Reclaiming the Modern American Body in the Age of the Machine: William H. Johnson's Jitterbugs and the Articulation of "Humanized Machine Aesthetics"
McHenry, Eowyn May
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Since Richard Powell's decisive monograph on William H. Johnson was published in 1991, Johnson's vast body of work has been the focus of several exhibitions, catalogues, and scholarly articles. While his Jitterbugs series of prints, drawings, and paintings is mentioned in some of these studies, sustained and thorough attention has not yet been paid to this series. What has been written about Jitterbugs tends to offer a straightforward account of Johnson's depiction of the popular dance and the fashionable attire of the dancers while emphasizing his choice of this subject matter within the context of the Harlem Renaissance. A closer look at the Jitterbugs series, however, reveals affinities with modern caricature and machine age aesthetics that places Johnson's work within an expanded modernist discourse about the relationship between the human body and the machine, and the relationship between African American identity and the concept of "Americanness."