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White Negress [I]

Constantin Brancusi (French (born Romania), 1876–1957)

How to interpret this work and its title? Brancusi liked to juxtapose concepts in his sculptures: masculine and feminine, modern and ancient, artificial and natural. Here he pairs white with negress, a term widely used for Black women in France and its colonial empire during Brancusi’s lifetime. According to a friend, Brancusi was inspired by the sight of a woman he believed to be from Africa during a visit to a colonial exposition in the French city of Marseille.

The resulting sculpture represents the idea of a woman rather than a portrait of a particular individual. In distilling form to just a few elements placed in lively asymmetry, Brancusi deployed a decidedly modern aesthetic. But in emphasizing a high chignon and pronounced lips, he was alluding to European stereotypes for characterizing Africans and people of African descent. White Negress evokes social, cultural, and aesthetic questions that remain urgent today.

Object Details

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