Tag Archives: globalism

Postcolonial Thoughts: Contemporary Primitivism: El Anatsui

by Christopher Hutchinson

Formal & Global

Mr. Anatsui’s wall hangings, majestic as they are, do not use scale as a cudgel. That’s true even of high-profile works like his mural at the High Line and of the wall-spanning, rotunda-filling examples in the Brooklyn show. Only after you have marveled at their intricacy and versatility does the vastness hit you. It helps to know (as many people do, now that Mr. Anatsui is a global star) that these peaked, shimmering fields are made from folded, twisted and linked liquor-bottle caps, at studios in Ghana and Nigeria, and that they have as much to do with post-colonial poverty and strife as they do with opulence. –KAREN ROSENBERG http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/arts/design/gravity-and-grace-by-el-anatsui-at-brooklyn-museum.html

El Anatsui has made his way to the top of the art scene using his famous tapestry technique using beer bottle caps. His work has been well respected for years now and deserves a serious conversation as to how his work really functions in this art world. Anatsui is often considered to be a Global artist and sometimes even a Post-Colonial artist. These two terms are often used synonomously, but that would be a mistake. To become a global artist means something very different than being a post-colonial artist. A global artist refers to “universal” appeal. That “universal” appeal is often decided and upheld by the Western rubric of formalism.

Formalism is a particular mode of art criticism and theory according to which all visual art has an intrinsic value. This value is determined by the artist’s ability to achieve an aesthetic order and balance of certain elemental truths within a painting. These elemental truths are the painting’s use of color, line, composition and texture. No matter how much artistic style and taste may change over time, formalism holds that these truths are constant.” http://www.theartstory.org/section_theory_formalism.htm

This formalism is inseperable from Western academia, which is then applied to Global art and artists. From this point Anatsui is a Global artist by how his works function in the current art world. He does discuss his heritage and significance of African/Ghanian aesthetic, but the process of formalism, and globalization nullify the African/Ghanian voice. His work is firstly discussed through the practice and assembly of his wall sculpture. The dialogue is reduced to formal elements, mainly, color, and form. While formalism is a good way evaluate art, but it also a tool to eradicate identity and ethnicity.

EcoArt & Upcycling

Anatsui’s work also has a dialogue that coincides with green art, ecoart, upcycling, saving the earth one bottle cap at a time. These are all good things for an eco-conscious collector, but what does this have to do with African tapestry? Are the beer bottle caps justified? Could this not have been achieved with African/Ghanian tapestry? Is the labor and process most important? Is this really more or less successful than Sam Gilliam’s work?

These questions beg for more specificity in the work of Anatsui. Is the bottle cap the large red shiny technique? Does this technique add or detract from the concept? Can we even get to the concept? Or are we just enamored by the sparkly, pieces in museum lights? Anatsui’s scale seems haphazard at times. His dimensions are often flat. These are major undergraduate concerns.

Craft & Primitive

“Prinitivism-Term used to describe the fascination of early modern European artists with what was then called primitive art – including tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, as well as prehistoric and very early European art, and European folk art

Primitivism also means the search for a simpler more basic way of life away from Western urban sophistication and social restrictions. The classic example of this is artist Paul Gauguin’s move from Paris to Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1891. Primitivism was also important for expressionism, including Brücke.

As a result of these artists’ interest and appreciation, what was once called primitive art is now seen as having equal value to Western forms and the term primitive is avoided or used in quotation marks. –TATE http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/primitivism

There is a strong element of the “Primitive” present in the dialogue around Anatsui’s work, even though the work itself has been formalized and globalized. The “Primitive” raises its head when his work is exhibited along side the “primitive: African sculpture” collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006. Once again questions arise. What is the purpose to put Anatsui’s work side by side? What is being proven by doing this? Here we have an authentic African artist fullfilling the lineage of Gauguin as true “primitivist.” Anatsui himself discusses the use of the bottle caps as bridging the gap between Europe and Africa. The bottle caps being introduced by Europeans who brought beer. Here in lies the truth behind all globalism. If you want to be successful you must first “bridge the gap.” Second you must acknowledge the Western art history directly in your work. This by no means is Post-colonial.


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.


Postcolonial Thoughts: Book Review of Nicholas Bourriaud’s “The Radicant”

by Christopher Hutchinson

Nicholas Bourriaud is one of the leading art theorists/curators presently.  He is behind the Relational art movement, globalism, and postproduction.  This is a review of his third book The Radicant.

