Introduction: The Location of Modern Art
I have said School of the South: because, in fact, our North looks South. For us there must not be a North, except in opposition to the South… This correction was necessary; because of it we know where we are.
Joaquín Torres García
For Joaquín Torres García of Montevideo, as we see from his remark above and his inverted map of South America, modern art like his from the “School of the South” required a reoriented view of the world. To Torres García, as to cosmopolitan moderns everywhere, location had to be imagined differently for them to “know where we are.” If their art was to be truly theirs, and seen for what it is, the mental map of modern art would have to be redrawn and its histories realigned. African, Asian, and Latin American Modern Art: An Introduction to Global Modernism takes up the project of remapping modern art that Torres García proposed in 1943, but it does so from multiple locations and world perspectives rather than any one place, “North” or “South,” “East” or “West.”
This book brings together critical art histories and documents of modern art produced approximately between 1890 and 1970. Dates for modern art are here as everywhere imprecise and flexible, and for this volume they can vary significantly depending on each situation and the point of view of each author and editor, but the inclusive “when” of modern art we present coincides with the last century of the Age of Europe: the final sweep of the great half-millenium wave of European expansionism that was emblematically set into motion with the seismic 1492 Encounter on Hispaniola, rose high across four centuries, then surged and receded while the art in this book was being made.
To locate modern art geographically we take a planetary perspective, look past the borders of nations, continents, and bounded cultures1 to the movement of individual artists and objects of visual culture along the imperial trade routes of the Age of Europe: the network of commerce that wrapped the globe and linked cosmopolitan cities like Paris, São Paulo, Shanghai, and Lagos. A complete mapping of modern art would include every world city on the routes of modernity, which is not the case for this volume. The controlled scope of African, Asian, and Latin American Modern Art allows us to trace vital exchanges among the world’s modern artists and begin to see a larger and truer picture of why modern art looks as it does, so wholly different from what came before. The reader draws extra-regional connections from an anthology that organizes the production of African, Asian, and Latin American artists in three self-contained sections edited by area specialists.
The book is assembled from local points of view: national, continental, and regional; but national approaches are the primary source for most of the scholarship involved here. The national perspective dominates not only because it is the standard for art historiography, but more substantively because the nation and nationalism held a central place in the political and cultural unconscious of most modern artists; and as a governing construct of modernity, the nation effectively determined the shape of modern identity, politics, and official culture. Chika Okeke asserts, for example, in an essay included here, that modernism did not arrive on the continent of Africa until the Independence Decade (1955-65) and the rise of nation states. Colonized status, Okeke maintains, precludes the freedom of expression requisite to modern art. Only “the increasing nationalist fervor in many countries,” he writes, “strengthened the resolve of artists to seek out aspects of their cultures discredited by the logic of colonialism.” Indian art critic Geeta Kapur makes much the same argument for the temporal location of modern art in India. While she acknowledges that cosmopolitan artists such as Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) participated in international modernist discourse and produced signature work early in the twentieth century, Kapur contends that modernism inside India’s troubled borders began only decades later with the nationalist struggle for independence from British colonial rule.
The idea of the nation is central to modernity and essential to our story, but the vertical point of view is nonetheless inadequate as it fails to comprehend the vital extra-territorial dynamics of global modernism that are inimical to binary (inside-outside) boundaries. Only a satellite view can make it apparent that national borders, which protected and disciplined heterogeneous, often antagonistic populations, were ever porous and mutating. More importantly for the history of modern art, bordercrossing was the essential catalyst of invention.
What becomes evident is that modern art’s trademark mongrel innovation was not cultivated in nations but in the world’s most open, artist-dense cities, where internationalism, long considered “the main merit and sign of modernism,” flourished. 2 In world cities, intersections of artistic encounter, cultural traditions co-existed and cross-fertilized through the agency of individual artists, writers, and musicians who exchanged ideas across the arts. Old ways and new ways, our ways and their ways met, mixed, and remixed there in ever-multiplying translations, ever original hybrids. What prevailed in the liminal urban spaces of modern art was a translocal exile consciousness that denaturalized the norms of both home cultures and adopted ones.
