Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism

Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism

by Elizabeth Harney (Editor)


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Mapping Modernisms brings together scholars working around the world to address the modern arts produced by indigenous and colonized artists. Expanding the contours of modernity and its visual products, the contributors illustrate how these artists engaged with ideas of Primitivism through visual forms and philosophical ideas. Although often overlooked in the literature on global modernisms, artists, artworks, and art patrons moved within and across national and imperial borders, carrying, appropriating, or translating objects, images, and ideas. These itineraries made up the dense networks of modern life, contributing to the crafting of modern subjectivities and of local, transnationally inflected modernisms. Addressing the silence on indigeneity in established narratives of modernism, the contributors decenter art history's traditional Western orientation and prompt a re-evaluation of canonical understandings of twentieth-century art history. Mapping Modernisms is the first book in Modernist Exchanges, a multivolume project dedicated to rewriting the history of modernism and modernist art to include artists, theorists, art forms, and movements from around the world.

Contributors. Bill Anthes, Peter Brunt, Karen Duffek, Erin Haney, Elizabeth Harney, Heather Igloliorte, Sandra Klopper, Ian McLean, Anitra Nettleton, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Ruth B. Phillips, W. Jackson Rushing III, Damian Skinner, Nicholas Thomas, Norman Vorano

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822368717
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 01/11/2019
Series: Objects/Histories Series
Pages: 460
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Harney is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto and author of In Senghor's Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995, also published by Duke University Press, and Ethiopian Passages: Contemporary Art from the Diaspora.

Ruth B. Phillips is Professor of Art History at Carleton University and author of several books, including Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums and Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900.

Read an Excerpt




The Modernism of Zizwezenyanga Qwabe's Figurative Relief Panels

When the acclaimed South African photographer Lynn Acutt visited the Zulu town of Nongoma in 1937, he bought two large figurative pokerwork panels from an artist who has become known as Qwabe (figure 1.1). They feature depictions of contemporary urban life interspersed with scenes related to the history of Zulu king Cetshwayo and his son and successor, Dinuzulu. In theme and content, these panels resemble a less ambitious but equally interesting set that was found in an antique shop in Namibia before being donated to the Killie Campbell Africana Library in Durban in 1980. While the first set, now also in the Killie Campbell Collections, focuses primarily on momentous events prior to Dinuzulu's seven- year banishment to St. Helena in 1889, the second set appears to record his subsequent incarceration in 1908, during his trial for treason in Pietermaritzburg for harboring the wife of the leader of the 1906 Bambatha Rebellion, in which Africans had sought to overturn a poll tax imposed on rural households in present- day KwaZulu-Natal (figure 1.5). I argue in this chapter that both works warrant careful scrutiny for the bold modernity of their direct references to racial discrimination and their depictions of the contrasting realities of rural and urban life in a society in which exploitative migrant labor practices had become the norm (figure 1.2). These panels also raise crucial questions about Qwabe's remarkable, if short-lived, interest in constructing complex narratives based on oral and popular sources, such as photographs and postcards, thus drawing both on traditional Zulu poetic traditions and modern technologies of reproduction.

The advent of modern Zulu arts in the twentieth century had deep roots in earlier traditions of royal patronage, which go back to the rise of the Zulu kingdom in the early nineteenth century. The great warrior king Shaka and his immediate successors employed skilled artists and craftsmen to produce prestige items for the king and his royal entourage. These included arm and neck rings cast in brass; intricately carved staffs of office, with complex abstract finials made from various hardwoods; and monumental chairs (each carved from a single block of wood), originally inspired by examples acquired from Portuguese traders at Delagoa Bay in present-day Mozambique. Some artists attained considerable fame, among them Mtomboti kaMangcengeza, who produced two chairs for the third Zulu king, Mpande, before his death in 1872. Since no one but the king could sit on a chair, and those approaching him had to crawl on the ground, prestige items like these had an important symbolic function, affirming hierarchical power relations that were further reinforced through royal control over trade imports, like beads and blankets. The second Zulu king, Dingane, who had a keen interest in beads, once asked the American missionary George Champion whether it would be possible to "get a beadmaker to live with him." People visiting Dingane's royal homestead in the late 1830s were received in a large thatched beehive dwelling, with twenty-one supporting posts, covered from top to bottom with beads of various colors. A great champion of the arts, he was also interested in other forms of expressive culture, such as praise poetry, which he promoted actively throughout his reign.

