Tag Archives: africa

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part II

by Christopher Hutchinson

There is a simplistic, minimal aesthetic present in Puryear’s work that is undeniably beautiful. He uses the material organically to create semi abstract pieces that have figurative quality and yet not limited by the figure itself. The figure being manipulated and molded is Africa.

To credit these objects for their aesthetic minimal qualities means one should immediately correlate African wood working practice as intelligent design, and it is unfortunate it does not. If Puryear’s work is received as Western mastery and African woodworking is his teacher, then a deeper look into African aesthetics should be noted in Africa’s contribution to modern art. Labeling of his work as post minimalist is insufficient.

The mining of Africa’s aesthetic and ritual that began with Picasso has become a standard practice in Western academia to the point where the visual language of Africa is considered Western. It is not. This pilfering of Africa still has no recompense or tax. This tax free appropriation used over and over again to make the West relevant once more. This can be seen in cubism, surrealism, and arte povera.

Arte Povera

Ar·te Po·ver·a

a style and movement in art originating in Italy in the 1960s combining aspects of conceptual, minimalist, and performance art, and making use of worthless or common materials such as stones or newspapers, in the hope of subverting the commercialization of art.- 1960s: Italian, literally ‘impoverished art,’ from arte ‘art’ + povera (feminine of povero‘needy’) https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=art%20povera

To be a true ecologist today, one must re-establish the aesthetics of beauty within the realm of human trash and material waste. –Slavoj Žižek


Arte Povera once again acknowledges the stagnation of western academia and proposes a rail against this limit by including trash/outsider as a point of inspiration. The Zizek quote points to the inauthentic intellectual guise wrapped up in this movement. Michaelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of rags would seem to fulfill the hope to “re-establish the aesthetics of beauty” of Zizek. Does Venus of rags accomplish this re-establishment? It does not.

Like most movements that attempt to redefine Western academia based on the established aesthetic, all that is accomplished is an affirmation of the binary. Pistolletto’s Venus accomplishes that binary where it is clear that Venus is still Venus, even if she is turned and looking at trash, and the trash is still trash. The binary is reinforced not swayed. Povera’s illustration of the binary has now become the definition of commercial or the new rubric to an acceptable commercialism.

The West’s constant search to appropriate and inject new life in the dead lineage of its academia poses a primary concern for all those wishing to gain acceptance and validation of their work from the same. Those validated by the West breathe life back into the lingering notions of aesthetics.

Black, White & Gray

This systemic issue is problematic when considering the success and politics of art makers. At times it may seem that there is no other way but to accept the terms of academia but that is simply not true. There is a way to retain ones artistic integrity and aesthetic.

Mark Bradford was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1961. He received a BFA (1995) and MFA (1997) from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Bradford transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-size collages and installations that respond to the impromptu networks—underground economies, migrant communities, or popular appropriation of abandoned public space—that emerge within a city. Drawing from the diverse cultural and geographic makeup of his southern Californian community, Bradford’s work is as informed by his personal background as a third-generation merchant there as it is by the tradition of abstract painting developed worldwide in the twentieth century. Bradford’s videos and map-like, multilayered paper collages refer not only to the organization of streets and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, but also to images of crowds, ranging from civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to contemporary protests concerning immigration issues. http://www.art21.org/artists/mark-bradford

Mark Bradford amongst others exist in black & white and fear the gray. Bradford exists with integrity and aesthetic. Both Bradford and Puryear have received have been featured on Art21. Bradford differs from Puryear in his clarity of and honesty of material which is then manipulated aesthetically.

Bradford uses found material from his community, not out of pity or sentiment, but an investigation of the language promoted in the community. He uses it as fuel for his artistic practice and does not shy away from its origin. Bradford’s work is also not limited by its origin, nor has it become a spectacle of Blackness. His work achieves a critique of the West without illustrating the binary and upholding its rubric.

Bradford uses found material from his community, not out of pity or sentiment, but an investigation of the language promoted in the community. He uses it as fuel for his artistic practice and does not shy away from its origin. Bradford’s work is also not limited by its origin, nor has it become a spectacle of Blackness. His work achieves a critique of the West without illustrating the binary and upholding its rubric.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” continues next month with Part III.


Christopher Hutchinson 2Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.



Call Me Down The Rain

Robert Rhodes, ‘Night map (1) so we can always find the way to one another.’ Acrylic, gouache and pencil on Arches paper.

Robert Rhodes, ‘Night map (1) so we can always find the way to one another.’ Acrylic, gouache and pencil on Arches paper.