Radicant & Breaking modernity

Rad´i`cant    (răd´ĭ`kant)

a. 1. (Bot.) Taking root on, or above, the ground; rooting from the stem, as the trumpet creeper and the ivy.                           – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Radicant

Initially, The Radicant was an encouraging read.  It lays out the problematical perspective of the linear Western art world.  Bourriaud’s derision for the immobile art world was very engaging.  The Radicant recognizes the necessity for numerous evaluations that are not based on the canon of Western art history. Let us no longer encourage the formal elements of line, color, shape, space, texture and form.  Permit us to leave the language of white spaces occupied with eye-level paintings, sculptures on pedestals and holy institutions that have become so banal.  Leave the devotion to this practice in the past; all of the rubrics used to add value are out-of-date and exclusionary.

Formalism, abstraction, painting and sculpture in the West all have excluded the vast number of cultures and societies form being equal participants in the world of art.  Bourriaud invites us to have Radicant histories; here all histories are of equal value in globe.

This ethereal concept all falls apart at the end of the book where he suggests that we can achieve this Radicant understanding through the lens of Marcel Duchamp.

“In generating behaviours and potential reuses, art challenges passive culture, composed of merchandise and consumers. It makes the forms and cultural objects of our daily lives function. What if artistic creation today could be compared to a collective sport [play!], far from the classic mythology of the solitary effort? ‘It is the viewers who make the paintings’, Duchamp once said, and incomprehensible remark unless we connect it to his keen sense of an emerging culture of use, in which meaning is born of collaboration and negotiation between the artist and the one who comes to view the work. Why wouldn’t the meaning of a work have as much to do with the use one makes of it as with the artist’s intentions for it? Such is the meaning of what one might venture to call a formal collectivism.”-THE RADICANT

 Bourriard’s Duchamp suggestion does the most damage to his credibility in changing the thought process of the West.  How could Duchamp be the Radicant history necessary to break modernism, when Duchamp is the Western canon?  This book proves that historians & philosophers, like Bourriaud, even when they try with all their might cannot escape their own linear methodology.  It is in their blood.  This is the reason why, any new concept that actually changes the direction of the West, has been appropriated from some other indigenous culture.  Appropriated without crediting its origins.

This is important to note because they are many who believe that one day West will write something of worth about indigenous non-white people, but here is the proof, it can’t be done.  Bourriaud, a French Art critic, is doing exactly what he is supposed to, expressing National pride and lineage as the way to access the future through Duchamp.  It is up to each culture to document, protect, and preserve its own history before it becomes the newest jewel for the new global West.

Rirkrit Tiravanijia & Globalism

 According to art critic Jerry Saltz, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s works do nothing less than “bridge a mind-body gap that often exists in Western art.” Meaning: Tiravanija’s installations — which often combine food and communion among strangers within intimate, temporary worlds that contain all forms of social interaction from conversation to sex — stimulate the viewers’ brains and their bodies and open them up to experiences beyond just art appreciation. http://stationtostation.com/participants/rirkrit-tiravanija/

So what does this mean for Bourriaud sponsored artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija?  We now have the inclusion of westernized indigenous people interpreted through a Duchampian lens.  These westernized non-white people also look to Duchamp as the example set.  Magical non-white people will show the West once again how to create art that is not dismal. This is not new; by any means it is identical to Gauguin and Tahiti, Picasso and Africa.

The artists, critics, institutions that have been celebrated in this global Radicant history, are indoctrinated in the history of the West. For Bourriaud’s initial Radicant to be realized, there would not be a designation of folk art.  As long as folk art exists we are talking about a commercial viability of indigenous contribution to the West. Not equal respect. The Radicant ends up being just as linear as every other Western art history and philosophy.

“…’globalization.’ Like most terms of political discourse, this term has two meanings: a literal meaning and a technical meaning employed for doctrinal warfare. In the literal sense, ‘globalization’ means international integration. Its leading advocates are those who meet annually at the World Social Forum, coming from countries all over the world and all walks of life, working together to craft and debate forms of international integration—economic, cultural, political—that serve the interests of people: real people, of flesh and blood. But in the doctrinal system, their commitments are called ‘antiglobalization.’ The description is correct if we use the term ‘globalization’ in its technical sense, referring to a particular form of international economic integration, with a mixture of liberal and protectionist measures and many related to investor rights, not trade, all designed to serve the interests of investors, financial institutions, and other centers of concentrated state-private power—those granted the rights of super-persons by the courts.“-Hopes and Prospects – Noam Chomsky


If  you would like to submit a book or essay or an eBook to be reviewed by Christopher in the “Postcolonial Thoughts” column, send an email with your interest to melissa@creativethresholds.com.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga. 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. His installations mostly consist of black folded paper airplanes.

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

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