Entitled Imaginings: Tristan Tzara, Dada, And The Idea Of Africa

Hilary Whitham, University of Pennsylvania


“Entitled Imaginings: Tristan Tzara, Dada, and the Idea of Africa” analyzes the dada founder and poet Tristan Tzara’s practice as a performer, historian, and critic alongside his role as a collector and curator of African art. Acting like the dadaists’ own mana figa, this dissertation points clearly and directly at the disparities between the events - reconstructed from a variety of sources ranging from personal correspondence to newspaper articles - and the dominant scholarly accounts of those events, in order to demonstrate how the ideologies of white supremacy animated the process of delimiting the contours of modernist art. Further, “Entitled Imaginings” sheds light on Tzara’s frequently overlooked place among his contemporaries along the color line, differentiated by his understanding of analogical relationships between the form and subject matter of contemporaneous African and European cultural forms. Ultimately, this dissertation moves the historiography of so-called “primitivism” beyond the generalizations associated with the 1984 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of the same title – rehearsed as recently as 2016 in the Museum Reitberg’s Dada Africa – to demonstrate how specific African artworks, ethnographic texts, and ideological constructs profoundly informed the development of dada artistic practices.