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  • Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion “You can almost feel the curators’ nervousness”


Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion “You can almost feel the curators’ nervousness”

The exhibition 'Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion' explores the complex legacy of the dancer, spy, actress and muse.

Josephine Baker by George Hoyningen-Huene, 1929, © George Hoyningen-Huene Estate

You can almost feel the curators’ nervousness as they navigate an exhibition around the remarkable though deeply complex legacy of the American-born French dancer, Josephine Baker. The performer has undergone a significant re-evaluation in recent years and has become recognised for encapsulating all the beauty and vitality of black culture; her early performances, memorably featuring her famous banana skirt, adeptly ridiculed and subverted white American stereotypes.

Featuring artworks by contemporary artists, such as Simone Leigh, and shockingly racist documentary artefacts (you’ll gasp out loud), this rather crammed exhibition keeps actual footage of Baker’s performances to a minimum. Instead, it focuses on the impact the dancer made on those around her. From architect Alfred Loos’ design for a temple to her body and the lamentable reductiveness of artist Paul Klee’s description, her fame exposed racist tendencies in many of the leading cultural figures of the time.

Exhibition view “Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion”, Neue Nationalgalerie, 26.1.-28.4.2024
(c) Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The prejudice never held her back, and she was the first black woman to star in a motion picture, a spy for the French Resistance, and, later in life, a leading figure in the civil rights movement – achievements all the more impressive considering she was born into poverty and married off at 13 years old. This show is definitely worth a visit, though at €8 consider combining it with a full museum ticket.


  • Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion, through 1 May, 2024, Neue Nationalgalerie, Tiergarten, details.