. The way the black Pin Up was characterised to a white audience meant she was subdued and marginalised by jokey and lazy stereotypes that took away her power. This lack of control on how she was represented was justified by making her more marketable to a mainstream audience. Take the example of 1930's performer Jeni LeGon from my first post. Despite her incredible talent for dancing, she was soon cast as the goony savage shimmying in feathers and a grass skirt before only ever getting roles as housemaids.

Black model with an angry expression teamed with leopard print and an African mask.

 This isn't to say ALL black Pin Up's were treated the same and mildly went about their business bowing to social pressure. As we have seen from past posts there are many examples of black women who succeeded in pin up careers despite racial prejudice or even using racial fetishes to their own ends by playing to stereotype and taking back control of their images.


Josephine Baker is the ultimate example of this as we have previously discussed in other posts. Her ability to give the audience what they wanted,becoming a symbol for black fetish,while being the architect of her own destiny makes her a massively important figure in the history of the black Pin Up and an icon to other black performer throughout the years. 

The boundaries of fetishisation of the black Pin Up began to blur in the 1970's when Blaxploitaion, a sub genre to exploitation films, exploded onto the scene. Blaxploitation films were made primarily for a black audience but its appeal soon spread to other races and ethnicity. In this case black culture took back control of the monikers that had been used to control it, much like Josephine Baker had previoulsy. Afro hair, large hoop earrings and voluptuous bodies became a form of self identity and reclamation of race.

Afro model. See more @gemma_parker_artist




However the movement began to suffer from the strong messages it was projecting alongside it's image. For some, the movement only perpetuated the black stereotypes held by white people and rather than giving empowerment, held the black community back. In an essay about Blaxploitation films Joanne Allen comments,


'Most of the women in blaxploitation films were reduced down to insignificant prostitutes or curvaceous women who flaunted all they had. Even while the movies main characters were women, they were still objectified and reduced down to loose, sexual and insatiable "hot mamas"'


The subject of black fetishism is a very complex one, in fact the positive and negative effects of Blaxploitation films are still being discussed to this day and the everyday fetishisation of colour continues in popular culture. Both Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus have been accused of fetishising black hip hop culture through their performances using cultural appropriation in costume and dance choices. Can anyone unsee Miley 'twerking' at the 2013 MTV awards or Katy doing this in her video for This Is How We Do?...

Interestingly, it does seem acceptable for white women to take on black cultural styles like cornrows and baby hair in the mainstream, but when black women do it, popular culture is divided, see my post about this HERE

In everyday life, racial fetishisation continues on a smaller stage and this is in most part, because of the stereotypes perpetuated throughout history and the lack of respect black culture is given on a wider platform which leads to ignorance and false presumptions. A quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of sites discussing incidents where black women have been approached by or even dated men with a racial fetish. That isn't to say a 'preference' for black women, but men who have actively seeked and singled out a person because of her race and then unaware used micro-aggressions which demeaned, alienated or marginalised the women they were with. For example, 'You're [insert positiive adjective] for a black girl, or 'You're not like other black people'. One account I read said, 'He kept touching my hair without my consent, was legitimately disappointed that I could not twerk, and called me “sassy” whenever I voiced an opinion that was different from his'. Presuming she was feisty and overtly sexual, does this sound familiar? 


Out of all the posts I've done about the history of the black Pin Up, this one has by far been the hardest to write and the longest to put down into words. While I have always been aware of race and the issues it can bring up, writing as a white female I have had to really learn and think as I type, putting my findings down so that I would understand them and so that they hit the right note. It has also made me question cultural appropriation, and when does taking inspiration from a culture become a negative thing? Does it depend on the tone, sensitivity or context and is it always wrong to do it no matter what race you are? Maybe these are things to discuss in another post.

I know that the subject of racial fetishisation goes WAY deeper than the things I've discussed, covering different races and all genders, but for this project I have tried to keep it focused on the vintage Pin Up and the things I have discovered along the way. I hope that although basic, this post still manages to convey some of the difficulties that arose during the era and how they weave into the historic and ongoing prejudices that black women still face today.
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Here are some of the websites I have used in my research (the ones I can remember), which give a much fuller picture on the subject: 

http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/Slavery-is-a-Woman.html

http://21stcenturyburlesque.com/race-and-burlesque-the-curious-case-of-the-performer-of-colour/

https://becomeconscious.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/she-only-sleeps-with-black-guys-on-racial-fetishism/

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/white-men-dating-black-women/

http://www.theroot.com/5-signs-you-re-about-to-be-racially-fetishized-1790853921

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #5 - lets get re-acquainted!

