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Write a 1-paged, double-spaced essay addressing one of the scholarly articles assigned for a specific class period (see available articles listed on the syllabus by date). Your reading response paper should briefly summarize the argument of the assigned essay and raise 3-4 questions for further exploration. Consider the author’s primary concerns, argument, evidence, and conclusion.

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New Negro on the Pacific Rim Sargent Johnson’s Afro-Asian Sculptures John P. Bowles Between 1923 and 1925, Sargent Johnson (1887–1967) created a porcelain portrait of his infant daughter Pearl that alludes to Chinese Buddhist sculpture (Figure 1). When Johnson exhibited Pearl and two drawings in the Harmon Foundation’s 1933 “Exhibition of Productions by Negro Artists” in New York, he was awarded the prize for “Most Outstanding Work in [the] Exhibit.”1 Despite this early attention, Pearl—along with his other sculptures incorporating Asian subject matter or stylistic references—has been ignored by art historians, who have privileged those works in Johnson’s oeuvre that resemble African art, such as his hammered-copper masks of the 1930s.2 For much of his lifetime, however, Johnson was best-known for the prizewinning sculptures of children he made between 1923 and 1935 (Figure 2). These works incorporate a diverse array of stylistic references ranging from ancient Egypt, Rome, and Quattrocento Florence to West Africa, China, and India. A decade later, in a 1944 scholarship application to visit Mexico, Johnson emphasized the eclecticism of his art, noting that he was especially interested in the sculpture of “the great cultures of Egypt, Greece, the Orient, the Middle Ages and primitive societies.”3 Despite scholars’ subsequent emphasis on African and African American aspects of Johnson’s sculpture, much of his professional success derived from the genuinely multicultural variety of his art and the different interpretations that this multiculturalism elicited. Johnson’s success may have depended upon his ability to construct two distinct, but mutually reinforcing, professional identities, comfortably occupying a place among California transnational modernists as well as a role within the national New Negro movement.4 His interest in art from around the 143 world, including the arts of Asia, West Africa, modern Mexico, PreColumbian Latin America, and ancient Greece and Egypt, provided Johnson with a way to participate in the local San Francisco art scene and its discourse of multicultural modernism without being pigeonholed as a Negro artist. At the same time, Johnson’s interest in African art could be singled out as a sign of his solidarity with the anti-racist, anti-colonial, democratic cultural nationalism of Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, and other African American leaders. This strategy appears to have enabled Johnson to establish a strong reputation in the Bay Area despite the “color line” that 1. Sargent Johnson, Pearl, 1923–25. Stoneware with glaze. sundered America so strikingly in Location unknown. Black-and-white photograph by James Latimer Allen, published as the frontispiece in Exhibition of Work by Negro Artists the early twentieth century. (New York: Harmon Foundation, Inc., 1933). Johnson moved to the Bay Area in 1915, a time when artists and civic leaders alike represented the region as modern America’s cultural and economic interface with Asia; this was considered an important part of what made the Bay Area cosmopolitan. Contemporary business and civic leaders touted the Bay Area as the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Basin, book-ending the era with a pair of grandiose world’s fairs to assert their claims. The Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and represented San Francisco as a capital city of the Pacific Rim; and the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 hailed San Francisco as the western states’ gateway to the Pacific with architecture and monumental sculptures—some by Johnson—orchestrated to create the impression of a “Pacific Empire.”5 Between the fairs, San Francisco sculptors responded to the region’s boosters. Finding themselves bound by no single artistic tradition, they sometimes referred to themselves as “California artists”—an identity suggesting distance and independence from art circles on the East Coast and an affinity for the arts of Pacific Rim nations.6 Civic leaders regarded San Francisco as a liberal and welcoming city, free from the racism they saw elsewhere. Likewise, the San Francisco Art Association could sometimes point with self-contentment to the active role 144 East–West Interchanges in American Art Chinese and Japanese artists took in local exhibitions, disregarding the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment they faced regularly in the Bay Area.7 It was in this context that Johnson made several sculptures between 1923 and 1935 that articulate a relationship with cultures of the Pacific Rim, giving form to New Negro cosmopolitanism on a local stage that was also already self-consciously transnational. Johnson’s Orientalist and Africanist allusions situate him in