Performing Images, Embodying Race: The orientalized body in early 20th-century U.S. performance and visual culture

Ellen Johnson Gallery
February 24 - June 11, 2006

Performing Images, Embodying Race presents a critical view of dominant U.S. images of real and imagined Asian performance, showing how early 20th-century representations of China, Japan, and Asian America supported pervasive beliefs about race, gender, and the "oriental" body.

In historical contexts of anti-Asian racism, exoticist consumer tastes, and debate over women's social roles, many European Americans saw certain Asian, Asian American, and white orientalist performers as embodying authentic or mimetic racial difference. Often this involved notions of a "yellow peril" made safely entertaining or aestheticized visions of distant cherry blossoms, kimono, and fans.

Along with 19th-century wood engravings and advertising trade cards, the exhibition's primary media include sheet music covers; images of vaudeville, opera, dramatic stage, and silent cinema performers; photographs of amateurs in orientalist costume; stereo views; postcards; phonograph advertisements; other ephemera and domestic commodities; and later 20th-century record album covers and Hollywood promotional materials.

Organized by the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut and curated by Robert Lancefield.

Support for the exhibition and related course activities has been generously provided by Oberlin College's grant from the Freeman Foundation Undergraduate Asian Studies Initiative.


Geraldine Farrar as "Madame Butterfly"
Photographic Postcard (Germany) Private Collection

Friday, February 24, 4:00 pm
Ellen Johnson Gallery
Robert Lancefield, curator of Performing Images, Embodying Race, will discuss the exhibition.