The Riddle of the Sphinx or "It Must Be Said": Charles Demuth's My Egypt Reconsidered

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2004-12-14

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My Egypt, 1927, is one of the largest, best known, and arguably most misunderstood works by American modernist Charles Demuth. Past interpretations of the painting have focused on the visual similarity of the depicted grain elevators to architectural wonders of the ancient world and/or on the ironic juxtaposition of image and title. Building upon these analyses, this thesis proposes three nexuses of inquiry that illuminate My Egypt. Deriving from recent critical theory on gender and phenomenology, the first section of the thesis reads the image as a performative self-portrait. The second section considers the underexamined religious tradition of the artist as important to elucidating the picture's meaning. Finally, the third section investigates the artist's relationship to Egypt and the early twentieth-century phenomenon of Egyptomania, using seven associative connotations for the African country to explain the complexity of Demuth's masterpiece.

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