SELMA BURKE (1900 - 1995) Untitled (Head of Asadata Dafora).
Sandstone, with remnants of a tan plaster coating, circa 1935-40. Approximately 460x305x210 mm; 18x12x8 inches high.
Provenance: private Pennsylvania collection.
Asadata Dafora (1890 - 1965) was a drummer, singer, dancer, composer and choreographer from Sierra Leone. In 1929, he was one of the first musicians to introduce African drumming to the United States, and the first artist to successfully present African tribal performance in a Western style stage production. His first work, a musical drama called Kykunkor (Witch Woman), opened in 1934 to such critical and popular acclaim that it had to move to a larger theater to accommodate the audiences--it had a streak of 65 sold out performances. He also appeared as a drummer in Orson Welles's all-black 1936 production of Macbeth and co-authored a radio play with Orson Welles entitled Trangama-Fanga.
In the mid 1930s, Selma Burke met Asadata Dafora through her second husband, the Jamaican-born poet and novelist Claude McKay. In 1935, the couple brought together the literary and artistic circles that persisted after the Harlem Renaissance, a group that included Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Ethel Waters and Jacob Lawrence. She received an art scholarship to Columbia University and $1,500 from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to study sculpting materials. She also won the Boehler Foundation Award in 1936, which allowed her to travel and study for a year in France, Germany and Austria in 1938 -- in Paris, she studied sculpture with Aristide Maillol. Upon returning to New York, her marriage to McKay ended, and she earned her M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia University in 1941.