Within each cosmopolitan center were districts where the concentration of peripatetic culture makers was highest and contact constant. The northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem in the nineteen twenties and early ‘thirties is one such catalytic zone, or “third space,” apart from mainstream nationalist culture. With the Great Migration, African-Americans flowed into Harlem from the rural south; veterans returned there from Europe after the First World War; other migrants came from the West Indies and some from Africa. The daring freedom and invention of Harlem in the interwar period, so evident in its famous music and night life, was a magnet as well to artists, musicians, poets, and intellectuals of downtown Manhattan bohemias. Up from the Village flocked young artistic émigrés from every point of origin, of varied races and ethnicities. Harlem then is described as “the epicenter of cool” before “cool” was coined: “an orgy of painters, intellectuals, punks, whores, studs, gentlemen, writers, hipsters, sculptors, swingers, fags, queens, niggers, heroes, poets, piano rollers, and all-night parties…. Harlem knew no fear.”3 The world capital of Black modernism, Harlem gave its name to the Harlem Renaissance, presented in this volume by Michael Harris on the visual art of the African diaspora. As with every contact zone on the circuits of modernity, the influence of Harlem was centrifugal and planetary. Artists nurtured there were cosmopolitans who travelled to other centers on the imperial circuit, notably the metropoles of Europe where Black modernism, literary and visual art, but especially jazz – the very name of the age – was avidly appropriated as it was itself transformed through creative encounters. “Harlem,” Paul Gilroy notes of the music, “became an imaginary repository of transgressive feeling to many far-flung affiliates of the avant-garde…. As the musics travelled, they registered the processes of dissemination in their own attenuated forms….European critics began to write about the music seriously and respectfully but without always appreciating its historic ties to black America.”4
At the same time, around the world from Harlem, the so-called the golden age of Chinese modernism (c. 1919-1945) had arrived in one of the most cosmopolitan centers on the trade routes of modernity: Shanghai, from the perspective of Chinese leftist and communist writers, “a bastion of evil, of wanton debauchery and rampant imperialism.”5 A 1934 Shanghai University Press guide to the city describes a location tense with the vibrant contraditions of modernity: “Cosmopolitan Shanghai, city of amazing paradoxes and fantastic contrasts; Shanghai the beautiful, bawdy, and gaudy, contradiction of manners and morals; a vast brilliantly-hued cycloramic, panoramic mural of the best and the worst of Orient and Occident.”6
Great Britain had forced China to open its ports to direct trade with the West after The First Opium War (1839-42) and the defeat of the Qing navy. Vital seaport districts of Shanghai were surrendered to Western colonial rule as part of the unequal Treaty of Nanjing. Surging economic opportunity and political and social freedom in Shanghai’s new Westernized zones drew foreigners from everywhere and ignited “the fastest urban growth in East Asia of its day and …. [b]y the first decade of the twentieth century Shanghai’s foreign community in the colonized districts included Chinese, British, French, and United States citizens, nationals of Japan, Russia, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Greece in addition to those from India, Indochina, and other colonial possessions of the British and French empires.”7 Massive migrations from inside China further enriched Shanghai cosmopolitanism. Unending anti-imperialist wars, internal rebellions, floods, and famines that would eventually bring down the Qing Dynasty sent thousands to the city seeking refuge. Shanghai modernism was thus spun out of the center of a world vortex. The foreign districts formed a contact zone whose commercial wealth, clamoring cultural diversity and freedom drew many artists, like Xu Beihong, a young provincial from Yixing who arrived in 1915 to pursue a career as a painter. The story of Xu Beihong’s engagements with global modernism in Shanghai, Tokyo, Peking, Paris, and Nanjing – his and other artists’ appropriations and re-appropriations in a shared, competitive quest for an “authentic” Chinese modernism – are told in the Asian section of this book by Eugene Y. Wang, Ralph Croizier, Zheng Dongtian, and by Ni Yide, Pang Xunqing, and the other members of the Shanghai avant-garde group, The Storm Society, in their 1932 manifesto.
