Harlem Toile de Jouy

In the matter of Sheila Bridges' "Harlem Toile de Jouy" (circa 2007), I remain undecided-- after one and a half years of deliberation. Bridges says she designed the print "to tell a somewhat satirical story about African American life as seen through the sometimes distorted lens of the media." I can get with that. For the most part. What's slightly troubling, however, are all the misguided Oos and Ahhs from the blogosphere, and the unintentionally ironic Domino feature. So I hereby recuse myself. But the matter must be settled once and for all. What say ye?


January 9, 2009 at 12:38 PM Anonymous said...

WOW, what a find! This is very cool.

January 9, 2009 at 12:42 PM Anonymous said...

I gotta say I'm just beguiled by the images of black people on wall paper. It's sad but simple. Now to look again and really study the content sans the intent, I'm not afraid to laugh and see the humor. The intention may get through because of the shock value. But it's intriguing.

January 11, 2009 at 2:38 PM Decorno said...

I think it's brilliant. I have always loved it. Why are you unsure about it? (That sounds gruff, but I don't mean it that way. I am actually curious to know.) I don't think it's dangerous. I think it's actually pretty naughty, in the way that this wallpaper kind of laughs at people who don't get it. It's a wink.

And, of course, with all the current ridiculous fawning over Important Dead Classic Designers, seeing contemporary images in toile is a funny riff on class, as much as it is on race. I mean, to put traditional toile in your house says a lot about who you think you are and, in some cases, reflects this yawning, ambitious reach for what you want to be. It's so Paris-in-Houston. Fake-fancy. I think this paper mocks that ambition. I approve of that.

Also - I do not read your blog enough. Seriously. I haven't stopped by in a while, but I need to put you in my reader. Doing that now.

January 16, 2009 at 2:39 AM Anonymous said...

I'm so glad Decorno led me here. You run a first-rate blog.

I like the wallpaper. It's playful but not quite ironic, and I love that delicacy.

I also like that you don't need a Ph.D. to get it. Although a Ph.D. would like it, so would a 12-year-old. That's good design.

Now come on over to Decorno and see what you think of decorator Mary McDonald's version of chinoiserie.

January 16, 2009 at 11:37 AM pve design said...

it's got soul honey. that's all I can say.
Love that kitchen.

January 16, 2009 at 11:44 AM Anonymous said...

Given the artist's intent, I feel like I've been let in on very pointed, condemning joke...against the media. I was reminded of this wallpaper when Michelle and Barack Obama were on the cover of the New Yorker's July 21 2009 edition. There is a certain cadre of people who will have enough ironic distance to see it for what it is, and there is a much larger majority who will miss the point a bit.

Artists do not owe it to the public to hold their hand. Personally, I wouldn't hang it - it falls more under the category of art in my mind. Like Robert Gober wallpaper.

January 16, 2009 at 2:06 PM Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm an idiot or naive or something, but I thought it looked extremely similar to the French country prints that were all over a couple of years ago.

January 16, 2009 at 4:33 PM Anonymous said...

I think it walks the same "talking about race" tightrope that Chris Rock brilliantly but precariously teeters upon and slips off now and then in a way that inspires provactive and frank discussions about race relations and history. This past April, I sat in the audience at his show laughing so hard but thinking "should I be laughing at that?" The answer was yes, I was laughing WITH him, not AT him. The answer was also that Rock wanted us to have that feeling and then ponder about why. For me the answer was that we were all laughing at ourselves.

There was a weak article in the NYTimes yesterday about talking about race. The idea for the article was a good and positive one, the execution of it was poor, IMHO.

That being said, I am white, and if people of color find this wallpaper offensive, it should be stripped from the walls. If a bunch of liberal P.C. white people (who only tend to be friends with other liberal P.C. white people) deem it offensive, it's rather meaningless to me. I am really curious to see other comments and ask my diverse group of friends what they think about it. I think whomever hangs this paper in their home should also have a W.A.S.P.-Y lawn jockey on their lawn to go with it.

As for the chinoserie, I don't know enough about Asian culture and attitudes to leave an educated comment - are such figures celebrated in their culture or are are they analagous to mammy cookie jars? I've seen some interesting discussions about collecting such items and why people do.

Love your blog; I just discovered it via decorno and I'm adding you to my bloglines reads immediately!


January 16, 2009 at 6:11 PM Lisa Hunter said...

I think it's immensely clever. Like all toile, it presents an idealized -- and utterly false -- vision of pastoral life.

January 17, 2009 at 12:22 AM pheak-pheak said...

can someone explain to me what's so briliant about this?

January 17, 2009 at 2:20 AM Style Noir said...

Becky-- bingo.

Precisely-- I mean, right on the MONEY-- what I was thinking but hadn't yet articulated.

My reaction to this wallpaper was not unlike my initial reaction to The Chapelle Show; utter delight at the depth and precision of Chapelle's racially charged, social commentary (although to describe it as such is about as redundant as it gets) and nausea at witnessing white frat boys rehash certain Chapelle bits that I'm not sure they should have found entertaining-- given their inevitable lack of understanding-- to begin with.

