"An Aesthetic Darkey" from the "Aiken and Vicinity" series

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

About the work

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A stereograph of a young Black child staged and shot by James A. Palmer in Aiken, South Carolina in 1882. The photo is one of a pair of images created by Palmer to satirize the poet Oscar Wilde.Wilde toured America in 1882 promoting the Aesthetic Movement. In response, images criticizing the movement and Wilde became widely popular and distributed. The images linked Aestheticism with Blackness and Black art in an attempt to codify the style as low art. Thus racist caricatures were prevalent.This photo mirrors William Holbrook Beard’s woodcut, The Aesthetic Monkey. The print features a monkey in a suit with motifs from the movement - a sunflower, lily, and horseshoe. Palmer employs these symbols with a unique Edgefield face jug. The jug, which was likely created by a skilled, African American potter, was utilized by Palmer as a critique of the movement's championing of craft.

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