Black Artists, the Problem of Authenticity, and “Africa” in the Twentieth Century


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies


This dissertation investigates the connection between “Africa” and authenticity in the work of Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998) and selected twentieth-century Black artists. It posits that allusions to “Africa” in Black art are seen by critics as markers not only of the artist’s heritage, but their authenticity. Chapters look at the historiography of authenticity in philosophical and art historical discourses, the use of “Africa” by Black artists working during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, the Civil Rights and African Liberation Movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the use of multiculturalism is the1990s. Via interrogations of selected works, art criticism, institutional networks, and archives, this intercession into American art history offers a new way to think about the role “Africa” plays in the construction of an African-American artistic identity.