Thelma Johnson Streat is perhaps best known as the first African American woman to have work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. However, in the 1940s–1950s she inhabited multiple coinciding roles: painter, performer, choreographer, cultural ethnographer, and folklore collector. As part of this expansive practice, her canvases display a peculiar movement and animacy while her dances transmit the restraint of the two-dimensional figure. Drawing from black feminist theoretical redefinitions of the human, this paper argues that Streat’s exploration of muralism, African American spirituals, Native Northwest Coast cultural production, and Yaqui Mexican-Indigenous folk music established a diasporic mapping forged through the coxtension of gesture and brushstroke. This transmedial work disorients colonial cartographies which were the products of displacement, conquest, and dispossession, aiding notions of a new humanism at mid-century.
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