This series unfolded during the first week of July, 2015, when I posted “Call Me Down the Rain” on my Facebook page as a response to another round of attacks by Boko Haram in Jos and other locations in northern Nigeria. Poet j.lewis responded with a poem, and it became a conversation, with poet amu nnadi contacting me to add his poem “we fled jos” to the sequence. Poet and artist Robert Rhodes gave us permission to use one of his paintings as an accompaniment, and we are grateful to Creative Thresholds for bringing this conversation to wider audience.
–Laura M Kaminski, July 2015


Call Me Down the Rain

work-song honoring those attempting to return home to territory reclaimed from Boko Haram

I must dance a circle
bring the monsoon
call me down the rain

pray like someone greedy
give me give me give
more than my share

of this year’s water
bring it bring it bring
the water, carry me the river

call me down the rain
and flood the plateau, bring
rags and buckets to me

you will find me on
my knees and scrubbing
more than red dust

more than harmattan,
I must scrub the northland
clean down to the bedrock

how can we return
to farm and village, how
can we plant new crops

in this earth from which
we’ve lifted the broken
bodies of kin and country

washed them, taken them,
them all, to mourn and bury?
how can we till land

charred from bomb-blasts,
how can we plant when
we keep finding bullet-

casings in the soil?
our lips will not permit
yam and cassava grown

in blood-soaked dirt
to cross them, our bodies
will refuse such tainted

nourishment. no. you
must carry the Benue
here, bring bring me

water, call me down
the rain so I can first
scrub the stains

of blood and bitterness,
scrub until there’s
nothing left but dancing

here, until the stain is
gone from memory,
from sole and soul —
call me down the rain

–Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba)
(first published in Synchronized Chaos, forthcoming in Dance Here, 2015)


response to rain

news footage and online video
carefully avoided to skip the tears
i only see him in my mind
where she painted his struggling plea
knees in the red sand, bleeding
for every friend and countryman
pulled down, laid down too soon
i see the rain clouds forming
sense sentinal drops, then deluge
as nature bends to help him purge
the unnatural evil that claws
at everything, everyone he knows
i see his upturned face
wet with the thundering gift
grief and faith and gratitude
mixed in his tears, in the rain
and i cry with him, for him
for a county i don’t know
for brothers and sisters unmet
for the violence in my own streets
ceaseless, senseless death
wondering if there will be
enough rain to cleanse us all


Laura to J.Lewis, 04-July-2015: Blessings on you and on your house.

Sometimes simple phrases are a prompt for a poem. When Laura said “Blessings on you and on your house,” I knew I wanted to respond in kind. Here is my response poem:

poem of blessing

your words flow in my thoughts
and in my veins, as though
you were my natural sister
not a stranger with a pen
who cuts me rapier wide
with every new description
of overwhelming sorrow
of overpowering joy

you are in my heart, my head
as familiar as the ones
around my supper table
around the hasty coffins
we have both seen filled
weeping for the silent days
empty of their laughter
empty of their love

your pain rolls down my face
until i cannot tell if
these are your tears or mine
your stories or my memories
and i know without pause
that knowing you, reading you
fills me with a fervent hope
for better tomorrows

and so i call a blessing down
as one might call the rain
on fields of drought
a blessing on your head
and on your house



gathering blessings

with heartfelt thanks for two recent poems from James E Lewis, “response to rain” and “poem of blessing” — another mourning for Jos, 07-07-2015

it rains. i stand beneath these
lemon-gems, sunflowers two meters
tall, heads bent in grief above
me. drops slip down the yellow

petals of their cheeks to drench
my hair. my own body seems too
small, unable to create enough

tears for me to weep, insufficient
reservoir to handle all the news
of dying. oh, jos! i cannot cry
enough to rinse away the vision

of so many bodies stretched out
side to side, lives now stilled
wrapped head to toe in fabric,

small rectangles of paper placed
on each, weighted with a rock.
as messages arrive, i dance
the passage of those known to me,

and weep. my friend, lend me
your tears, that we may honour
known and unknown both, may wrap

and cover each of these still
bodies. many are now the last
ones of their bloodlines, have
no other family to mourn them.

lend me your tears that none
of these are left to make their
final passage without the tears
of kin to bless their way. jos!
my heart is hollowed, a begging
bowl, i hold it out to gather
blessings, catch the rain.

–Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba), 07-July-2015
(forthcoming in Dance Here, 2015)


we fled jos

for laura m kaminski (halima ayuba)

we fled jos when the catapult was merely hot
sending down hail, and katako was a purgatory
caught between heaven and hell, between
what was dreamed and the singeing of stones

the long walks to faringada at dawn, to share
those balls of peas, like green bullets, and carrots
sharpened as flints and dagas, the grey potatoes
and those cabbages hiding inside fold upon fold

memories and fading innocence of a thinning city
taught us how to turn casual strolls into a never
ending escape, the screams burning haram holes
into backs too scarred to fall into a trap forged

for pillars of salt, that lose their taste to hate;
today, laura, those stones have become bullets
they flower into thunder, bury their fiery heads
in soft flesh, and explode into flicking forked tongues

of despair, ceasing the heart of man and city
ah! jos grows too hot for warmth and embrace;
but how can we flee what festers in our hearts?
how can the heart not burn, our eyes not sing
when in us jos lives as city and lost companion?