Yes, its been a while, and I am finally back with another installment to my blog series about the history of the black pin up!


A few weeks ago a work colleague who has been following my blog posts lent me a fantastic book titled 'Vintage Black Glamour' and I thought this would be a great way to ease back into the subject and refresh our minds a little about the whole world of hidden pin ups including, dancers, burlesque stars, actresses and performers who have been neglected or sidelined by the mainstream because of the colour of their skin. (If you haven't seen them already, take a look at my past posts to read more in depth about this subject).

Picking up this book for the first time I was immediately bowled over by the amount of beautiful photographs that fill it; page after page of stunning women with incredible stories. It confirmed my feelings that this rich history has been largely ignored and marginalised throughout the decades in favour of more widely acceptable and lucrative white mainstream glamour. However just one glance will affirm that there was a WHOLE lot of black talent out there making waves

Sara Lou Harris, one of the first black models to appear in national print advertisements, being photographed by twin brothers Morgan and Marvin Smith (late 1940's) 

The book is broken down into chapters covering black glamour in many different guises; Pin ups and Hollywood Starlets, Beauty and Fashion Entrepreneurs, Scandalous Glamour, Jazz Singers, Musicians, Writers, Movie Stars and Theatre and TV Pioneers to name but a few! Yet the thing that makes the book so much more than just a roll call of names and faces is that the author's aunt was a successful black performer who had inspired her to delve deeper into the lives of other black performers giving her a direct link to this little known or forgotten world.

Margaret Tynes was an international singer of jazz, opera and theatre who found professional acclaim for her portrayal of Salome in the early 60's and had a career spanning 50 years. Known to the author as the 'diva in the family' Tynes had a phenomenal success working with names like Duke Ellington and Harry Belafonte.

 
 Margaret Tynes (far left) with Duke Ellington and Joya Sherrill posing for TV special based on Ellington's suite, A Drum is a Woman

Taking Tynes lead, the rest of the book is 'a visual tribute to some of the glamorous, accomplished and often groundbreaking black women - both legendary and obscure- of the 20th Century'. Here is just a taster of the remarkable women and hidden pin ups filling these pages...


This stunning photo is of a woman named Selika Lazevski taken in 1891. It gives me all kinds of thrills; She is SO statuesque and poised, and the fact we are seeing an historic photo of a black woman in contemporary costume is unusual. The book had little to say about her, but upon doing a little research I found that Selika was a French horsewoman who performed high level dressage riding sidesaddle at circuses and hippodromes.


Known as 'Acquanetta' during her career and hailed as the 'Venezuelan Volcano' this actress's origins are full of mystery. Accounts differ with the white press stating that she was born as 'Burnu Acquanetta' meaning Burning Fire/Deep Water, of Native American descent from the Arapaho tribe, while the black press said that she actually born as 'Mildred Davenport' from Norristown Pennsylvania. It seems like a case of catering to different audiences with the most acceptable story and a shame that the actress couldn't embrace her true identity whichever that was. In possibly alluding to a more mysterious heritage Acquanetta was able to gain film roles that would have been denied to black actresses in the 1940's.


Barbara Ncnair was the first African Ameircan woman to host her own variety show on television from 1969 - 1971. She was a singer and actor who had starred on Broadway and had hit records, her career spanned 50 years. I found a great video of her singing a duet with Dean Martin on her show, both performed beautifully while Dean smoked a cigarette on stage, how times have changed.


'No one looked like her'. Donyale Luna was a model who was described as 'an extraordinary species' and was the first black model to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 1966. Luna also appeared in several Andy Warhol films during the 1960's and has remained as an icon of other worldly beauty within popular culture despite her early death at the age of 33

 

Finally just I love this photo of another of the authors aunts, this time Mildred Taylor pictured here on the left with her friend Queen Esther James during their modelling days in Newark New Jersey in the early 1950's. They both look gorgeous!