the Bay Area, looking east to Africa, south to Latin America, and west through the Golden Gate and 2. Sargent Johnson, Elizabeth Gee, 1927. Stoneware with glaze on wood stand, 13 ⁄ × 10 ⁄ × 7 ⁄ in. San Francisco Museum of across the Pacific to Asia. Modern Art, Albert M. Bender Collection, Gift of Albert M. Bender. For Pearl, the portrait of his daughter, Johnson incorporated references to traditional Buddhist iconography as well as his own multicultural community in the Bay Area. He sculpted his daughter in porcelain glazed blue-green—a medium that would have been associated with Asian ceramics—and gave her a contemporary hairstyle popular in both Asian and European American communities. He also portrayed her in a relaxed pose that is both childlike and suggestive of the royal ease reserved for only the highest order of Buddhist deities and royalty. He placed Pearl atop a throne, evoking a motif found in representations of the Buddha throughout Asia. Johnson may have thought he was representing the Buddha, but, in fact, the baby Buddha is typically not seated (the sutras say he stood up immediately) or chubby. There is, however, a tradition of child deities, particularly of young pilgrims that become deified figures. A lotus-flower motif of the artist’s own design ornaments the base, perhaps also referring to Egyptian art, as Aaron Douglas would do with stylized papyrus blossoms in his illustrations of 1926 and later. But the lotus blossoms in Pearl might also represent Johnson’s Orientalist allusion to a popular and auspicious Buddhist image: pure, newly born souls, represented in the form of babies, each seated on his or her own lotus-flower throne to hear the Buddha preach.8 Pearl is not only an intimate portrait of the artist’s own baby; it is also an invention, a figure for Johnson’s imagined relationship to China, India, and Japan. It 1 New Negro on the Pacific Rim 8 3 4 1 2 145 is not Buddhist but a Buddhist-inspired figure that counters stereotypical representations of African Americans in mainstream culture. In the early decades of the twentieth century, when Johnson was emerging as an active participant in the New Negro renaissance, Locke, Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and other African American political leaders found deep affinities between the fight against racism in the United States and the nationalist, anti-colonial movements in India and China and, even, at times, with Japanese imperialism and self-determination.9 Only two years after Johnson first exhibited Pearl, Du Bois reimagined racial identification in his novel Dark Princess in a strikingly similar way. The book figures the salvation of “the darker peoples of the world” as a baby born to an African American father and a princess from a fictitious kingdom in India.10 In Du Bois’s novel, transnational solidarity among anti-racist activists, figured literally in terms of race-mixing, threatens to render racial distinctions obsolete while giving birth to a new generation who will continue the struggle for global cultural democracy. Johnson’s sculpture is less polemical but perhaps no less optimistic. Considered in more local terms, Pearl and some of Johnson’s other sculptures, through the metaphor of innocent children, established the artist’s place in a diverse community and provided evidence of a cosmopolitan future. Only one of Johnson’s portraits of children, Elizabeth Gee (Figure 2), represents an Asian resident of his multi-ethnic Berkeley neighborhood, but at least two, Pearl and Head of a Boy, clearly incorporate Asian motifs, as do some of his other sculptures of the 1930s. The tender realism of Johnson’s portraits bespeaks an intimacy between the artist and his subjects in a multicultural neighborhood. When Johnson made these small sculptures, he had moved across the San Francisco Bay with his family to a house he purchased near San Pablo Park, in a Berkeley neighborhood that was attracting many middle-class African American families. The area was already home to a large Japanese community as well as many European immigrants and some ethnic Chinese. Johnson’s home was four blocks from the local Japanese Buddhist temple, and neighborhood children attended fully integrated public schools.11 Elizabeth Gee, made between 1925 and 1927, is a portrait of Pearl’s playmate, a Chinese American girl who lived only a block from the Johnsons, who has since described the San Pablo Park neighborhood as “a racial oasis in a desert of discrimination” during the 1920s and 1930s.12 Elizabeth Gee, both Asian-inflected and intimate, is a sensitive rendering done in a realist style. But do Pearl and Elizabeth Gee represent a cosmopolitan New Negro consciousness or merely a fashionable taste for Asian ceramics, symbols, and hairstyles? Chester (Figure 3), Johnson’s portrait sculpture of the early 1930s, most often characterized as illustrating the artist’s interest in representing “the pure American 146 East–West Interchanges in American Art Negro,” provides a helpful model for understanding his clear allusions to Asian art in other sculptures made at approximately the same time.13 Chester is Africanist in the same way that Pearl and Elizabeth Gee are Orientalist, evoking a romanticized, idealized, and distant culture in order to reflect critically upon the contemporary moment. The sculpture appears to be a portrait of an African American boy, rendered realistically but with an elegant simplicity betraying Johnson’s modernist archaism. Johnson’s only published statement 3. Sargent Johnson, Chester, 1931. Cast terra cotta on wood base, 8 ⁄ × 5 ⁄ × 7 in. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Albert M. Bender about Chester identifies it Collection, Bequest of Albert M. Bender. simply as being modeled on “That kid [who] used to come to my studio.”14 Like Pearl and Elizabeth Gee, Chester represents one more child from Johnson’s Berkeley neighborhood through a multicultural amalgamation of hybrid sculptural forms.15 Seeing Chester in 1931, Alain Locke recognized the sculpture’s cosmopolitanism and proclaimed Johnson one of the leading New Negro “Africanists,” or NeoPrimitives. In two articles that year, “The African Legacy and the Negro Artist” and “The American Negro as Artist,” Locke argued for the important lessons “Negro artists” could draw from African art, and he singled out Johnson for praise: compared with the work of other New Negro artists, the “stylistic analogies” Johnson drew in Chester were the “most direct of all.”16 “It is a long stretch from an isolated Negro sculptor living and working in California to the classic antiques of bygone African cultures,” Locke wrote, “but here it is in this captivatingly naïve bust for those to see for whom only seeing is believing.”17 In Locke’s description, Johnson’s Chester figures an imagined identification with Africa at the same time that it marks the distances imposed by history and geography: Chester epitomizes the New Negro self-conception. 1 New Negro on the Pacific Rim 2 1 2 147 In the mid- to late 1920s, when Locke first made his case for the New Negro’s interest in African art, he characterized the New Negro perspective in a phrase familiar from his description of Johnson’s attitude toward Africa: African art, Locke wrote, “may seem a far cry from the conditions and moods of modern New York and Chicago and the Negro’s rapid and feverish assimilation of all things American. But art establishes its contacts in strange ways.” In this passage, Locke positioned African art in contrast to “assimilation of all things American,” providing evidence of a Negro “folk temperament” as a tradition of cultural resistance.18 As a consequence, Locke characterized New Negro art not through any particular formal concerns but according to a new self-reflexive and critical “point of view” on history, by the clear recognition that “the Negro’s situation in the past has forced him to a counter-attitude in life and a spectator’s attitude toward himself.”19 The American Negro tradition was a set of strategies for adaptation and accommodation, manifest in cultural pluralism.20 For Locke, Johnson’s allusions to African art are significant not because they resurrect a forgotten inheritance but because Johnson’s modernist practice poses the New Negro’s relationship to Africa as a question of historical distance. In Chester, the seemingly natural affinities between what Locke identifies as an African precedent and a New Negro subject articulates a deliberate goal of multicultural solidarity. Most important for Locke is Johnson’s engagement in a critical reappropriation of African art—the cultural product of a conventionally marginalized “classic” civilization—with the specific purpose of articulating an alternative perspective on history.21 In short, Johnson’s portrait sculptures of the 1920s and 1930s measure cultural difference, a core value of Locke’s cultural politics, figuring the Negro’s new critical role in the culture of the United States and the world. Johnson’s multicultural perspective is characteristic of Locke’s New Negro project, but he also shared it with his teachers and colleagues in San Francisco, almost none of whom were African American. The depth of Johnson’s interest in African art seems to have been unique among San Francisco artists, although it would most likely not have struck his contemporaries as out of the ordinary. In the spirit of cultural democracy, local artists were respected—if sometimes also marginalized—for articulating their ethnic heritage in their art. For example, when Diego Rivera visited San Francisco from 1930 to 1931, he painted local subjects in a style that was understood to express his perspective as a Mexican artist. During that same visit, when Rivera spoke to a meeting of the Chinese Art Club of California, a group comprising Chinese students at the California School of Fine Arts, he advised them “not to imitate American or European art but to cling to [y]our own Chinese art.” Furthermore, during his visit Rivera was a member of the jury that 148 East–West Interchanges in American Art awarded the Medal of First Award for Sculpture in the San Francisco Art Association’s 1931 annual exhibition to Johnson’s Chester.22 Rivera’s impressions of Johnson’s work are not recorded, but it is possible he saw in it the same thing Locke had only months earlier: an informed engagement with African art from the perspective of a modern Negro living and working in California. Other members of the