Search results

You are looking at 1 - 10 of 10 items for

  • Author: Christian Kravagna x
  • Refine by access: All content x
Clear All Modify Search
Abstract only
An art history of contact, 1920–60

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.

Abstract only
Christian Kravagna

The introduction explicates the concept of the transmodern as designation of a decolonial force within modernity and modernism. In the first half of the twentieth century, transcultural encounters between artists and authors of various origins took place in the (former) colonies and in Western metropolitan centres giving rise to alternative forms of modern art. These manifestations of the transmodern, emerging from relationships of exchange, collaboration, and coalition building, resulted in the mutual transformation of artistic concepts and aesthetic ideas. The introduction proposes the motif of contact for the methodological orientation in the elaboration of a postcolonial art history of global modernism. It argues for the necessity to situate articulations of transmodern art in the political context of anti-colonial movements and in relation to early stages of thinking the transcultural in anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. Exploring artistically and politically motivated encounters across the colonial borders helps to overcome the false dichotomy of Western and non-Western art histories. The distinct art historical approach of this book is discussed in relation to notions of ‘postcolonial modernism’ (Chika Okeke-Agulu), ‘decentering modernism’ (Partha Mitter) and ‘cosmopolitan modernism’ (Kobena Mercer) that have shaped the debate about art history after Eurocentrism.

in Transmodern
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern
Art education and transcultural modernism in the context of the Indian independence movement
Christian Kravagna

The chapter deals with the formation of Indian modernism in the context of the independence movement of the early twentieth century. After tracing the ideology and organisation of colonial art and education in India, the focus is subsequently on the transcultural dimension of modern Indian art schools and universities as a countermodel to the concept of education in the colonial system. Alongside the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the painters Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore come to the fore. Their understanding of art and education countered the model of the British not by reflecting on nationalist identity concepts but rather through intensive exchange relations with East Asian artists and intellectuals and invitations to European scientists and artists. With Tagore’s World University in Santiniketan and the Indian Society of Oriental Art in Calcutta, two centres of cosmopolitan education and transcultural modernism are described. The last part of the chapter illuminates the role of the Austrian art historian Stella Kramrisch, who worked in Santiniketan and was instrumental in organising the Bauhaus exhibition 1922 in Calcutta which presented modern art from India alongside European artists. Kramrisch formed a link between the European artists inspired by Eastern spirituality and the Indian artists interested in Western avant-gardes.

in Transmodern
Decolonisation, transculturalism, and the overcoming of race
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern
Abstract only
Anthropology, art, and politics. Melville J. Herskovits and Zora Neale Hurston – Harlem circa 1930
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern
Winold Reiss and the Harlem Renaissance
Christian Kravagna

This chapter examines the remarkable role of the German painter Winold Reiss in the development of the visual culture of the Harlem Renaissance. It traces the transformation of a European artist, initially shaped by colonial worldviews, into a mentor of African American artists like Aaron Douglas and collaborator of writers like Alain Locke. The case of Reiss indicates that the primitivist disposition of European modern artists could be remodelled into a position supportive of projects of emancipation. Before emigrating to New York in 1913, Reiss was influenced by colonial fantasies of the exotic. In the 1920s however, through contact with African American intellectuals and their reflection on the image of Black people, Reiss turned into an important illustrator of key publications of the Harlem Renaissance and teacher of Douglas as its most important visual artist. The chapter examines the mutual artistic effects of an encounter at the crossroads of migrations – the Great Migration as a precondition of the New Negro Movement and the migration of artists and aesthetics, in this case Reiss, Art Déco and German Expressionism. It shows how a cultural outsider was able to temporarily satisfy the needs of a community struggling for dignified representations of Blackness.

in Transmodern
Counter-primitivisms in Black modernism
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern
Modernist art theory and the culture of decolonisation
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern
Hale Woodruff’s The Art of the Negro
Christian Kravagna

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.

in Transmodern