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Through the figure of Josephine Baker, Second Skin tells the story of an unexpected yet enduring intimacy between the invention of a modernist style and the theatricalization of black skin at the turn of the twentieth century. Stepping outside of the platitudes surrounding this iconic figure, Anne A. Cheng argues that Baker's famous nakedness must be understood within larger philosophic and aesthetic debates about, and desire for, 'pure surface' that crystallized at the convergence of modern art, architecture, machinery, and philosophy. Through Cheng's analysis, Baker emerges as a central artist whose work engages with and impacts various modes of modernist display such as film, photography, art, and even the modern house.
Anne Anlin Cheng is Professor of English and African American Literature at Princeton University and the author of The Melancholy of Race: Assimilation, Psychoanalysis, and Hidden Grief.