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in vintage glamour, black history or old Hollywood and the entertainment industry. There are so many stories of famous and little known black women and I found every one of them fascinating, like filling in little pieces in the jigsaw of my knowledge.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Didsbury Arts Festival 2017

If things have seemed a bit quiet on here lately it's because I've been co-ordinating Didsbury Arts Festival which recently finished it's nine day run. 

After months of working behind the scenes to set it up, it was so great to see the festival blossom and come to life, and I got to see some brilliant stuff while I managed the events too! Here's a few of my favourite moments:

A Northern Life in Pictures

Photo by Bartosz-Kowalczyk
Didsbury Arts Festival 2017

Taking place in Didsbury's Shaare Hayim Synagogue, A Northern Life in Pictures featured a talk with photographer Sefton Samuels alongside some of his most iconic images of Manchester and it's surrounding areas. The stories that accompanied the photos really gave an insight into Samuels long and eventful career and his love for the North.




This event also featured a screening of the film A City Speaks which I highly reccommend to anyone with an interest in history and the city of Manchester. Made in 1947 the film told of a Northern power house, 'If you can think of it, Manchester can make it!'. Full of shots of hard working men and women in the factories and familiar landmarks this film transported me to one of my favourite eras whilst giving me a vision of the city I love in one glorious black and white time capsule. You can watch the whole film on the BFI website HERE

Toot Sweet

Photo by Neil Nevill

Mixing music with cake, I have to say this was one of my favourite music events during the festival! Taking her cue from a selection of musical classics by Bach, Gershwin and Schumann, saxophonist Gillian Blair then created a box of bespoke cakes to be eaten as each piece played. Great music, tick! Cake, tick, tick!

Hitler Alone


It's not often you find yourself in the bunker with Adolf Hitler during his last day on earth, but that was where myself and a collection of other audience members found ourselves as Paul Webster performed his one man show, Hitler Alone. Played out in a small dark intimate setting allowing only a handfull of onlookers, we were all taken aback when Hitler stormed furiously into the room outraged that it had all come to this. What followed as an hour of absolute genius; an insight into Hitler's life and the decisions he made. Paul Webster was superb acting out the last moments of a phsycopath who was surprisingly clear headed and determined until the end. 

Roots Stage


Although I technically didn't get to see all of this event (what with managing one half of it) I was really pleased at how successfully it went. This was probably the largest project we put on as part of the festival.

Set in Didsbury Park, Roots Stage was a mini festival within a festival. Consisting of a main stage with live music from bands and singers throughout the day, there was also a running order of performances and activites happening around the park. We had puppet shows, dances, comedy joggers and interactive experiences.



 Photo by Tom Bullock
 Photo by Tom Bullock 

When the sun decided to join us (and stayed!) the picture was complete and it was a very satisfying moment to look out at a sea of sunbathers and pic-nicers enjoying the mellow music and festival atmosphere. Kids were entertained and the odd pet dog could be seen racing about with a huge smile on its face. It was a great moment.

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I'll be back soon to continue my investigation into the history of the black pin up. If you haven't read them already, take a look (HERE), I've written several posts exploring this fascinating slice of the past often overlooked or ignored. See you soon...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

House of Suarez Manchester Vogue Ball

So, for anyone who missed my post about going to the Vogue Ball in Manchester in March this year, here is a delicious taster of what I experienced. This video captures the energy and creative electricity that was in the air that night but really, you needed to go yourself to fully feel how stunning it was.


My Hidden Pin Up posts are inspired by the House of Ghetto who performed that night and who I will be working with on a project about the history of the black Pin Up. If you haven't done it yet take a scroll down my blog and find out more! 

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #4 continued

I was flicking through a copy of The Guardian that had been left in work's staff room last week, when an article caught my eye, 'Is this the year advertisers wake up to perils of cultural appropriation?' (Monday 15th May 2017). It caught my attention as it so perfectly elaborated on ideas from my last post about why black Pin Up's were hardly used to sell products back in the Pin Up heyday in the early 20th Century. 

In this article, writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch pointed out how black women were being sidelined in advertisments for typically black products in favour of using images of white women. This sounded way too familiar. I had questioned why black Pin Up's were seldom seen in vintage advertisments only a few days earlier, and my reasoning was that white women sold more products. Sadly it seems I was on to something and even more disheartening it seems that little has changed in 70 years or so!

