Heather Agyepong: Wish You Were Here
In 2019 The Hyman Collection commissioned Heather Agyepong to respond to early twentieth century postcard imagery reflecting the dance craze in Europe, The Cake Walk. The resulting series was named Wish You Were Here (2020).
Artist's Statement by Heather Agyepong:
"Unless we learn the lesson of self-appreciation and practice it, we shall spend our lives imitating other people and deprecating ourselves." - Aida Overton Walker
Wish you were here focuses on the work of Aida Overton Walker, the celebrated African American vaudeville performer who challenged the rigid and problematic narratives of black performers. She was known as the Queen of the Cake-Walk which was a dance craze that swept America & Europe in the early 1900s. The Cake-walk was originally performed by enslaved people who mocked and mimicked the slaveholders and high society. The dance involved couples in square formations, strutting, prancing and high kicking. It is unclear whether the slave holders understood the connotation but nevertheless enjoyed the performances so much that they held contests for the performers.
After emancipation, this dance grew in popularity. It continued to be performed in dance contests by African Americans to white audiences with the best performers awarded cake.