Native Funk & Flash
by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
with photos by Jerry Wainwright
(1974/ reprint: 2013) pp. 124
What else can you say about a book that has been so influential, so referenced, and so inspiring for decades? I don't know, but I'm going to try. Why? Because I talk to people regularly-- artists that paint or weave in rainbows, use psychedelic imagery, and have maybe taken a mushroom or two but have never heard of this iconic book. Yet, somehow they are carrying on the legacy. How? I think of it along the lines of the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune: In the years film director Jodorowsky spent thinking about, talking about, arranging, writing, and manifesting, some magic was stirred up so that even though he was never given the green light to make his magnum opus, the content somehow seeped into dozens of other films from Star Wars to Alien-- and at the end of the day, its kinda almost like we did end up seeing Jodorowsky's Dune. I personally would have rather actually seen his Dune, but if you can't, I'll take gaining the mystical messages through the filter of other films.
Ok so, Native Funk & Flash made it to print, unlike Jodorowsky's Dune, but the common thread is the way they influenced so many other things that filtered down through the decades in such a way that young people today are unknowingly continuing the legacy of Native Funk & Flash without ever having read the book due to its influence on other things which influenced other things that they may actually be aware of. The style, the ethos, the craftsmanship, and the artists in this book have left an inedible mark on countercultural art and artwear. I'm also excited to say I have done an interview with Alexandra Jacopetti Hart which will be posted in the next few months, so be on the lookout for that!
This book is available in two formats: A modern digital reprint with a soft, glossy black cover and an out-of-print vintage version with a cream cover (hard cover or soft cover). The vintage hardcover's are a bit pricey as out-of-print books usually are, but one reason it is coveted is for the original photograph quality. As Alexandra Hart shared during her talk at Berkeley Art Museum (BAM), the new digital version does have lower resolution images because sadly when the publisher had finished its run of the book, they erased their master of the format and original negatives photographer Jerry Wainwright had taken could not be found. The new version is then a scan of a physical copy. While that may sway you to hunt for a vintage edition instead, I encourage you to get the new version because it actually helps support Alexandra with each copy sold and as she is retired is a source of income and support.... Better yet, get both versions, you may need one in each room! The book is just that good.
You can read more about the book through her website: http://www.nativefunkandflash.com
Another way this book is integrated into our cultural fabric is its role in pointing out high fashion's propensity to copy and imitate art. A very heated debate occurred surrounding the above vest by artist Kaisik Wong, back in 2002. Kaisik was a genius visionary in the underground scene and collaborated with performers and artists like the Cockettes on elaborate costuming and photoshoots. Kaisik is one of my favorite fiber artists of all time, sadly he was one of the many, many iconic LGBTQ artists who's life ended as a result of the AIDS crisis. He passed away from complications related to HIV in 1990. In not having a voice, and simply being a little-known artists in what dusty old book, Nicolas Ghesquiere, designer for Balenciaga, must have figured he was ripe for the taking. When an intern left a copy of Native Funk & Flash he thrifted laying around, Ghesquiere noted the above vest and ripped it off almost to an exact T. To see the real and the rip-off side-by-side and sink your teeth into this old, but very relevant scandalous exposé that put Kaisik Wong in the spotlight and also put a microscope on the fashion industry, check out this New York Times article from 2002 here