Josephine Baker: Celebrating a Century of Iconic Influence in Berlin Exhibition

In a captivating tribute to the trailblazing performances of Josephine Baker at the Revue Nègre, a new exhibition has been unveiled at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Germany.

Titled “Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion,” the exhibition marks the centennial of Baker’s groundbreaking performances in Paris.

Born in Missouri in 1906, Baker’s journey to Paris began after a promising dancing career in New York. Her breakthrough at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées during La Revue Nègre in 1925 catapulted her to fame, making her one of the few Black dancers gaining national attention.

Baker’s stardom continued to rise, making her the most successful American entertainer in France. She became the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture with the 1927 silent film “Siren of the Tropics.” The exhibition highlights her influence on the 1920s, portraying her as a symbol of the jazz age.

“Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion” offers a multidimensional perspective on Baker’s life, showcasing her artistry in dance, music, film, and her impactful roles as a resistance fighter and civil rights activist. Curated by Dr. Mona Horncastle and film scholar Dr. Terri Francis, the exhibition features photos, videos, and archival items from Baker’s illustrious career.

The historical and contemporary contributions of artists such as Le Corbusier, George Hoyningen-Heene, Henri Matisse, Jean-Ulrick Desert, Simone Yvette Leigh, Faith Ringgold, Ines Weizman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kandis Williams enrich the exhibition.

The golden era of Berlin during the 1920s is revisited, emphasizing Baker’s storming impact in the “Revue Nègre.” The exhibition sheds light on Baker’s superstar status in Europe, where racial laws in the United States posed challenges for Black artists. Kandice Williams, the curator, underscores the importance of understanding Baker’s iconicity and artistry that continue to inspire generations of Black artists and performers.

The exhibition provides a deep dive into Baker’s life, from her visibility in the spotlight to her wartime contributions in the French intelligence service during World War II. Baker’s commitment to the civil rights movement in the U.S., along with her refusal to perform for segregated audiences, further solidifies her legacy.

For Williams, Baker remains a profound inspiration for younger artists, offering an opportunity to reflect on her agency and intentionality in the face of overwhelming fame. “Josephine Baker. Icon in Motion” invites audiences to explore the nuanced narratives of Baker’s life, making it a must-see exhibition for those seeking to understand her enduring impact.

The exhibition opens to the public on January 27 and runs through April 28, 2024.

Additional sources • Nadia Colombe Gbané

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