Christian Kravagna
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Encounters with masks
Counter-primitivisms in Black modernism
in Transmodern
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Against the backdrop of current debates on restitution of art from the former colonies, the chapter surveys the reappropriation of African art in Black modernism. It begins with a comparative analysis of the different interpretations by Walker Evans and Norman Lewis of a Dan mask presented in the 1935 MoMA exhibition African Negro Art. Referring to reflections on the mask in the context of racist stereotypes and struggles for new self-images by authors like Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and Frantz Fanon, the chapter discusses modes of ‘counter-primitivism’ in the work of African American artists like Lewis, Aaron Douglas and Loïs Mailou Jones. It subsequently discusses African films from the decolonisation period such as Les Statues meurent aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, a commission from the publishing house Présence Africaine, La Noire de ... by Ousmane Sembène, You Hide Me by Nii-Kwate Owoo, and The Mask by Eddie Ugbomah, produced in context of the pan-African festival Festac ’77 in Lagos. The encounter with the mask and its recapture in African and African American cultural production turns out to be a suitable motif to deal with issues of colonial exploitation, neo-colonial labour migration, looting of cultural heritage, and contemporary racism.

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An art history of contact, 1920–60


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