And America wondered why the man absconded to Africa. I saw that coming from jump.

January 17, 2009 at 2:20 AM Style Noir said...

Decorno-- thanks for facilitating this dialogue. You rock.

January 17, 2009 at 2:21 PM Anonymous said...

All I can say is - it's toile. No matter what, it's bound to start getting on your nerves after 2 weeks!


January 17, 2009 at 3:56 PM The Spicers said...

I wouldn't hang this wallpaper OR a piece of Kara Walker's art in my home, but I can appreciate both. It's just that it would somehow seem inauthentic and too trying-to-be-hip for a middle-aged WASP.

January 17, 2009 at 5:36 PM Penelope Bianchi said...

I love this toile........ I love most toile.......this is charming!

My house is filled......with "blackamoors"!

Paintings....statues.......mini-bronzes........small statues;

Is that a problem? (I am caucasion; my Mother collected them also)

A black close friend of my daughter's asked me......many years ago....."Why do you have all these paintings and statues of black people in your house?"

I explained that "Moors" were considered so beautiful.......and statuesque as people, they were used in art often !

Maybe this sounds ridiculous; but why are they considered "politically incorrect"?


ps really good idea to do with a cuckoo clock! Paint it white!!! (and make sure it doesn't cuckoo!!)

January 18, 2009 at 2:53 AM Style Noir said...

Penelope-- interesting.

A white woman I know of collects reproductions of racist iconography and hangs it in the home she shares with her half-Black son, who to my understanding receives little to no education on his heritage or explanation of the significance of such representations. I find the whole circumstance not only really annoying-- said woman is the sort to attempt to accrue hipness points via various, misinformed ways of "embracing" Blackness-- and bizarre, but dangerous.

What do you say?

January 18, 2009 at 9:32 AM Tami said...

I'm glad I found your blog through Decorno. Now, I have been searching for a wallpaper for my soon to be daughter and came across this online and thought it was great until I went to the design center and saw it up close. It is TERRIBLE! I like the idea of the paper, the themes are great but the faces of the "people" look like little black animals. It is just awful! It is a humiliating caricature in my opinion. I would love the paper if the images were more life like. I was very surprised that Shelia Bridges approved such images.

January 18, 2009 at 1:07 PM Anonymous said...

I agree with the dissenters. First of all, I do find it caricature and not "biting social commentary". The idea is obviously that it's some sort of turnabout or carnivalesque class-swapping, but those carnival games never served to overturn power structures, they only ever served to maintain those structures while allowing people to let off a little steam. And I think that's what this does. I just can't imagine a white person hanging this, not for a second - it's "liberal" and not in a good way. Just my opinion. If I were black I could possibly have a different relationship with it, a more ironic one? I'm not sure. But it's hard to escape the fact that it's not very well thought out. You have some black women pictured here who could well be aristocrats, for all we know, and then in other scenes you have "street" type activities, but everyone is wearing the same court dress in every scene - as social commentary it's just hodgepodge. It doesn't know what it wants to say about either race or class. It's not art, either - in a contemporary art context it would be taken into tiny pieces. Who is the designer? I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if I were black, but I doubt I'd feel good enough about it to have to stare at it every day. I love humour in decor but this just isn't working for me. And then there's toile. But I love this blog.

January 19, 2009 at 3:24 PM thebubbreport said...

Sadia, I too was thinking of Chapelle. I think you perfectly articulated why he walked away from the show. It's ironic that they tried to come and take him the same way he joked about them taking others like Paul Moody.

I collect Outsider Art, mostly African American Folk Art like Missionary Mary Procter, Mose Tolliver, Jim Sudduth, Bernice Simms and Chris Clark. It just speaks to me and warms my soul. Since I'm white I think some of my friends think it's kind of odd (some of them have asked me, "oh, did you paint all of these?" and I'm like, "um try going to a museum sometime"), but I think they just don't get it.

Anyway, not sure what that has to do with anything, but thought I would come back around to this very interesting conversation.


January 29, 2009 at 8:25 PM grumblebunny said...

Becky nailed my feelings with this:

...if people of color find this wallpaper offensive, it should be stripped from the walls. If a bunch of liberal P.C. white people (who only tend to be friends with other liberal P.C. white people) deem it offensive, it's rather meaningless to me.

In isolation, as an image on my computer screen, I really like this. In a real-world home context... well, it would depend on the home and the context. Capice?

April 19, 2009 at 12:32 PM holland said...

The design is beautiful, charming and edgy enough to be amusing.

I try to take things in the spirit intended, so I'll go ahead and enjoy this toile without guilt.

May 12, 2009 at 4:13 PM alexis said...

damnit somebody beat me to it..i kept saying i was gonna design me some toile with black ppl on it cuz i like teh print just dont wanna be closing my curtains with white folks on it

October 26, 2010 at 12:47 AM Lifestyle Creator said...

I appreciate the creativity of this toile by Ms. Bridges. I created my own years ago. The African Homeland Toile is called Liberia. see the story at http://www.sohedesigngroup.com/liberia%2Cafricantoilecollection
I've since manufactured a full tea set collection. People of all races relate to it. It's so global. Fabric coming soon!