JOAN KEE ON AFRO-ATLANTIC STORIES

Inspired by Oswald de Andrade’s “Antropófago Manifesto” (Manifeste anthropophage) from 1928 and what one might call the ethics of cannibalism, Afro-Atlantic stories (DelMonico Books), edited by Adriano Pedrosa and Tomás Toledo, embraces the art of the four continents to reject the “canned conscience” that Andrade deplored as the scourge of life. Considerably revised since its initial manifestation as a publication accompanying the 2018 exhibition of the same name (organized by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake and which will soon embark on an ambitious tour of the United States), Afro-Atlantic stories breathes new life into comparative research, demonstrating that side-by-side comparison can reveal a spirit of camaraderie rather than competition. Boasting a striking array of juxtapositions, including Victor Meirelles ‘portrait of conductor Henrique Alves de Mesquita in 1862 alongside Barkley L. Hendricks’ portrait of George Jules Taylor in 1972, the book traverses the silos of studies ethnic, cultural and regional to get closer to the geometry of a real and imagined movement in which the works of art overlap. As you would expect from any multi-author volume, the essays inside are spotty; we look forward to what readers will do with the cumulative product: a feast of images and ideas that resolutely moves away from stories that invariably prioritize portrayal and the author’s intention rather than to the apparent sensitivity of works of art crossing multiple historical, cultural and political settings. Borrowing from Paul Gilroy’s construction of a “black Atlantic” while also recognizing the survivals of slavery, Afro-Atlantic stories takes up the challenges of so-called global modernism by boldly laying down the conditions for an art history that is for, rather than against, a global majority – a majority with which existing institutional structures are just beginning to reckon.

Joan Kee is professor of art history at the University of Michigan and contributing editor to Art forum. She is currently working on a book project called The geometries of Afro-Asia.


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