Following the destruction of the Zulu kingdom by British forces in 1879, the disruption of royal patronage forced most specialists to cultivate new patrons, ultimately boosting the production of various skillfully honed household items, such as headrests and spoons for the inhabitants of ordinary homesteads. Some artisans also began to work for external markets, carving figurative staffs and walking sticks, which they sold as mementos to soldiers and other foreign visitors passing through the country during the South African war of 1899–1902. These artists generally relocated to burgeoning colonial centers such as Pietermaritzburg and Durban, where they established small workshops aimed at supplying the growing market for carved curios. By the early twentieth century, enterprising efforts to tap into additional sources of income had also encouraged several carvers to produce novelty items for indigenous patrons, including meat plates decorated with organic designs inspired by the craftsmanship of German missionaries, and small open-shelf wall cupboards, commonly decorated with inlaid or burnished geometric patterns, in emulation of the early settler practice of fashioning comparatively inexpensive but visually arresting storage for cooking pots and other household objects.

Indigenous interest in storage racks of this kind seems to have spread rapidly among African Christians who, as a sign of their rejection of traditionalist norms and values, abandoned the long-established practice of living in circular thatch- covered beehive dwellings in favor of European-style wattle and daub homes. But these racks also became popular in remote rural communities, where they were used to store rolled-up grass sleeping mats that to this day form part of the wedding gifts brides present to the relatives of their future husbands. The mat racks produced now are still commonly decorated with geometric patterns, but instead of carving elaborate designs into already burnished panels, mat rack specialists, since the 1950s, have taken to painting intricate multicolored patterns on their display surfaces (figure 1.4).

In the early 1920s, one of the pioneering producers of these mat racks radically transformed the then-emerging practice of decorating them with boldly burnished geometric designs by interspersing those designs with figurative motifs (figures 1.5–1.8). Almost certainly intended — at least initially — for the burgeoning tourist market in Durban rather than indigenous patrons, these figurative panels appear to have been part of the artist's effort to supplement his income while working intermittently as a migrant laborer, either in domestic service or, more likely, as a rickshaw puller. This occupation had by then been monopolized by men from the Nongoma district of present-day northern KwaZulu-Natal; toward the end of the nineteenth century, after the aggressive land encroachments of white settlers had made subsistence farming inadequate, rural Africans left their homes annually for several months to support their families. Born and raised in the Nongoma area, this artist has since been hailed for his innovative pictorial practices, including his use of aerial perspective and symbolic proportion. Although his art should be recognized as a pioneering modern Zulu art form, considerable uncertaintysurrounds both his life and the extent of his oeuvre. Probably illiterate, he has been referred to variously as Ntizenyanga, Tivenganga, and Ntizenganfa Qwabe. None of these names is recognized by his surviving relatives, some of whom still live near the Qondo Trading Store, approximately twenty kilometers from Nongoma, where Qwabe once had his own homestead. According to them, his first name was Zizwezenyanga. They have no idea when he was born, or why and when he decided to dedicate his life entirely to producing figurative relief panels, but they all agreed that he died sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. His name was originally recorded as Mzinyanzinya Qwabe by Rebecca Hourwich Reyher, an American suffragist who met him for the first time in 1925 while working as a journalist for Hearst's International. Although her writing is a crucial source for understanding his work, in this chapter, I use the name ascribed to him by some of his surviving descendants.

It is not possible to reconstruct Qwabe's trajectory from migrant carver to full- time artist without resorting to plausible explanation. After meeting Reyher, he seems to have abandoned his practice of working intermittently in Durban in favor of producing panels for sale at agricultural fairs and church fêtes, thereby satisfying a growing settler interest in African craft production. Returning permanently to the Nongoma region by the early 1930s, he sold work not only to rural patrons, but also to the growing number of local and foreign visitors who traveled to Nongoma to meet members of the Zulu royal family after colonial officials agreed in the late 1920s to allow them to reestablish homesteads in this area. Nongoma, founded after a decision in 1887 to build Fort Ivuna as a colonial buffer between the Usuthu section of the Zulu royal family and rival factions, had by the 1930s become a thriving administrative center. It had a magistrate's court; a Benedictine mission station, which in 1937 was expanded through the addition of a hospital; and the Mona market, which to this day remains a major center for the sale of medicinal plants, traditional dress worn by Zulu people on ceremonial occasions, and carved artifacts, like meat plates, which are still commonly used on occasions requiring the ritual slaughter of goats and cattle.