In world cities, besides artists, there were also travelling objects of art on view from every historic and living world tradition: exotic works that astonished viewers and inspired levels of invention unsurpassed in the history of art. Exposure to them and to copies made for commercial trade occurred on the streets, in markets and in shops. But perhaps the most significant place of encounter was in modernity’s new metropolitan museums of art and (colonial) anthropology: institutions that served as principal sites of appropriation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. All the marvelous objects of Europe’s formal and informal empires were brought to its imperial metropoles like booty: influential expropriations from Africa and Oceania joined collections of objects taken in previous centuries from conquered indigenous cultures of the Americas and elsewhere. Cut loose from intended meaning and social function, many found their way, with works (and copies) of classical and European art, to provincial and colonial museums around the world. The awesome treasures of empire were also presented at “universal” expositions: trademark displays of modernity, nationalist spectacles of industrial and cultural power.
London’s 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, first and exemplary of a century of such world fairs, was seen by six million visitors. With its global reach as a trade extravaganza, its unbridled display – over 100,000 products and 14,000 exhibitors – London’s Great Exhibition proclaimed the triumph of Western Europe’s commodity culture and was as prophetic of the century to follow as was the Crystal Palace of prefabricated iron and glass that housed it. The impact of such foreign spectacles on artists and the globalization of culture that world expositions signaled is a defining story of modern visual culture. Wherever they were encountered in modernity’s systems of propagation, foreign works were (regardless of the maker’s intention) reimagined as “art” in the modern sense of a product of individual expression meant for individual secular contemplation. Enroute they acquired often radically alien value as portable, collectable commodities destined for the art market, private collection, and art museum. What did not travel was made available to avid eyes everywhere in photographs.
“As soon as there was photography there was travel photography.”8 Just eight weeks after the daguerreotype process was revealed in Paris in 1839, Frenchman Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbiniere was taking pictures of the Athenian Parthenon. Countless photographs followed of art and architecture from distant times and places, and as photographic reproduction processes developed over the next decades, copies became abundant and were readily at hand for urban moderns. All had access to the world’s visual cultures past and present in the vast new photographic “museum without walls” that unfixed meanings and the boundaries of art.
The photographic arts were, like every art, complicit with the best and worst of the Eurocentric order, but it’s fair to say that photography and film were manipulated and censored more by commercial and political powers-that-be than any other visual media. In this anthology, Takeba Joe, for example, tells of the silencing of avant-garde photographers by Japan’s military regime from the 1930s through World War II. Free of excessive restraint, however, this newest and most populist vehicle of expression gave proof that worthy subjects and ways of seeing them are not few but many. The multiple and contradictory individual manifestations of reality captured in photographs had the power to throw stereotypes and conventions into doubt. This is true of Mario de Andrade’s (1893-1945) “errant” photographs, presented here by Esther Gabara, which give us a subjective and undefinable Brazilian landscape – landscape as existential question – radically different from the Brazil that traditional painting or tourist photographs portray. Authentic identity is the challenge taken up by other modern photographers in these pages. This can be seen in the dialogue between two celebrated cinematographers of African life, Senegalese Osmane Sembène (1923-2007) and French ethnographer Jean Rouch (1917-2004). Sembène accuses Rouch: “You look at us as if we were insects!” While the European may reply that his outsider representations of Africa are necessary because, as he sees it, they are objective, for the African, not only is his own insider’s view uniquely authentic, it is more ethical, since it equalizes the power of the filmmaker and the filmed.
