Critical Response: "Modernity, Modernism, and Africa's Place in the History of Art of Our Age"
Rasheed Araeen's article "Modernity, Modernism, and Africa's Place in the History of Art of Our Age" addresses issues of art conventions in the global perspective of modernism. The article raises some relevant questions on the meaning of culture and national identity in African art and its interpretation by both African communities and the rest of the world. Araeen looks at the social context of a continent that was largely colonized by Europeans, and has only recently begun to regain its own sense of identity and independent cultural, social and political progress. The author uses Western imports like Coca-Cola to argue that African culture is not exhibiting the innovation or self-sufficiency that it will take to put African art and values into mainstream understandings of art. This, he argues, is a concept applicable to the 'ideas of modernity' that were imported from the Western canon like commodities from the West (Araeen 2005, 411). Araeen focuses on the treatment and experiences of one African artist, Ernest Mancoba, to illustrate the state of African art in the global context today, arguing that his work has far more to offer to global understandings of modernity than has been acknowledged in the international forum. The article acts both to educate a global readership on the issues facing African artists today, as well as a call to action in Africa's art community to actively cease subscribing to Western conventions in art without questioning them first. The article provides an alternative way of thinking about the Western canon of art history in three key ways. The first is by pointing out the Western bias of today's dominating canon of art history, the second is by arguing that African people have autonomy to change that bias, and the third is by addressing the issue from a subjective, non-Western viewpoint.