Incorporation of traditional African artifacts in selected works by Loïs Mailou Jones as a reflection of historical identity




This paper deals with the analysis of selected works of Loïs Mailou Jones, a prominent visual artist of Harlem Renaissance. The key element determining the selection of particular works was the presence of African tribal art features in these paintings. The intention was to prove that the mentioned artifacts became a tool for the artist that enabled her to reflect upon the unequal position of African Americans within society, their identity, as well as upon the heritage of the ancestral Africa. Thus, the two works selected for the analysis are Les Fetiches and Two Faiths, produced in the late 1930s and the early 1940s respectively. The main reason the paper focuses on this topic is frequent absence of visual art of Harlem Renaissance in publications dedicated to Modern art. Similarly, the visual art of Harlem Renaissance has never been met with the same level of appreciation as literature or music representative of this era. Yet, it is not the intention to trace reasons why it is so; instead, the paper aims to provide a contribution to this often overlooked topic. It is important to say that the paper approaches the theme of visual art not from the perspective of art theory. Instead, the analysis relies on historical context and the philosophical tendencies of the first decades of the 20th century that enabled the artist to approach the notion of identity from a unique angle. To describe the methodology being used, it is a combination of a descriptive method related to observation of formal aspects of paintings, yet, these features are interpreted within the already mentioned historical context. The focus is therefore more on the paintings’ meaning, traceable connotations, rather than on the artistry itself. The contribution of the paper thus resides in in-depth analysis of the two works within the framework of Harlem Renaissance, Négritude movement and affiliated philosophical strands of the first decades of the 20th century with the accent on the use of indigenous African artifacts. Moreover, the paper may be also useful to readers interested in frequently unheeded topic of visual art of Harlem Renaissance.

Keywords: identity, Harlem Renaissance, artifact, religion, masks, heritage.


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