The last chapter discusses Hale Woodruff’s mural The Art of the Negro (1950–51) for the library of Atlanta University as an early attempt to represent the history of art from a transcultural perspective and a major contribution to the agenda of decolonising art history. The chapter analyses Woodruff’s cycle on the history of art from African cave painting and cultural exchange in ancient civilisations via the looting of African art in colonial times and Western modernism’s primitivism up to Wifredo Lam’s re-translation of primitivism into Afro-Cuban modernism. The chapter provides a contrapuntal reading of Woodruff’s painted art history vis-à-vis contemporaneous American debates on the genealogy of modernism: Alfred H. Barr’s diagram charting the development of modern art on the cover of Cubism and Abstract Art (1936), the Tree of Modern Art illustrations (1933/1940) by Miguel Covarrubias and Ad Reinhardt’s How to Look at Modern Art in America (1946). When critics like Greenberg and curators such as Barr were drafting Eurocentric genealogies for (white) American modernism and its claims to universalism, the transculturalism of Woodruff’s The Art of the Negro offered an alternative history of global art from a Black perspective.
Modernist art theory and the culture of decolonisation
The last two chapters offer studies on both conflictual and productive contacts between white and Black modernisms. In the mid-twentieth century, early transcultural studies and modernist art theory’s imperative of purity represented opposing concepts of cultural production. These contradictory viewpoints have not yet been sufficiently compared. This chapter opens with a reading of Clement Greenberg’s art theory of purity, the essence of genres and the rigid demarcation of their territories. Elaborating on the analogies of racial discourse in the USA to modernist art theory’s key concepts (purity, delimitation of terrains, separation of art and politics, horror of hybridity), the chapter points to this art theory’s role in the marginalisation of non-white artists. Using Norman Lewis as an example, the chapter discusses the meaning that a concept like ‘pure opticality’ (Greenberg) could have for Black artists, whose position within the racial matrix of power and America’s visual culture has never been on the side of the beholder. The case study traces the subtle shifts with which an African American artist, whose painterly means come close to those of his white colleagues, introduced social problems such as racist terror, but also elements of Black culture, into the universalised aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism.
The chapter discusses the rhetoric of the global in art history and contemporary art exhibitions. It criticises tendencies of dehistoricisation in discourses based on the assumption of the globalisation of contemporary art after 1989. It further examines a tendency towards depoliticisation in those scholarly art discourses that have made an abrupt turn from Eurocentrism to a premature universalisation of the transcultural paradigm. In contrast to these approaches, the chapter argues for a focus on the formation of global modernism in the context of the internationalisation of anti-colonial alliances (Pan-African Movement, League Against Imperialism) after the First World War. In addition to those political forms of organisation, the chapter refers to the corresponding cultural platforms (Revue du Monde Noir, Tropiques) as contact zones of European, African, Caribbean, and African American art and intellectual discourse. By example of the travelling artist, the differences between Euromodernism and transmodernism are outlined. While the journey from the Western metropolis to the colonial space serves solely to inspire the Western artist (Gauguin, Nolde, Matisse), the transmodern artist journey (R. Tagore in Japan, W. Lam in France) is characterised by establishing contacts and co-operation.
Decolonisation, transculturalism, and the overcoming of race
This chapter examines the circumstances and political motivations of transcultural thinking in the first half of the twentieth century. It first recalls some of the dynamic concepts that have recently contributed to the postcolonial critique of modern ideas of culture and identity from different disciplinary backgrounds (H. Bhabha, A. Appadurai, P. Gilroy, M.L. Pratt, J. Clifford). While Chapter 2 discusses a significant Indian position (R. Tagore), this survey focuses on philosophical, sociological, and anthropological positions in the Americas. At a time when the ideology of race reached a peak in European fascism and the politics of segregation in the USA, some authors concurrently developed concepts to overcome the race paradigm in the understanding of culture and society. The chapter covers Gilberto Freyre’s concept of cultural hybridity in Brazil, the concept of transculturation introduced by Fernando Ortiz in Cuba, the philosophy of the ‘cosmic race’ by José Vasconcelos in Mexico, and Melville Herskovits’s work on the transatlantic transmission of African cultural elements. It discusses the anti-racist potential of these early studies on transculturation and addresses problematic conclusions and generalisations. Finally, the chapter refers to the appropriation or denial of Black pioneers of transcultural thinking such as Manuel Querino in Brazil.
