No Title (The Ugly American) was completed soon after Hervé Télémaque (Haitian, b. 1937) moved to Paris in late 1961, discouraged by the difficulty of finding a studio in New York and disheartened by the city’s pervasive racism. Painted during the escalation of tensions during the Cold War, the work takes aim at the boorish bigotry the artist had recently fled: the blond heads screaming “STOP” appear as caricatures of what the artist described as “New York’s racist, WASP atmosphere.” The speech bubble contains words from Alfred Jarry’s satirical play King Ubu (1896), whose protagonist is a greedy, bloodthirsty dictator. Wide-open mouths with threatening teeth evoke Francisco de Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (1819–23). The pink and green biomorphic form on the left-hand panel evokes the Hottentot Venus, the name under which a pair of South African Khoikhoi women were exhibited in 19th century Europe, a recurrent motif in Télémaque’s compositions. Using elements like these, the artist mixed politics with, in his words, “the violent representation of sexuality.”
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