The modern day article describes how Braid Bar and SheaMoisture have eschewed using black women in most of their advertising even though the brands owe their origins to black culture. Rather than embracing the full cultural heritage of their brands the advertisers decided to use white women appropriating black culture in order to cash in on wider audiences. 

African braids hairstyle. See more @gemma_parker_artist

Similarly international star and model Jourdan Dunn was told 'the reason black women didn't feature in a high end fashion publication was that "black models don't sell"'. 

When brands and publications are brought up about this they immediately make about-turns in order to rectify the their bad judgement but I can't help feeling that after decades of the same prejudices being sold to a consuming society, that their gestures are only for token value. As long as products sell, the finer points of race will be put on hold and general ideas about beauty and culture will remain stagnant.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #4

Throughout the early 20th century the traditional Pin Up was big business in the world of commerce and entertainment. In the advertisements found in newspapers and on the covers of magazines the Pin Up was exquisitely drawn and painted by talented artists and then mass reproduced in the effort to sell the 'American Dream' to the public.

The illustrated Pin Up was everywhere yet her image was seldom seen with darker skin.

I really love the traditional Pin Up art work of the 40's through to the 60's, it is so well executed and has always inspired me, but I found it disappointing that I could find hardly any non white models painted by my favourite artists!


A model of indeterminate race by Gil Elvgren, confusingly tagged as a 'black' Pin Up by some sources

As we saw in my last few posts, the black Pin Up was definitely around, she existed in models and dancers, performers and actresses, so why was she not seen selling shiny products and lifestyles to the masses?

In this case I can only presume that when it comes to advertising, companies went with the image that would sell the most products. Even though a select few burlesque shows and girly magazines did cater to an African-American audience, in the larger scheme of things that audience was in the minority, and if everyone still needed to buy universal items like household cleaners and petrol, then the white Pin Up was the girl to put on the ad.

Saying that though, I did locate a few examples of non white Pin Up illustrations, but even these were difficult to find and had little or no information to give them any context.


There's this dark skinned beauty from a 1955 calendar. It's frustrating that I don't know who the artist was or the reason this calendar was made. This image has a back story we might never know. I like it though. The model is vivacious and sexy and her skin colour seems to me to have no influence on how she has been portrayed. This makes me think the calendar was aimed at an African-American audience because, as we have seen in past posts, the white mainstream audience of the era found it difficult to accept a black female as sexual/sensual without racially stereotyping her first and taking away her identity.


On a different note, this earlier lady from the 1940's who is finding it hard to keep her clothes on is ticking all kinds of dark skinned cliches. This makes her obviously 'A' exotic and 'B' slightly primitive. Surrounded by greenery she could be a jungle dweller or an island savage, either way she is provocative and passive. Despite these visual tropes I find this picture beautifully painted and a real treat to look at.

 I was losing all heart at finding any other relevant art work, when, out of the blue, I stumbled across a range of images by the quintessential Pin Up artist of the vintage era, Alberto Vargas. Best known for creating airbrushed images of the all-American girl next door for over 30 decades, Vargas produced a series of Afro Pin Up's for Playboy in the 1970's.




Taking a cue from the trend for Blaxploitation films that were enjoying huge success during the early 70's, you can see how the idea of a black Pin Up must have been both titillating and unusual for a mainstream audience. Similarly, like the Blaxploitation genre, these images can be seen to either empower their black subjects or perpetuate racial stereotypes.

I for one wasn't sure how to approach these images. Taken in context of their time, they show sexual beings who seem to have a claim over their identities, yet those identities are marginalised at best. When I look at them as artefacts from a rich history of black female representation, then they seem to take on a different sort of meaning. They show a development in how the black female was being represented. They acknowledge that white men were taking an active interest in the black Pin Up, not for token value or as a two dimensional cartoon but as actual women. Seen it that sense, they are a pretty big deal.

This notion of black females having allure went some way to narrowing the racial divide, even if it does throw up arguments about mainstream female representation in general. 
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Next time I'll be exploring further into the history of the black Pin Up and ideas of racial fetishisation and objectification, join me then, for more investigation into the hidden Pin Up.