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Samanea Karrfalt

Reclaiming a Runaway Narrative: The Importance of contemporary Art and Artists from the African Continent

From around 1880 up until 1980, there was a European colonial presence on the African continent. During the height of colonialization, many atrocities were committed – ecosystems were forever altered and destroyed, genocides were perpetrated, and the African continent and African bodies became commodities. Western Europe benefited from colonization - at the direct expense of African peoples - economically and in scientific fields. This prosperity is reflected by Modern art. From Impressionism of the late 19th century, to Futurism, and eventually Dada, it seemed as though no artistic convention was sacred – that rules were meant to be broken. The period from 1900 until the outbreak of WWI was the time of Fauvism, Expressionism, and Cubism. These three movements in particular were heavily influenced by primitivism which “is less an aesthetic movement than a sensibility or cultural attitude …[and] alludes to specific stylistic elements of tribal objects and other non-Western art forms” (guggenheim.org). The height of primitivism coincides with the popularity of Völkerschau and Wunderkamer featuring both living and taxidermied spoils from the African continent. Therefore, African peoples were not in a position to explore new artistic expressions, in part because though their folk art was fit to be an inspiration for a “real” artists, the artifacts hanging in the ateliers of Picasso and his contemporaries were seen as savage, non-art objects. For this reason, modernity in art came to the African continent as the colonists were on their way out. Though they left the people and land forever scarred, they also left canvasses, oil paints, and other Western European media. Fast forwarding to 2018, the artists on the African continent have completely made up for lost time in terms of the sheer number of masterful, highly-trained artists and the quantity of works they have produced. The only thing that contemporary African arts lack is the notoriety it is due. This is perhaps due in large part to a lack of identifiable schools of art. There are some, for example the Nsukka-Group, but there is still much work to be done in the field of art history of the African continent. A bloody history cannot and should not be erased, but in the wake thereof, there is the opportunity to reclaim what was lost and stolen, to reclaim the narrative of Africa and share the riches of the African continent with the world – but this time, it is on OUR TERMS.