Ongoing creative dialogue took place in modernity’s contact zones among individual artist strangers, travellers and exiles, each one a bearer of local traditions and attitudes. Modern artists in this book originate from equal and unequal regions of the world, but all are comparable as artist-agents of cultural translation. Inequalities of regional power and opportunity in the modern era, as well as the Eurocentrism of art historiography, have made too little of the parity of artistic intercourse at the individual level of creative friendship and exchange in the world’s alternative “third” spaces. Each artist conceived unique hybrids and carried newly invented forms and ideas everywhere he or she travelled: to other urban centers and back home, where he or she often stayed to produce and teach. Their influence and works spread modern art to smaller cities linked to the global network by ever-modernizing transportation and communication technologies. Thus an avant-garde little magazine like Boletin Titikaka (1926-1930), published in the town of Orkopata, Peru could be and was read in cosmopolitan Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Paris.9
Demographically, the African, Asian and Latin American artists in this book are almost all men of at least adequate means and education most of whom emerged from the middle classes and chose membership in what can be seen as a class apart, the international avant-garde, sharing values and alternative lifestyles outside or in opposition to the conventions of the dominant middle social classes of their origins. From the global perspective, the class identity of modern artists is complicated by the multiplicity of social systems around the world and how thoroughly issues of socio-economic class are entangled in the biases and inequities of the age, especially in colonized regions. In Latin America, for example, where decolonization began in the early nineteenth century, Eurocentric hierarchies of race closely tied to economic and social privileges of class persisted through the modern era. For Black and Native Latin Americans it was rarely a personal choice to be déclassé, rare to be shown the world stage, and rare to have the chance to achieve it. Race is a subtext for many authors in this volume. Robert Stam, for one, takes it as his subject in “Carmen Miranda, Grande Otelo, and the Chanchada, 1929-49,” an excerpt included here from Stam’s book on race in Brazilian cinema and culture. The bohemian “starving artist” – the heroic anti-bourgeois persona like the banker révolté, Paul Gauguin – was not an option for Black artists in Africa either. In Steven Sack’s “From Country to City: The Development of an Urban Art” we read about Black Township artists of apartheid-era South Africa, like John Koenakeefe Mohl, Helen Sebidi, Dumile Feni, and Gerard Sekoto, for whom poverty was the inescapable situation they shared with all Township residents.
Regardless of socio-economic class, few women artists appear in these pages because women, from anywhere in the world, were not often written into even regional histories of African, Asian, and Latin American modern art before the last decades of the twentieth century when our study ends. No matter how closely we peer into the sea of time where our dead sisters’ thoughts, feelings, and artistic genius vanished, we can see little. To date, the recent field of global feminist art history has concentrated on contemporary artists and not their modern precursors. As you will read in Everlyn Nicodemus’s introduction to the African section, this is especially true of African art history. There is much historiographical work to be done.
No amount of art historical research, however, can retrieve a never-created masterpiece. The hardest fact of why there is scarce record of modern experience as seen through the eyes of women is much less the blindness of art historiography than the real historical situations of women worldwide in the modern era, regardless of social class. Though individual situations varied depending on context, nowhere in this period were women routinely offered equal opportunity for a modern kind of artistic education, let alone freedom for independent travel or migration to cosmopolitan cities to mix with worldly strangers. This was especially unimaginable in the bohemian, sexually-liberated neighborhoods typical of avant-garde modernism. Even in imperial metropoles, female creativity occurred almost exclusively within the private spaces of femininity. Women everywhere were kept from creative intercourse by walls of societal stereotypes upheld by nearly all men and women of the time, including the most sophisticated social critics. Even enlightened modernist circles were conventionally and nearly universally patriarchal and homosocial. Domestic arts associated with the typology of the good woman varied, but all versions were antithetical to the type of the modern vanguard artist who paradigmatically rejected conventional domestic roles for alternative lifestyles and identities that allowed freedom for encounters with strangers and the development of creative liasons in the public, masculine spaces of world cities.
