A good place to begin thinking about Alma Thomas’s ravishing late work might be the moment in 1964 when, close to paralysis and bedridden, the 73-year-old artist found herself staring at the hollyhock shadows she had known her entire life and calculating how to use them in her paintings. A year earlier, she had seen the late Matisse cutouts at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Matisse’s work had prompted her to paint an acrylic-on-canvas version of his collage The Snail (1953), in which nearly all the original colors were reversed. Thomas named her painting Watusi (Hard Edge), after Chubby Checker’s dance hit “The Watusi.” As well as marrying high modernism with the popular culture of black America — then entering the American mainstream — the title she chose noted Matisse’s debt to African art.You know, the dance hit, which is actually titled "Wah-Watusi," was by The Orlons. It's not a Checker hit (though he may have covered the song). The Orlons are black too though, so it's as if it doesn't even matter to Art in America, as it makes up its inane explanation of what the old woman was doing.
Anyway, it's really sad to see this sentimental stretching to identify African-American artists. There are plenty of real ones, and mistakes like this make it seem as though there are not and that patronizing — which really ought to be called racism — is necessary.