Féral Benga’s Body in the Matrix of Modernism
This chapter recovers the legacy and the person of Senegalese dancer and model Féral Benga, who became a focus for black and white artists in the 1920s and 1930s. It addresses the manner in which visual depictions of Benga's body allowed for a combined racial and gay liberatory presence and space within the aesthetic, political and cultural dimensions of modernism's racial hierarchization and alleged closet. It argues that Benga's corporeality functioned to centre ‘blackness’ and ‘gayness’ as embodied aesthetic and political categories. As well, that body highlights the tendency within primitivism and surrealism — the two dominant modern movements in which Benga's body appears — to exploit and marginalise racial difference simultaneously. These images and the homoeroticism that informs them force a reconsideration of what is historically conceived of as avant-gardist practice.
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