The artists in this book participated in the creation of the first truly global visual culture, avant-garde modernism. Culture makers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, like all modernists, produced art from inside the era’s profound axiological shift from tradition to futurity. With the future ever present, to be relevant meant to be of one’s time and to share a utopian impulse towards the creation of a better society, even when that meant returning to a pre-modern past or turning inward to investigations of subjective consciousness. Understood as an oppositional, alienated, or autonomous posture towards the status quo of establishment culture and society, the historical avant-garde is associated with groups of young artists and writers who stood together as individuals to transform the given. Independent vanguard magazines formed to publish their poetry, cultural commentary, and signature manifestos such as those included in this anthology: Takahashi Shinkichi’s “Assertion is Dadaist” (1923, Tokyo); “The Storm Society Manifesto,” signed by Ni Yide, Pang Xunqin, et. al. (1932, Shanghai); Oswald de Andrade’s “Cannibalist Manifesto” (1928, São Paulo); and Uche Okeke’s “Natural Synthesis” (1960, Zaria, Nigeria). Roughly synonymous with the “cutting edge” of a modernity presumed to be advancing, that edge that cut countless ways was honed on hope and a shared belief in the power of art and the ethical role of the artist in society. Since each artist was by definition experimental and individualist, since each vision and situation was unique, the question of what it means to be avant-garde has drawn a range of responses across time and place.
“Avant-garde” originated as a French military term for an advance guard sent out ahead of the army. It carried connotations of perilous exploration, youthful camaraderie, duty, and courage. French utopian socialist Henri de St. Simon (1760-1825) is credited with first appropriating the term to refer to an elite class of artists whose superior imaginations and expressive skills would show the way to a new and better world. St. Simon’s conviction that the creative individual can (and should) innovate ways to improve the human lot was a foundation of vanguard modernism. In the Western tradition, such ideas go back at least to Plato and continue through the Renaissance and Enlightenment. But the catalyst for the nineteenth-century Saint-Simonian precept that the artist has the prophetic vision and obligation to serve society as witness and critic of modernity was revolution.
Social, political, industrial, scientific, and technological revolution erupted ceaselessly during the Age of Europe. Positioned after 1492 at the crossroads of knowledge from all corners of the world, Europe was the innovative center that over the next centuries fostered the extraordinary achievements of the Scientific Revolution. By the last Europe-centered century, the epoch of this book, the great advances of science had instilled in many moderns a deep faith in progress in all aspects of human endeavor. Imperial expansion took that conviction to every population of the world; all were affected, overwhelmed by the implacable combined forces of capitalism and modernization, seduced and inspired by the emancipatory potential of humanist utopianism. Reason for hope, yet at the same time those very ideologies of scientific rationalism and teleological progress served as instruments of imperial governance by which global majorities were mismeasured and managed. At once inside and outside this ideological double bind, avant-gardism thus took on different layers of paradoxical complexity in each contact zone and for each artistic encounter. However singular, every creative interaction was located in the era’s universal agon between past and present in pursuit of the future. This is evident throughout this collection.
One example is a discussion of Indonesian modern art in which Jakarta-based critic Jim Supangkat underlines the differences he sees between Indonesian and Western modernism but notes that the progressivism of Indonesian modernism the 1930s “reflected idealism…. As in the West, Indonesian modernists rejected conventional values and academic art, stood up for individual freedom, and focused on subjects that had their roots in social reality…. [E]mergent modernism was an important sign of a rejection of feudal elitist values in independent (modern) Indonesia. (p.__)” Similarly, Argentine art historian, Andrea Giunta, presents Latin American modernism in these pages as a range of tactics deployed by artists interacting with particular social, political, and cultural situations. She sketches out the “strategies of modernity” of key modernists, including Constructive Universalist Joaquín Torres García (1874-1949). Protagonist of avant-garde circles in Barcelona, Madrid, New York, and Paris before returning home to Montevideo in 1934, “Torres’s aesthetic programme,” writes Giunta, “… would acquire [in Montevideo] a new dimension from its confrontation with a diverse reality in which currents of Latin Americanist thought circulated intensely…. [I]t was in the country to which he returned that his proposals to integrate art with life were received and accepted (p.__).” In Jakarta and Montevideo, as in every contact zone on the trade routes of modernity, avant-gardes recast the liberated syntax and palette of modern art to co-create a living language of both local and global address and inspiration.
