In the Henry Darger Archive: From Rebellious Transsexual Child Slaves in Oz to Korean and Vietnamese Orphans

chiguide_soloMorbid Anatomy Presents
An illustrated lecture by Jaimy Mann,
2009 Henry Darger Study Center Research Fellow
Friday, February 5th
8:00 PM

Outsider artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) is commonly remembered as a reclusive janitor who spent his life secretly creating a richly realized, bizarre and perverse fantasy world discovered only upon his death. While most who have considered Darger have seen his work as a spontaneous act of solitary and warped imagination, in tonight’s lecture, Darger scholar Jaimy Mann will reexamine the accepted narrative by discussing Darger’s work within the larger context of American cultural history and Darger’s personal biography. She will also introduce us to the holdings of the Henry Darger Archive held by the American Folk Art Museum in New York — where she conducted research as the 2009 Henry Darger Study Center Research Fellow — and give advice on how interested parties can gain access.

Contrary to popularly held beliefs, Henry Darger’s work-Mann argues- was not created in the vacuum of one cloistered man’s mind. While many of his paintings depict naked and brutalized child slaves and transexual transformation, L. Frank Baum’s phenomenally popular Oz books-which Darger read and collected- explored many similar topics normally taboo in the mainstream of American culture. “In the Realms of the Unreal,” Darger’s 15,000 page epic, draws from and inter-textualizes Oz, as well as the larger cultural obsessions with white slavery, seen, for example, in the passage of the “White Slave Traffic Act” in 1910. Further, Darger was personally affected by the instability and vulnerability that marks the existence of displaced children. When his mother died in childbirth, his baby sister was put up for adoption, and while in the home for feeble-minded children, Darger himself was almost adopted. He also desperately worked to adopt a child for decades as an adult, and in the archive, Mann investigated some rarely-exhibited collages (which will be on view at the American Folk Art Museum in 2010) that make use of photographs of Korean and Vietnamese children culled from newspapers. When looked at in this larger context of American cultural history, Mann believes that Darger is a key figure for understanding the notion and draw of “cuteness” in the United States, and will discuss how this notion is united with violence, race, and adoption.

Jaimy Mann is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida, specializing in Children’s Literature and Culture and Gender Studies. She is based in Los Angeles, where she is raising her two-year-old daughter Querelle Magdalena while completing her dissertation “The Transnational Transracial Politics of Cute and Kawaii.” She was the 2009 Henry Darger Study Center Research Fellowship at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, where she had unlimited access to Darger’s books, paintings, and personal collection of newspaper clippings, collages, letters, religious items, and various other ephemera, which are housed in the museum archive. For more, please see

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