This book intervenes in current debates on global art history and transcultural modernism from a postcolonial perspective. It reacts to the challenges of elaborating a post-Eurocentric art history by providing a joint study of the transcultural in artistic practice, theoretical concepts, and anti-colonial liberation movements of the 1920s to 1960s. The notion of the transmodern refers to an artistic and theoretical impulse aimed at a decolonial transformation of white and Western conceptions of modern art. Transmodern understands the diversity of global modernisms not merely as regional effects of cultural globalisation but as intentional and political responses to the coloniality of Western modernity. During the first half of the twentieth century, within the framework of anti-colonial and anti-racist movements, a transcultural modernism emerges at many places of the globe. Concurrently, Western concepts of race and culture, shaped by colonial worldviews, become subject to fundamental theoretical critique. Demonstrating the emergence of global modernism in the context of decolonisation, this book is oriented towards the motif of contact. While anthropological and sociological works – by e.g. Fernando Ortiz and Melville J. Herskovits – examine situations of contact under colonial conditions and develop new conceptions of culture and identity employing terms like transculturation and syncretism, the transmodern movement in the arts is based on contacts and collaborations between artists across colonial boundaries. Alongside methodological considerations on a postcolonial history of modern art, this book presents case studies in Indian modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, and postwar abstraction.
Anthropology, art, and politics. Melville J. Herskovits and Zora Neale Hurston – Harlem circa 1930
This chapter offers a paradigmatic study of the relationship between white and Black, academic, and artistic-scientific research on African American culture. It emphasises the alliance of critical anthropology and the cultural politics of the New Negro movement in overcoming the biological race concept as an explanatory pattern of cultural difference. The chapter focuses on Melville J. Herskovits, influential representative of anti-racist anthropology, and Zora Neale Hurston, important author of the Harlem Renaissance and pioneer of Black Folklore Studies. It examines the co-operation of the two students of Franz Boas in a study of the Black population in the 1920s and traces the divergent methodical paths that they later took in their studies of cultures in the Black Atlantic. Herskovits’s academic work is contrasted with the situated work of the Black writer. The chapter analyses the political preconditions and structural frameworks of the different research methods and their authors’ respective navigation between the scientific imperative of objectivity and their social concerns. Finally, Hurston’s self-reflection concerning the role of the researcher and anthropology as means of artistic problem-solving is discussed against the background of her writings on trickster tactics in Black cultures and her ground-breaking theories on Black art as a liberating practice.
This chapter argues that the middle set of the Manchester murals indicate that Brown adopted a Carlylean mentality when emphasising the scale and intimacy of historical events. It seeks to shed light on the ways in which Brown understood social development and explores the critical languages he employed when tackling the nature of public life. The bulk of the chapter, however, focuses on how Brown associated the imagination with politics when he represented John Wycliffe and Humphrey Chetham, both of whom were central to his vision of national culture.
This book argues that Ford Madox Brown’s murals in the Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall (1878–93), were the most important public artworks of their day. Brown’s twelve designs on the history of Manchester, remarkable exercises in the making of historical vision, were semi-forgotten by academics until the 1980s, partly because of Brown’s unusually muscular conception of what History Painting should set out to achieve. This book explains the thinking behind the programme and indicates how each mural contributes to a radical vision of social and cultural life. It documents how Brown’s pictorial innovations relate to Thomas Carlyle’s model of history and it indicates how the Manchester murals questioned the verities of British liberalism.
Chapter 1 addresses the critical and conceptual conditions in which Brown developed the Manchester murals, paying specific attention to how these works responded to debates about social experience and collective life. It explains how Brown made use of Carlyle’s theory of historical representation when identifying painting with the transmission of living human expression, and it goes on to explore why he contested the model of social life and nationhood associated with academic History Painting.