An avant-garde attitude, then, unites global modernists, but it was a unity of difference. Besides the infinite range of contexts, each modern artist’s stance was unique and complex. More than that, within every artist’s lifetime situations and strategies changed. Certainly the politicized Saint-Simonian position was not of a piece nor was it ever the only one considered avant-garde. The avant-garde concept has had a notably eclectic history up to today’s so-called post- or neo-avant-garde art world where it continues to be redefined for the past as well as the present. The majority of the modern artists presented in this collection have been received by art history as members of an avant-garde of formal invention. Their art was of its time, but seldom was it a didactic, overt response to specific sociopolitical conditions. Rather, the modern artists you will meet here are credited with re-inventing the language of art by creating unique syntheses drawn from multicultural forms, western and non-western, elite and popular, mimetic and nonrepresentational. In doing so they liberated the abstract elements of art (form, line, shape, color, texture, space, value, composition, materials) from conventional applications to say something that had not been said and could not have been said in that way by anyone else. For avant-garde modernism, the New, as in “the tradition of the new” and “the shock of the new,” refers to the nearly endless individual variations of a fusion culture created by artists consciously engaged in one way or another with the conditions of modernity that shaped each of their lives differently. Engagement determined the historical relevance of modern art, and in revolutionary times engagement required the invention of new forms that could hold permanence and change in dynamic tension.
Today’s twenty-first century attitudes toward progress and the possibility that the artist can lead the way to a better future are characterized rather more by skepticism than by faith, but we can easily recognize the modernist confrontation of old and new as a continuing crisis in our own times. By referring to modernity in the present tense as he points to its essential character, intellectual historian Marshall Berman underlines the continuity of the modern experience into the present:
Modern environments and experiences cut across all boundaries of geography and ethnicity, of class and nationality, of religion and ideology: in this sense, modernity can be said to unite all mankind. But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air.”10
Berman’s view of modernism as an ongoing project supports a planetary perspective on modern art historiography. Because today’s artists are caught up in the same borderless dynamics, the same “maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal,” as the artists in this book, global modernism continues in the bloodstream of contemporary art in a way that a hermetic Western modernism cannot. The expanded lineage of modern art strengthens it, moreover, because of the time-lag of opportunity between the modern and the contemporary; the inclusion today of new streams of world artists who would have been excluded in the past by racism and sexism has kept avant-garde idealism flowing into the present.
From the global perspective of this book, what emerges as the unifying strategy behind the creation of modernisms everywhere is the transformative act of appropriation, understood here to subsume all cross-cultural artistic exchange: Primitivist, Orientalist, and Occidentalist (i.e., both non-Western and Western). 11 Appropriation was not invented by the moderns, but under nineteenth and twentieth-century conditions of mass urbanization and the modernization of travel and communication, distances shrank and cross-culture encounters with foreign artists and objects of art greatly increased to become everyday matters in contact zones. On all sides, artist agents of modernism stole for their own art the power they saw in alien traditions, vastly expanding the concept, vocabulary, and expressive potential of art. Strong misreadings were the normal, necessary lubricants of modern art making, and conservative art forms from one culture functioned in quite radical ways in transfer cultures. In the first years of the 20th century, for example, while Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), a Spaniard in Paris, was appropriating the formal language of traditional African art, Aina Onabolu (1882-1963) of Lagos was appropriating the mimetic illusionism of the academic European tradition. Although Picasso and Onabolu (who would study in Paris and London only after developing his Occidental style) probably never met, they were equally and simultaneously vehicles of African-European cross-fertilization.
