UC Berkeley History of Art Department

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The Glamorous One-Two Punch: Alfonso Brown, 1920s Paris, and the Making of the Beautiful Black Male Athlete

Lyneise Williams


At this moment in the twenty-first century, we take images of beautiful, black male athletes for granted in the United States and globally. But this merger of ideas about beauty and black male athletic bodies is relatively new. The visual type of the desirable, black athlete first emerged in 1927 Paris. It burst forth in one of the most widely circulated popular sports weeklies, Match L’Intran (whose broad circulation extended into the French colonies in the Americas and Africa) in a cover image of Panamanian boxer Alfonso Teofilo Brown, Bantamweight World Champion from 1929-1936. In this presentation, I explore how sports journalism, cutting edge photomechanical reproduction technologies, cinematic photography, and new graphic design possibilities, among many social forces, converged to generate this striking, and enduring visual type.

 

Lyneise Williams is an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (PhD Yale 2004). She is the author of Latinizing Blackness in Paris, 1855-1933, (forthcoming from Bloomsbury Academic Publishers), which examines how Parisians’ visual iconography of Latin Americans in popular imagery inextricably links blackness to Latin American identity beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Three case studies focusing on the imagery of Cuban circus entertainer, Chocolat, Panamanian World Bantamweight Champion boxer, Alfonso Teofilo Brown, and Black Uruguayans by Uruguayan painter, Pedro Figari, demonstrate the way this strategy was reconfigured in portrayals of phenotypically black Latin Americans, and argue for a nuanced reconsideration of blackness in early twentieth century Paris. Her second book project, explores the intersection of beauty, and the black male athlete in 1920s and 30s Paris. Currently, Williams is serving as a Getty Scholar Fellow at the Getty Research Institute. She has published articles on the paintings of Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari, the depictions of Panamanian boxer Alfonso Teofilo Brown, as well as on African art and hip-hop jewelry. Williams has curated exhibitions on African art, and she is a member of the team selected from an international competition to design the North Carolina Freedom Monument Project in Raleigh, North Carolina.