For half a century, she delighted us with her dances, her freedom, her values and her commitments. Today, a new generation of artists is claiming their legacy.

Great music-hall artist, charismatic personality, Josephine Baker has fascinated the greatest: from Cocteau to Calder, including Picabia, Cendrars, Simenon, Poiret, Colette and Desnos, we can no longer count his admirers. She is also an inspiration to many artists, starting with dancers, singers, performers and directors such as Vera Mantero, Mark Tompkins, Chantal Loïal, Fatou Sylla, Lisette Malidor, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Rosemary Phillips and Jérôme Savary.

Today, a new generation is rediscovering the richness of its artistic personality, but also its commitment to justice and minorities. This is the case of several comic book authors – Catel Muller and Jean-Louis Bocquet, Pénélope Bagieu and Maran Hrachyan – who were seduced by the sincerity of his battles. This is also the case of the dancer and choreographer Raphaëlle Delaunay, who followed in the footsteps of the origins of her famous animal dances. What do they have in common? Everyone has something to say about Josephine.

Raphaëlle Delaunay: «Joséphine Baker is at the crossroads of all contemporary trends»

Among the dancers and choreographers who have taken an interest in Josephine Baker in recent years, Raphaëlle Delaunay is undoubtedly one of the most interesting. Inspired by the greatest choreographers, such as Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian, Alain Platel and Boriscreation, which led her to give the choreographic art of Joséphine Baker a heritage value by inscribing the lexicon of the gestures of the Revue nègre dancer in three of her personal creations (Bitter Sugar (2009), Ginger Jive (2009) and Chez Joséphine (2013)). It has thus given life to this heritage and has been the object of a precious transmission, with contemporary dancers, but also of hip-hop. She hopes to be able to enroll in the program of her classes, which she gives at the Conservatoire national de danse de Paris, the study of this school.

In the beginning, she says, thanks to the arrival of the Internet and archives accessible to all, I consulted documents that allowed me to deepen and free myself from neocolonial clichés. Josephine Baker, by being brought back to an alleged exoticism, is an unknown artist. She was a dancer of a very great modernity, and I decided to find for myself all the richness of her choreographic language».

What I take away from her is her evocative power, her playfulness, her modernity

I confess that I had trouble deciphering his movements, the few images preserved show only a few. Without a parallel work to question the origin of these dances, I probably would not have succeeded. It was this inquiry of historian that led me to find what these dances revealed about the history of the black diaspora: animal dances, born in Africa, passed in the United States, perpetuated in the street, came in some music magazines-American hall, which Josephine Baker popularized in Europe. In Paris, in fact, we had never seen them before. This dance will enter the European salons in a sweetened form. In short, it is a story included in that of jazz, the story of a cultural appropriation (in the positive sense of the word!). Josephine Baker arrives at the right moment: a whole stream of artists, like the surrealists, Picasso, is interested in Negro art. It’s a general craze.

Josephine Baker was a great music hall artist. It now stands at the confluence of cabaret, burlesque, hip-hop, performer in situ, and humour. Its silhouette is astonishing: from one photograph to the next it appears gironde or slender, like a liane. What I take away from her is her evocative power, her playfulness, her modernity. I know that she is a divisive character. With her belt of bananas, appearing naked in a cage, she would, according to some, have helped to root the image of the black woman ravaged to the status of object, exotic and sexual. Only the creative explosion that she showed in the music hall, but also in the cinema and in the song, rather reinforces the image of a woman who may not have always been able to control her destiny, but who took the course as soon as she could. Reducing her to her banana belt would be a shame! Joséphine Baker probably has an obscure side that I tried to deal with in Chez Joséphine, but he is above all a luminous, solar character. It opens the door to personalities like Beyoncé.

Dance by Raphaëlle Delaunay

Maran Hrachyan: «I wanted to represent an exceptional woman, bright artist and activist»

In Angoulême, everyone already calls it «the fresco», so much this magnificent illustration, made by a young artist, Maran Hrachyan, conquers walkers and motorists. Printed on a monumental canvas, placed on a wall of the Moëbius Vessel, the main building of the International City of Comics and Images, it was inaugurated last week.

This poster testifies to an astonishing mastery on the part of a young designer who has just finished her schooling at the École Européenne Supérieure de l'Image (the Angoulême art school, the only one in France to offer a «comic» mention in its curriculum).

Josephine Baker, confides us Maran Hrachyan, the author of the fresco, was a great artist, but also an exceptional woman, an activist, committed to the Resistance. As an artist and as a person, she is so bright, she exudes so much kindness and good humor that I wanted at all costs to remain faithful to her: to represent the magazine artist, full of humor, with bright colors and glitter. The white feathers of her headdress form a heart and the cheetah, near her, displays a good smile, because he is her friend. But I also wanted to show that she knew how to use her star status to actively participate in the Resistance. It wasn’t very easy, but I tried. I chose to represent her in the shadows, with her Air Force Second Lieutenant uniform and Free France decorations.

Joséphine Baker, this determined, emancipated, committed and courageous woman, resonates for the younger generations of artists

The result is very successful: the shots follow one another like a fan and the reading of the image is the measure of what the greatest poster artists have done. “We knew Maran Hrachyan well,” says Pierre Lungheretti, Executive Director of the Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image. “We appreciated her talent in her 2020 book, coming out of school, Patrick Dewaere: other than that life is beautiful (editions Glénat), which already makes it a great success. We wanted to entrust this project to a young artist so that she could express what Josephine Baker means to her and the women of her generation.

Many young authors, continues Pierre Lungheretti, are sensitive to the values embodied by Josephine Baker. It was the subject of a comic by Catel Muller and Jean-Louis Bocquet in 2016, and Pénélope Bagieu evokes it among his portraits of Culottés in the first volume published in 2016. Josephine Baker resonates a great deal for the younger generations of artists: she is a determined, emancipated, committed and courageous woman who took to heart the struggles of her time for equality and the recognition of minority rights. That is a wonderful example.

Display this illustration at the Cité internationale de la BD, which means that his fight is also ours as a public cultural institution spreading the values of the Republic through our action, that we conduct our arts and cultural education operations as well as the words we give to artists who commit to these values.

I was very honoured to be offered this work, concludes Maran Hrachyan. In some ways, Josephine Baker touches me a lot. I wish I had been her friend!