Qwabe's work became increasingly versatile over time. He repeatedly challenged the received artistic conventions of the rural community in which he was raised, modifying his figurative motifs for different markets and patrons. Often boldly adventurous, he produced progressively larger, delicately carved horizontal panels for his external market. But while he refined his pokerwork technique and constantly reconfigured the narrative elements in his work in new and inventive ways, by the 1950s he was relying more and more on stock scenes and characters in an effort to meet the overwhelming demand for his work in urban centers like Johannesburg. With the establishment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre at Rorke's Drift in 1965, and the Vukani Association in Eshowe toward the end of that decade, this growing market for sophisticated carvings, pottery, baskets, and tapestries produced by rural African communities was supported through the dedication of missionaries and other intermediaries. In earlier decades, however, artists like Qwabe were forced to engage directly with dealers, whose motivation was to profit from their work rather than to support their artistic development. Although mat racks, as decorated functional items carved of wood, fit the standard Western "craft" category, I argue that Qwabe's innovative introduction of narrative pictorial imagery, affirming Zulu traditions of political leadership and responses to colonial modernity, should be understood as a foundational expression of modern Zulu art.

Qwabe as Oral Historian

Each of the two large panels acquired by Acutt is surmounted by a portrait bust of King Cetshwayo, based on a photograph taken of him while visiting London to meet Queen Victoria following the destruction of the Zulu kingdom in 1879. Both panels reproduce his head ring, a symbol of his status as a mature married man (see figure 1.1). But in an apparent desire to draw attention to his identity as the dignified leader of a powerful independent nation, Qwabe modified one of the images to include bandoliers strung across the king's tailored jacket (seefigure 1.3). At the bottom of one of the panels, Qwabe included a depiction of Dinuzulu seated on a chair. Carefully copied from a photograph taken toward the end of Dinuzulu's life, this image is heraldically enshrined in an elaborate border surmounted by a schematic rendition of the badge of the British Royal Air Force. Further depictions include paired elephants in close association with both kings; a roaring lion; a biplane, which appears to have been traced from a photograph; a boat surrounded by soldiers; and, directly below this scene, Dinuzulu standing on what appears to be a pier. We also see a bishop surrounded by white Afrikaner (Boer) combatants, and other Boers being killed by Zulu warriors. The imagery includes a further, dramatic depiction of a white bartender refusing access to a young black patron wearing tails and a bowtie, and a loosely grouped tableau in which the artist contrasts the lone figure of a comparatively well-dressed woman — presumably an urban migrant carrying the child of a white employer — with that of two women in a rural setting, one of whom is pounding maize meal while the other balances a child on her hip. The lone figure of a woman carrying a child reappears on the edge of the bartender scene, along with a shield-bearing Zulu warrior (see figure 1.2). Other similar warrior figures are scattered across both panels.

Since Qwabe was almost certainly illiterate and would have been in his mid to late teens at the time of King Dinuzulu's death in 1913, his knowledge of Zulu history must have been shaped in part by oral sources, such as the praise poems of kings and chiefs, the communications of emissaries dispatched by the royal family to provide information to rural communities on momentous occasions, and rumors and hearsay. Obvious examples of his familiarity with oral poetry are afforded, for example, by the inclusion of the roaring lion below one of the portrait busts of King Cetshwayo, which was almost certainly suggested by a praise poem referring to the king as the one who gives his people "the anger-heated blood of a lion." Similarly, the two sets of paired elephants associated with images of Cetshwayo and Dinuzulu in other panels invoke the poetic metaphors that praise the rulers' power and invincibility. This panel also includes a scene chronicling Dinuzulu's successful retaliation against an Afrikaner (Boer) settler commando, which occurred toward the end of the South African war of 1899–1902, when Zulu warriors killed Field-Cornet Jan Potgieter (Upotolozi) and his party of fifty-five men. Most ofthose killed were local farmers under the leadership of General Louis Botha, who had destroyed a large Zulu settlement and seized 3,800 cattle and 1,000 sheep and goats.