how can we flee the love of its calm days, its
apple weather made for joy, sowed within us
which now fruit into acres and acres of kind
memories, as if once more faringada receives

all her broken farmers, with their wares of life?
how do you bury those picnic afternoons upon
shere hills, where man and cloud slept together
where the air, stoked and resolved, lustily sang
and all stirred leaves, and our thumping hearts

danced, and in the distance, like a fallen devotee
jos lay with her open arteries, invoking a mad god?
how can you truly flee what cannot leave you
for in our different places now, with stricken pens

we hold in ink the grief of love that coagulates
as blood, memoirs of our city, sad memories
of what dies, so poets can shed their singing
epitaphs, like this, with blood and angry stones

–amu nnadi, 07-07-2015
(forthcoming in ‘a field of echoes’, 2015)


About the Poets:

j.lewis is an internationally published poet, musician, and nurse practitioner. His poetry and music reflect the difficulty and joy of human interactions, sometimes drawing inspiration from his decades of experience in healthcare. When he is not writing, composing, or diagnosing, he is likely on a kayak, exploring and photographing the waterways near his home in California.

amu nnadi is a philosopher who describes himself as a lover of love and the elements. He insists on writing poetry without capital letters and full stops, declaring that poetry is life itself and is the spirit of God working through humanity to extend creation and enrich life. As he says: “life is a seamless stream of many commas but no stops. Poetry is bigger in all estimation than man.” Recent collections include ‘ihejuruonu’ and ‘through the window of a sandcastle’. He is currently working on ‘a field of echoes’, due for publication in 2015.

Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) grew up in northern Nigeria, went to school in New Orleans, and currently lives in rural Missouri. She is an Associate Editor at Right Hand Pointing and an occasional contributor to Via Negativa. Recent collections include And Yes, I Dance and Considering Luminescence; she is currently working on Dance Here.

Robert Rhodes is a poet and artist. We are grateful to him for allowing us to use his artwork as an accompaniment for this series. The painting is titled: ‘Night map (1) so we can always find the way to one another.’ Acrylic, gouache and pencil on Arches paper.


Postcolonial Thoughts: Picasso Continued: Avant-Garde Africa

by Christopher Hutchinson

The End of Western Thought

Picasso’s “genius” also stems from his singular contribution that results in the end of the Western tradition of painting. Picasso is credited with the break from classical forms, proportions, and the tradition of rendering the perfect figure. This places Picasso as a heroic figure in art history. The “one” who took art upon himself to charter new territories and inspire new broken traditions.

Leonardo Vitruvian Man

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as acosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html

The leading piece of these broken traditions is evidenced by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907, considered to be the precursor to cubism. Picasso’s “genius” is cemented in this singular piece where proportion, flatness, dimension are all broken in the new tradition Picasso sees.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. These strategies would be significant in Picasso’s subsequent development of Cubism, charted in this gallery with a selection of the increasingly fragmented compositions he created in this period.” http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso is then credited with inventing cubism, along with Georges Braque, the backbone of the legend of Picasso. Cubism cements Picasso’s legacy. We are led to believe that Picasso’s venture into cubist practice was a natural progression improved upon the foundation provided by Paul Cézanne landscapes, where Cézanne used large geometric shapes, and block of color. This is a plausible explanation only for people who have no idea what it takes to paint, and or blind. There is no way to achieve Cubism without direct appropriation African Sculpture.


Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. It was created by Pablo Picasso(Spanish, 1881–1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963) in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” Other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources. The stylization and distortion of Picasso’s ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), painted in 1907, came from African art. Picasso had first seen African art when, in May or June 1907, he visited the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

Avant-Garde Africa

Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford is a curator and cultural historian. He is a King’s College Institute Associate and a Research Associate at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

As part of the Wonderful Africa Season in 2010, he presented Lost Kingdoms of Africa, four 60-minute programmes for BBC 2 and BBC 4. He presented a second series in 2012. Gus presented The Genius of British Art for Channel 4 in 2010 and hosted The Culture Show on BBC 2 in 2012. http://www.petersfraserdunlop.com/factual_tv/gus-casely-hayford

The contribution of Africa is not an afterthought; it is primary. The reduction of form, geometric vocabulary, multiple perspective, bulbous and inverted shapes on the same form, as well as the analytical investigation of form, and abstracted form, is all apart of African sculpture praxis. The intellectual credit that is heaped upon cubism and at the primitive label on Africa is unacceptable. The Museum placement of Cubism as modern and Africa in the basement is unacceptable. All modern art derives from Africa.

It is even more disturbing when people—the very people affected by this direct cultural appropriation—support these notions. The tradition is now upheld by their naiveté, their hoping to achieve intellectual social status through the same process that claims them to be primitive.

JAY Z “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.” Directed by Mark Romanek.Performed at PACE gallery

What happens when a Ming dynasty porcelain vase is displayed in America without the Chinese knowledge? A Native American artifact? African art has been physically and intellectually appropriated without recognition. This practice must stop.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

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