San Francisco Art Association may have agreed, but it is notable that in the extensive press coverage of the annual exhibition that year some journalists cited Johnson’s local renown—he was clearly accepted among the local community of artists—but not a single author identified Johnson as Negro or commented that Chester appeared to be inspired by African art. Scholar Helen Shannon has demonstrated that Johnson must have been familiar with the Egyptian “reserve heads” (life-sized funerary portrait head sculptures from Egypt’s fourth dynasty) that likely inspired Chester. It is not certain, however, that many people in the San Francisco art community would have recognized these sources. Even Locke does not seem to have noticed the similarity. Instead, local viewers focused on the realism of the work, perhaps thinking of it in terms of the more academic sculptures, such as Esther and Anderson, that Johnson made between 1929 and 1930.23 Another possibility is that Chester’s simplified yet delicately expressive form is so abstracted that it might have been understood as drawing upon any number of artistic traditions, a quality that simply signified a modern style. For example, Ralph Stackpole, a leading local modernist and Johnson’s teacher at the California School of Fine Arts for two years, wrote in 1935 that sculptors might look to the “few places dotted over the globe where sculpture has flourished,” from Asia Minor to “Egypt and Greece, around to India and China and Java, then over to Mexico and up to British Columbia (the nearest point to us) where the Columbian Indians made totem poles, masks, etc., and back to Africa, where Negro art grew, as fine as any.”24 Whichever of these traditions Johnson intended to draw upon, local art critics did not try to discern his sources. Johnson’s achievement with Chester was its capacity to exemplify different meanings to different audiences. The San Francisco Examiner’s art critic, for example, simply described Chester as “a strong and moving conception.” She also asserted Johnson’s local professional standing without mentioning his race, referring to him as a “well known San Francisco artist.”25 San Franciscans’ liberal conception of themselves as opposing racism and welcoming people of all races and ethnicities—despite evidence of discrimination gathered by local civil rights organizations and widespread support for anti-immigration laws—enabled them to support a Negro artist as a cosmopolitan modernist even as others encouraged him to focus on more clearly Negro subjects. While for Alain Locke, Chester established Johnson as an Africanist and, therefore, a member of the New Negro on the Pacific Rim 149 New Negro interpretive community, in San Francisco the artist’s work was absorbed into a more generalized interpretive framework.26 In fact, Locke had more in mind than reductivist, or essential race consciousness. In a 1925 essay, he called on American Negro artists to reach multiracial audiences with a multicultural practice, giving them a choice he framed in terms of a trans-oceanic metaphor: “new Armadas of conflict or argosies of cultural exchange and enlightenment.”27 Johnson sets African and Asian traditions 4. Sargent Johnson, Head of a Boy, 1934. Terra cotta on wood into more explicit dialogue in base, 7 ⁄ × 6 × 6 in. Formerly in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, current location unknown. Photo courtesy San another sculpture of the early Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 1930s, Head of a Boy (Figure 4). Although nothing is known of the sitter, this sculpture resembles the busts Johnson made of neighborhood children—especially Chester, in the sensitive details of eyes and lips carved in the manner of Egyptian “reserve heads”—and, notably, it rises from a base that resembles the sort of Buddhist throne alluded to in Pearl. While Johnson seems to have invented the decorative elements on Pearl’s base, the wooden base he carved for Head of a Boy refers more directly to Buddhist iconography. With a pair of lions reclining symmetrically on either side of a form that may represent the wheel of Dharma or an incense burner, Johnson has replicated the imagery found on thrones supporting many Chinese and Indian sculptures of the Buddha. A solitary head is an image never found in Buddhist art, however; in this respect, Johnson’s sculpture of Pearl more cl ...
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Reading response
According to Bowles (143), Johnson became popular as an artist when he created a
porcelain portrait called Pearl, basically a representation of his daughter Pearl. The portrait
represented Chinese Buddhist royal deities but also showed a childish pose. This particular
portrait, together with two other drawings was presented at the “Exhibition of Productions by
Negro Artists” in 1925, where Johnson was awarded the “Most outstanding work” prize

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Tutor went the extra mile to help me with this essay. Citations were a bit shaky but I appreciated how well he handled APA styles and how ok he was to change them even though I didnt specify. Got a B+ which is believable and acceptable.

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