How should we translate the title of the artwork?
Here is a 1926 scupture now displayed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art made by the Romanian artist (then living in Paris) Constantin Brancusi:
The original 1926 title of this artwork is La Négresse blonde, which SFMOMA translates as “The Blond Negress.”
Is this a good translation of the French title? How women of African descent feel when they see this title? The word “Negress” in 2011 is shocking to see – certainly it does not have the same meaning that Négresse had in 1926. Or is the title meant to be ironic (in the same way that the sculpture certainly is)?
What do you think would be a better way to translate the name of this sculpture into English?
(Bonus question: what is the best translation of Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios) as it occurs in the New Testament into English?)
Here is the description SFMOMA gives of the artwork:
La Négresse blonde (The Blond Negress)
1926 sculpture | bronze with marble and limestone base
Fusing the traditions of classical sculpture with Romanian, African, Egyptian, and, later, even industrial forms, Brancusi’s groundbreaking works introduced abstraction and primitivism into sculptural practice. They were as important to the development of Modernism as the paintings of Pablo Picasso.
Brancusi’s sculptural vocabulary consisted of relatively few highly distilled forms, one of the most significant being the ovoid or egg shape that is the basis for La Négress blonde. The title of the work makes reference to an African woman Brancusi had met in Marseilles. The perfect, upturned ovoid serves as the woman’s head. Her distinguishing features are reduced to a pair of full lips, a chignon, and a zigzag ornament at the back of the neck, perhaps denoting a scarf or the lower part of her coiffure. The sculpture’s pedestal comprises a cylinder, a Greek cross, and a plinth that can be read as the woman’s body, shoulders, and neck. The bronze portion of the sculpture, however, can also be interpreted as the body of a golden fish, the top and rear embellishments becoming its dorsal and tail fins. The highly polished surface allows the viewer to contemplate the contrast between the simplicity of the sculpture and the complexity of his or her own reflection.
In attempting to capture the "essence of things," Brancusi broke with the Western tradition of representing the world in a realistic manner and paved the way for twentieth-century sculptural abstraction. His work was radical for its time, and when detractors refused to consider it art, his friend and peer Marcel Duchamp came to his defense, arguing, "To say that the sculpture of Brancusi is not art is like saying an egg is not an egg."