Friday 14 April 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #3 - Girly Magazines and the Black Cheesecake

A model on the cover of a girly magazine circa 1965 (see more @gemma_parker_artist)

In this third post exploring the history of the black Pin Up I'm going to be looking at the classic Pin Up model. The girl commonly referred to as 'cheesecake'. 

She's flirty and sexy but never overtly so and her brand of sex is only just PG by today's standards, but in her time (the golden years falling between 1930's-1960's) the Pin Up was as sexy as you could get without going 'under the counter'.

Girly magazines were the place to find pin ups and as American culture then, as now, was predominantly white it follows that so was the Pin Up. However, publishers soon caught on that there was a huge untapped market for black bombshells. Yes, black models occasionally appeared in mainstream white publications, but it was rare, and they were often typecast into the well used (and previously discussed) widely acceptable ideas of the 'Savage woman'.

Alongside the issues of 'Flirt' 'Wink' and 'Beauty Parade' came magazines that catered to African-American readers like 'Jive' 'Sepia' and 'Ebony'. Before we even take a look at the pin ups in these publications it's interesting to note the titles. Unlike the publications targeted at the white American male which made sideways references to the girly pictures inside, the black counterparts use entirely black references, not only setting them apart but also claiming those descriptive words for themselves. 'Jet' Magazine may be one exception to this rule because although appearing to make use of the colour black in it's title, it's founder John J Johnson stated that it was called Jet because, "In the world today everything is moving along at a faster clip. There is more news and far less time to read it."

It's also evident that 'Jet' took on some weightier issues regarding race than the typical girly mag. During it's early years the magazine covered the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King and tackled ideas that affected the African-American population of the time. 

The Pin Ups in the magazines had a different portrayal too. Instead of play acting and goofing around with black stereotypes they posed as straight forward pin up models, women who were celebrated for their beauty, not the titillating idea associated with the colour of their skin.

After the revolution of Playboy magazine in 1953 there was a gap for a more up market and intellectual 'mens' magazine aimed at the African-American male. Along came 'Duke Magazine'. First published in 1957 Duke's centrefolds were called 'Duchess of the month' and elevated the model from girl next door to goddess.

Compare this image with the previous photo above of Evelyn Pitcher doing her 'Devil dance' and its clear that this Pin Up's sexual allure is being taken seriously. It is a sad yet interesting fact that the black Pin Up was mostly only seen as a real woman with real sensuality by her black audience

Moving forward to modern times, the Pin Up is here to stay. The vintage Pin Up aesthetic wavered during the 70's through to the 90's, then somewhere around the early 2000's she made a come back. With burlesque nights and vintage fairs now a regular occurrence, where is the black Pin Up now?

She's alive and well in contemporary music videos, and in a twist of post modernism you can find Beyonce morphing into Bettie Page in her video for 'Why Don't You Love Me'. It stands out to me that things seem to have gone full circle in this instance. In my first post in this series I talked about how the mainstream white pin up would sometimes appropriate the garb of another culture, yet the true pin ups from those cultures remained unseen. Here, Beyonce dons the garb of a popular white pin up as if she is just another trend to play with. 

Also unlike previous black performers and models, who took on a racial stereotype which hid their true identity, with Beyonce her donning of a white cultural stereotype only serves to enrich and empower her individuality.

Beyonce is in the lucky position to do all this thanks to her black Pin Up siblings from the past who paved the rocky and uneven path that helped lead to the modern image of a strong powerful black woman. Thanks to their struggles and hard work she can now claim to be 'Queen B' and have the freedom own her sexuality and project it in any way she chooses. 


Before I end this post, I'd like to mention here some of the fabulous modern black Pin Ups who work in the industry and take inspiration from the past. These are all gorgeous women who claim their black heritage and the Pin Up aesthetic to create beautiful images and performances.

Coco Deville

Angelique Noire

Perle Noire

Jeez Loueez

Kristina Paulk

...and there are MANY more!

Join me next time when I take a look and the world of Pin Up illustrations and how the black Pin Up features...or does she?

Monday 10 April 2017

Going to the Vogue Ball

Waiting in the long queue that weaved from under the railway arch and spilled out onto the street, my friend and I were relieved that other people had 'made an effort'. In fact, we were stood behind an Egyptian Goddess in all her golden glory which was a good giveaway, and as we got nearer to the door we watched as an 80's leather clad dream complete with a perfect teal bob, sashayed her way to the line. We were in the queue for Manchester's Vogue Ball and Manchester itself did not disappoint, turning up in all her grandeur to witness the event. 

We had been invited by choreographer, dancer and producer of the night, Darren Pritchard in order for me to to see for myself what he described as the 'inside of your head' and to specifically see Manchester's House of Ghetto who I will be doing some art work with (See my research posts about The Hidden Pin Up).

Rikki Beadle-Blair hosted looking superb in fishnets and denim hot-pants and whipped up the crowd; 'By the end of the night you will all have tapped into that little 15 year old black gay boy from Harlem. In a time before there was ever such a thing as a black president (now any tw*t can do it), when he could only find his true voice, his true family and true identity in the vogue ballroom'. We went wild and the show began...

To sum up the feel of  Voguing, it's about inclusivity, expression, creativity and attitude, it isn't a dance contest or a beauty pageant. Those little bitches from America's Next Top Model would get flattened, these dancers and performers were the real deal. There were a number of bouts themed with different titles, 'Solo' 'Icons' 'Sex Siren' 'Fantasy'... each house taking to the catwalk to own it using a combination of catwalk, costume, dance, burlesque and drag. 

 The House of Ghetto pay homage to Josephine Baker

The 'Sex Siren' bout included a Victoria's Secret model and Barbie and Ken and The House of Ghetto took it old school with an homage to Josephine Baker complete with a golden banana skirt and a pretty x-rated way of sharing the fruit. It was so exciting to see this icon being nodded to after looking into black pin up history and writing about her just a couple of weeks back.

It was also great to see my past muse and model, the ever gorgeous Grace Oni Smith, claiming the stage as she performed with her house The House of Decay in an iconic group dance. 

One of the stand out performances of the night was when the panel of judges couldn't choose between The House of Suarez or The House of Decay to win the 'Realness' bout and they ended up dancing it out against each other. It was full on fierce! The House of Decay deservedly won but both contestants were amazing and what really caught my eye was that despite the intense gestures and savage energy between the two, they began and ended the bout holding hands and hugging one another. That summed up the night for me.

Keeping it raw, The House of Ghetto danced to Missy Elliot

But to get to the real meat of the matter, the 'Choreography' bout at the end of the night was where House Of Ghetto reigned supreme, or they should have, narrowly missing out to Liverpool's House of Lipa. This was where the all black female group took control of the catwalk and blew the crowd away. Dancing to Missy Elliot they were stunning. Slick sexy confident and totally on point, I couldn't sit still watching them, the performance was amazing. Everyone else seemed to feel the same way because, as the judges tried to decide who should win that bout, a chant of Ghe-tto! Ghe-tto! Ghe-tto! took hold. They were robbed.

The sights and sounds and the energy in the room were incredible. I've been to burlesque and drag nights, but this was something else, it worked on a whole other level, it felt more raw and immediate. And as promised, while Madonna streamed over the speakers and the lights went up, at the end of the night each person was tuned into their inner 15 year old black gay boy and we felt fabulous!