“In the African context,” writes Everlyn Nicodemus in this volume, “the young [Onabolu’s] appropriation was a revolution: “modern” in that it was a clear break with the past. Aina Onabolu’s choice of easel painting and academic realism was also deeply political….” The artist’s Occidentalism, his appropriation of the very methods of Western style academic painting that the European avant-garde rejected, was for the African a way to steal the fire – the all-too-evident power – of Europe. Onabolu’s Occidentalism was not unique in the global context. Academies of art founded in Europe’s colonies, former colonies, and areas of influence during the Age of Europe trained artists worldwide in European-style naturalism and established the normative frame for the Eurocentric view of world art. European and European-trained artists travelled to art academies throughout the empire to teach, for example, at the Academia de San Carlos in Mexico City, the first academy of art in the Americas, which opened in 1781. On the Indian sub-continent during the British Raj (1858-1947), Western-style institutions supplanted the traditional schools of miniature painting; and in Meiji Japan (1868-1912), representational oil painting was officially embraced as the sign of modernization and Western might. In the context of Onabolu’s colonial Nigeria where Western art was not taught until the artist himself introduced it, and where European “scientific” racism justified the flagrant control and exploitation of his people, the artist’s mastery of mimesis was self-determined and strategic, political first of all as proof of black-white racial equality.
On the Parisian side of the cultural exchange – an often-told story – the young Picasso encountered galleries of expropriated sculptures from French African and Oceanic colonies in the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro and later testified to their transformative affect. “The masks,” he told André Malraux years after his epiphany, “weren’t just like any other pieces of sculpture. Not at all. They were magic things…. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon  must have come to me that very day, not at all because of the forms; because it was my first exorcism painting – yes absolutely!”12 Picasso scholar Patricia Leighten notes that “…at the very least we can say that Picasso’s interest in African art lay as much in what he imagined to be their function as ritual objects as in their forms, whose very abstraction encoded the mystical power he wanted to appropriate.”13 Against what were to him the enervated traditions of Western art, Picasso would incorporate the liberated syntax of African sculpture into his art. What he took from the Musée d'Ethnographie would infuse his painting with the power that rocked the artist in those dusky galleries. His paintings would acquire the expanded vocabulary needed to “exorcize” personal and cultural psycho-sexual anxieties and the establishment values and exploitative practices of Europe so scorned by his counter-cultural circle. In both Lagos and Paris, then, appropriation had relational, politicized artistic intent for modern artists. The syncretic art of Onabolu and Picasso responded in equal measure to the conditions of modernity. Their art was not specifically African or European but both at once and more than that: its themes, techniques, and styles transcended bounded locations of time, place, and ideology to produce something new.
For many global modernists, appropriation and the ever-new hybridized vocabulary of modern art were the means of creating a self-determined modern identity out of the dynamics of tradition and change specific to their experience. Efforts by modern artists to counter given orders of identity punctuate numerous stories told in this book. Many readings offer evidence of this deconstructive/reconstructive purpose for global modernisms, but perhaps most explicit are those by Partha Mitter in “The Formalist Prelude,” Jim Supangkat in “Multiculturalism/ Multimodernism,” Uche Okeke in the 1960 manifesto Natural Synthesis, Andrea Giunta in “Strategies of Modernity in Latin America,” and Oswald de Andrade in the 1928 Cannibalist Manifesto (Manifesto Antropófago). In this last text, “cannibalism” – the eating of other cultures – is a strategically-chosen synonym for appropriation. Andrade affirms the centrality of cultural cannibalism to Brazilian, Latin American, and global culture in the first lines of his manifesto: “Cannibalism alone unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically. The world’s single law. Disguised expression of all individualism, of all collectivisms. Of all religions. Of all peace treaties.“ Translator Leslie Bary underlines this point in her introduction to the text: “In the [Cannibalist Manifesto], Oswald subversively appropriates the colonizer’s inscription of America as a savage territory…. the cannibal metaphor permits the Brazilian subject to forge his specular colonial identity into an autonomous and original (as opposed to dependent, derivative) national culture (p.__).”
