A Cultural Journal

    PRIMITIVE ART AND ITS INFLUENCE ON 20TH-CENTURY MODERNISM

    Written by: Mona Khan - Posted on: June 21, 2013 | Post your comment here Comments

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    PRIMITIVE ART AND ITS INFLUENCE ON 20TH-CENTURY MODERNISM

    Gestural, evocative and a retrospective on most notable Art movements in Europe, Naira El-Tablawai's exhibit titled, "Molasses: Black Honey “attempts to highlight the African influences on Modern Art.

    Interestingly enough, Tablawai's exhibit challenges the authoritarian status allotted to Modern Art, in the depiction of Primitive Art from Africa. Her assertive tone is reinforced in the gesture of her brush strokes; Calculated yet aggressive, these strokes of oil paint are a referent to the fixation of the early European Modernists, on a land, which they visited often and deemed exotic and primitive. Many contemporary artists today, have centered their practice around the African form and the issue of the primitive.


    Tablawai revisits the female figure not through the gaze of a male voyeur, but assumes the role of a compassionate storyteller. All of her paintings, intimate and at times sensual, seem to subvert the presence of the voyeur's gaze. Tablawai hence proposes a shift and renunciation, a reclaiming and retelling of history, while simultaneously asserting the personal narratives of her subjects. Tablawai's work with a focus on these 'displaced refugee women', coincides with the fundamentals of Feminist Essentialism. 

    A notable difference between her portrayal in contrast to renowned modernists such as Pablo Picasso, who  incorporated the ceremonial masks of the Dogon tribe into his re-known cubist work, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907-09). Henri Matisse,  who pioneered in united colour and pattern as seen in the  Fauve masterpiece, The Green Stripe (1912). Tablawai's familiarity with her subjects and the tone of empathy in which they are delivered to the audience exists in stark contrast to the European Modernists. Even though the artists from the School of Paris, were unaware of the original meaning of the West and Central African Art they encountered, they instantly recognized its aesthetic and spiritual value and internalized it to reject naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.

    Although, throughout the history of Modern Art in Europe, there exists an incredible wealth of African Influences on its patrons, yet their depiction, often deemed as voyeurism,  is distant.  Described as a fascination aroused by the unfamiliar as well as an intrigue of the unknown.  

    The influence of traditional African aesthetics in the contemporary Post-colonial era is deeply embedded in most artistic practice. The increasing globalization of the art world, nullifies any term that assumes a distinct divide between Art from the Orient or Occident.  It is only in the effort to deconstruct and reassess the aesthetic foundations for early modernism that African influences in Modern art will remain relevant. 

    Unfortunately, the layout of the exhibit lacked any sort of curatorial considerations, as majority of the paintings lay on the ground and tables leaning against the wall. The ornate and inconsistent framing again denotes a disconnect with basic exhibition guidelines. No titles, price lists or a substantial artist statement were provided to guide the viewers. The lack of attention given to the display of the works, undoubtedly compromised the visual integrity of the show.

    Mona Khan is a visual artist, curator, designer and French teacher. Currently based in Islamabad

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