Like the oral poet who included an oblique reference to this event in Dinuzulu's official praises — "It happened that a Dutchman, Upotolozi,/Placed a hat on your head,/And it happened that the hat suited you" — Qwabe appears not to have relied on historical or chronological logic to structure his narrative of dignity and triumph in the face of adversity. He chose, instead, to establish complex poetic associations in and between the horizontal bands into which his low-relief images are structured. This reliance on associations helps to explain the otherwise incomprehensible prominence of a biplane in one of his panels, for the increasingly daring aeronautical feats of Louis Blériot, the Wright brothers, and others did not begin to unfold in the international press until 1908, at the time of the second trial and subsequent incarceration of King Dinuzulu. The popular illustrated accounts and images of Dinuzulu's trial were often featured alongside others devoted to rapid changes in this new mode of transport. Thus, for example, on December 26, 1908, the front page of the Illustrated London News included a large engraving of several biplanes, with the inscription "A Scene of Three Months Hence. The Great Aeroplane Race at Monte Carlo: An Anticipation," and a short account of the need to revise international law to extend national jurisdiction over the air. On the second page, a photograph entitled "The 'Child' and his Champion" showed King Dinuzulu standing next to Harriet Colenso. She, like her father, the Church of England's first bishop of Natal, was a major advocate for the right to independence of the Zulu kingdom. In a clear allusion to the bishop's role in supporting Zulu resistance to the land encroachments of Afrikaner farmers, Qwabe placed a scene showing Colenso looming over four Boer farmers immediately above the scene depicting the deaths of Field-Cornet Potgieter and his party.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
General Editors' Foreword | Ruth B. Phillips and Nicholas Thomas,
Preface | Elizabeth Harney and Ruth B. Phillips,
INTRODUCTION Inside Modernity: Indigeneity, Coloniality, Modernisms |Elizabeth Harney and Ruth B. Phillips,
ONE Reinventing Zulu Tradition: The Modernism of Zizwezenyanga Qwabe's Figurative Relief Panels | Sandra Klopper,
TWO "Hooked Forever on Primitive Peoples": James Houston and the Transformation of "Eskimo Handicrafts" to Inuit Art | Heather Igloliorte,
THREE Making Pictures on Baskets: Modern Indian Painting in an Expanded Field | Bill Anthes,
FOUR An Intersection: Bill Reid, Henry Speck, and the Mapping of Modern Northwest Coast Art | Karen Duffek,
FIVE Modernism on Display: Negotiating Value in Exhibitions of M?ori Art, 1958–1973 |Damian Skinner,
SIX "Artist of PNG": Mathias Kauage and Melanesian Modernism | Nicholas Thomas,
SEVEN Modernism and the Art of Albert Namatjira | Ian McLean,
EIGHT Cape Dorset Cosmopolitans: Making "Local" Prints in Global Modernity |Norman Vorano,
NINE Natural Synthesis: Art, Theory, and the Politics of Decolonization in Mid-Twentieth-Century Nigeria | Chika Okeke-Agulu,
TEN Being Modern, Becoming Native: George Morrison's Surrealist Journey Home | W. Jackson Rushing III,
ELEVEN Falling into the World: The Global Art World of Aloï Pilioko and Nicolaï Michoutouchkine | Peter Brunt,
TWELVE Constellations and Coordinates: Repositioning Postwar Paris in Stories of African Modernisms | Elizabeth Harney,
THIRTEEN Conditions of Engagement: Mobility, Modernism, and Modernity in the Art of Sydney Kumalo and Jackson Hlungwani | Anitra Nettleton,
FOURTEEN The Modernist Lens of Lutterodt Studios | Erin Haney,
Color Plates,

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The Migrant’s Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora - Saloni Mathur

"This rigorous and intelligent volume makes a major contribution, bringing into visibility a large spectrum of formerly marginalized aesthetic practices and subjectivities in art history's narratives of twentieth-century modernism."

Aboriginal Art - Howard Morphy

Mapping Modernisms offers a rich set of essays by significant figures and rising scholars in their field. Recognizing the complexity of the relationship between individual identity, practice, and cultural and historical processes, the editors have produced an excellent and rewarding volume.”

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