In France of the early twentieth-century, the term art negre was as likely to refer to the black music and dance of America as to the sculpture of Africa. Indeed, music and dance, which both racial theorists and novelists portrayed as the "primitive" arts par excellence, were widely believed to exemplify the "genius" of blacks. In Le Tumulte noir, Jody Blake traces the profound impact African sculpture and African American music and dance had upon Parisian popular entertainment as well as upon avant-garde, modernist art, literature, and theater.
Through her discussion of the reception of ragtime and jazz, as well as other African visual and performing art forms, Blake provides new ways of understanding the development of modernist "primitivism," from Matisse and Picasso to Dada and Surrealism. She also demonstrates that the influence of art negre went well beyond the art world. From the notorious cakewalk to the Charleston, African American idioms played a key role in shaping modern cultural, social, and political life.
Jody Blake is Curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the McNay Art Museum. She is co-author with Jeannette Lasansky of Rural Delivery: Real Photo Postcards from Central Pennsylvania, 1905-1935 (Penn State, 1996).