The assignment awarded to pioneering Black sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller—to envision an inherited past and future offerings for “Americans of Negro lineage” at the 1921 America’s Making Exposition—was daunting. The result, Ethiopia, takes this charge as an opportunity to reclaim an African birthright rooted in a decolonial counter-history of Ethiopia and Egypt. Transported in Fuller’s work beyond present conditions of archaeological dispossession and eugenicist anti-Blackness, these territories become the grounds for reestablishing kinship across the Black Atlantic in a symbolic act of repair toward the development of an African American selfhood uniquely capable of imagining a future beyond longstanding regimes of systemic racism. Foreshadowing by several decades the full flourishing of pan-Africanism, Ethiopia takes up the nascent Harlem Renaissance quest for a “New Negro” identity and singles out for particular concern the construction of Black womanhood circa 1921 atop a racialized and gendered foundation of “Egyptian” and “Ethiopian/Nubian” as contested discursive formations.

Considering the manifold genealogies of Fuller’s sculpture and its politics of diasporic relation, I aim to contextualize this polysemous signifier within the immediate legacy of a tumultuous, preceding half century. These decades saw the rise of a particular fascination with ancient Egyptian “heritage” alongside and as part of the development of racial pseudoscience in the United States, the decisive anticolonial Battle of Adwa in Ethiopia, and the momentary promise of decolonization at the end of World War I.

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