The aim of An Introduction to Global Modernism is to relocate modern art production on the world map so as to see it as a relational, transcultural enterprise: a conceptual shift that changes everything. By proposing an interactive, extra-territorial paradigm that integrates narratives of vanguard production by African, Asian, and Latin American artists, this anthology expands and decenters the historiography of modern art. The stories offered in these pages make sense of the mongrel global culture that avant-garde modernism was, but as importantly, they give contemporary global art production its missing history. It is because the transcultural world reach of modern art has been ignored that today’s cosmopolitan artists and their artworks are so often presented thematically, as if they had no histories or precursors. Among the texts in every section of An Introduction to Global Modernism are those that address neglected topics in modern art that are especially relevant to contemporary art, such as art and artists in diaspora; international avant-garde exhibitions and magazines; and local differences in art worlds and situations for artists. Introductions with leading questions frame each section, essay, and document to situate every historical narrative in its relevant contexts, link it to other histories in the book, supply clarifying background, and guide the reader through key theoretical positions and debates.
Finally, An Introduction to Global Modernism has been made for twenty-first century readers accustomed to thinking in terms of global-local creative tensions and dynamics like those behind the art in these pages. Over recent decades, the disintegration of the European empire and its structures of knowledge has distanced us from the moderns. But what remains are global modernism’s cosmopolitan network, the transcultural appropriative processes of its artists, and (however sobered and transformed) the international avant-garde’s purpose and adversarial, interrogative, or autonomous attitudes toward the given. This book locates modern artists on very nearly the same planetary routes taken by today’s jet artists and expatriates. For both the past and the present, then, relational lines can be drawn connecting artists and places where radical new forms of visual culture are conceived. With such a map in hand, the large picture of how new art comes into being can also restore the relevance of the artistic past to the present as it continues its headlong rush to the future.
1 Terms for bordered regions are entangled in a cartographic history associated with global empire and the management of it. Benedict Anderson”s 1983 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism historicized the idea of the nation as a modern identity construct that spread throughout the world; see revised edition, London & New York: Verso, 2006. See also V.Y.Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.
2 James McFarlane, “The Mind of Modernism,” in Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, eds., Modernism 1890-1930 Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press 1976, p. 78.
3 Shawn Amos, “Notes from a Wanna-Be Harlemite,” Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words from the Harlem Renaissance, Los Angeles: Rhino Entertainment Company, 2000, p.5.
4 Paul Gilroy, “Modern Tones,” Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, pp.102-109.
5 Leo Ou-fan Lee, Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930-1945, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, p.4.
6 Unknown author
, All About Shanghai and Environs: A Standard Guidebook
, Shanghai: Shanghai University Press, 1934, quoted by Nancy Berliner, “Reaching to Heaven: Shanghai Architecture and Interiors,” in Shanghai: Art of the City
, San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2010, p.25.
7 Wen-hsin Yeh, “A Tale of Three Cities: Shanghai from 1850 to the Present,” in Shanghai: Art of the City, San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2010, pp.11-13.
8 Peter D. Osborne, Travelling Light: Photography, Travel and Visual Culture, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2000, p.3.
9 Tace Hedrick, Mestizo Modernism: Race, Nation, and Identity in Latin American Culture, 1900-1940, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003, pp.66-67.
10 Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982, p. 15
11 On primitivizing as a universal strategy of global modernisms, see Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations
, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994, especially Part One: “The Phenomenon: Occidental Orientation,” pp. 1-25; Sieglinde Lemke, Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism
, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998; David Pan, Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism
, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
12Picasso quoted by Andre Malraux, Picasso”s Mask, trans. J. Guicarnaud , New York, 1976, pp.10-1, quoted by Patricia Leighten, “The White Peril and l”Art negre: Picasso, Primitivism, and Anticolonialism,” Art Bulletin (Dec. 1990) p. 625.
13 On the political significance of the appropriation of African art by Pablo Picasso and his circle, see Leighten, Ibid, pp. 609-630. For key texts on Western Primitivism, see Leighten note #2, p. 609, and Jack Flam and Miriam Deutsch
, eds., Primitivism and Twentieth-Century Art: A Documentary History
, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.