3 to 5pm
New Negro Modernism: Commodity Racism, Race Consumption, and the Making of a Black Commercial Aesthetic in Interwar Chicago
The central place of Chicago within the history of Black graphic design has most recently come to our attention through the landmark “Love for Sale” exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2015. Within this story we were introduced to the pioneering commercial artist Charles Dawson and his amazing mix of southern folk culture, highly sexualized themes, and “pleasing Negro types” found within his Valmour graphic designs. But within this paper I will focus on the commercial artistic biography of Dawson to explore the rarely acknowledged role of graphic design as part of the modern race consciousness produced within Chicago’s larger New Negro movement. Through Dawson we can track a broader New Negro experience of art schools, cultural societies, and both fine and commercial art projects that contested the commodity racism within mainstream advertising while also producing a profound Black commercial aesthetic. With names like Overton, Walker, and Malone; Chicago was a hotbed for the Black beauty industry long before Valmor. These “race enterprises” cultivated Dawson’s visual blend of romance, race pride, and history that reveal a broader canvas where commercial markets were used to advance race conscious designs.
Respondent: D. Bradford Hunt, Newberry Library
The Chicago: City of Commerce and Design, 1890-1990 Seminar is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
Newberry Scholarly Seminars are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.