In the United States we celebrate Black history throughout the month of February. Usually this includes remembering and highlighting the significant contributions of African Americans throughout US history. But Black history didn’t begin once we crossed the Atlantic. Our history extends extremely further back. Hence, we’re dedicating this month to our extended history, our pre-American history, and we are looking at it through its visual documentation: art.
If you walk through the classical art sections of museums like the Louvre in Paris or the Met in New York, the walls are primarily lined with masterpieces featuring white subjects. But if you look carefully, especially in the case of the Louvre, occasionally you’ll find a brown or black figure contained in a few of the oeuvres. We’ll be exploring the representation of Black people in Renaissance European art with hopes of understanding what it can tell us about the presence of Black people in Europe during that time and how they were regarded; as well as if and how their representation and presence may have been used to form modern day stereotypes.
We’ll also be taking a look at ancient African art. Unlike Western art, African art was generally created for function as opposed to decoration. Art pieces, primarily sculptures, were abstract and highly stylized figures used for religious practices and as religious symbols. We’ll see what aspects of specific African cultures can be learned from their art as well as how African Art influenced the works of modern European artists like Picaso and Mattise.
I expect that looking at “Black art” in two different time periods as well as two different continents will give us contrasting and colorful views of who we once were and may begin to reshape the context around who we are today.
Throughout 2014 we’re exploring the Many Shades of Black