This article constitutes part of my continuously evolving fascination and research into the life, legacy, and visual significance of Féral Benga (1906–57). It foregrounds, in particular, the critical discourses surrounding (Afro)modernism generated by his presence in, and influence on, twentieth-century American, European, and black diasporic art and culture. It seeks to contextualize as well as critique a select sampling of visual representations and performative operations of this enigmatic African, who conscientiously exploited the interests and conceits of modernism and primitivism. Benga’s appearance in the work of modern visual culture makers of the period constitutes an important parallel and underground dialogue with conventional histories of modern American and African American art, as well as the critical contours of black diasporic cultures more generally. The ideas and themes presented in this article constitute part of a larger book project of the same title, now under way, that interrogates the cultural, aesthetic, and ideological discourses fostered by Benga’s physical presence and position as transnational icon of black agency within American and European modernist practice and experience from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s.
James Smalls; Féral Benga: African Muse of Modernism. Nka 1 November 2017; 2017 (41): 44–59. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-4271641
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