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Rewriting Memories and Denouncing History: Postcolonial Art
Feminisms and Other Engagements
24.07.2020 | Nina Meisel

Pushpamala N., The arrival of Vasco de Gama, 2014, Giclee print on canvas, concept, production and direction: Pushpamala N., © Photo: Clay Kelton, 152.4 x 213.3 cm, © Pushpamala N.

Ideological and political struggles and art often converge and fuel one another, offering each visibility and expressive power. Born in the second half of the twentieth century, postcolonial studies are a critical reaction to the legacy of Western hegemony. They propose historical re-readings of the ways of life and traditions of civilisations that existed before this imperialism. In this context, artists have found the key to these readings and give rise to new ideas, while allowing new figures to emerge.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the black activist and female artist Augusta Savage (1892-1962) sculpted the faces of her comrades in clay and became an emblem of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement to restore African-American culture during the interwar period. During the 1960s Gazbia Sirry (born in 1925) made her work a bias of critical observation of the political universe of contemporary Egypt. Today, Rebecca Belmore (born in 1960), renews postcolonial demands. She denounces the perpetuation of racialised stereotypes motivated by the tourism industry in Canada by highlighting the violence of these clichés and questioning the alienation of one culture by another. Archives, a tool of the historian, invite themselves into creations as a guarantee of authenticity, but also as a witness to the violence of the past. To speak about the narrative of white domination and to shed light on the present, Berry Bickle (born in 1959), a white Zimbabwean artist, uses these traces of the past in connection with a symbolist dialectic to address the suffering and the prospects for liberation in her country. Others appropriate documents to change their destination and perception. From the 1990s in India, Pushpamala N. (born in 1956) has staged cultural prejudices to denounce and deride them in her photographs, which resemble exotic and folkloric images that could be found on postcards at the beginning of the twentieth century. Malala Andrialavidrazana (born in 1971) focuses her work on memory, which she documents by meeting the inhabitants of the Indian Ocean. Thus, by writing her own history, she seeks to rediscover the ancestral traditions that have not given way to Western imperialism offering keys to a sociological reading of these territories.

For some, creation is a means of asserting new identities, a quest that already existed at the beginning of the 20th century. After the Mexican revolution, María Izquierdo (1902-1955) worked for a time with the muralists who created didactic frescoes. The painter began a reflection with them on art and the enhancement of their cultural identity. Irma Stern (1894-1966), a white South African creator, documented in her notebooks the daily essence of African life, which she deplored as a victim of colonisation, urbanisation and capitalism. Lubaina Himid (born in 1954) questions the marginalization of the African diaspora in society and in contemporary art and actively participates in the recognition of black women within British Black Art. Today, Pélagie Gbaguidi (born in 1965), works on memory transmission that links the past, present and future in which she projects bodies washed of all social norms, gender, race. This representation of being, aberrant for our societies, makes the present universal and restorative. It is through the re-appropriation of traditional rituals and ceremonies that Australian Phyllis Thomas Booljoongali (1940-2018) reaffirms her Aboriginal identity.

Postcolonial considerations, like those on gender, permeate all strata of the art world and push institutions to join in as well. This gives rise to events such as the symposium “What is a Post-Colonial Exhibition?” which took place on 25 May 2012 at the Framer Framed in Amsterdam. Another example is Okwui Enwezor’s The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition, published in 2003.

Explore the artists
1925 — 2021 | Egypt
Gazbia Sirry - AWARE

Gazbia Sirry

1960 | Canada
Rebecca Belmore - AWARE

Rebecca Belmore

1956 | India
Pushpamala N. - AWARE

Pushpamala N.

1959 | Zimbabwe
Berry Bickle - AWARE

Berry Bickle

1902 — 1955 | Mexico
María  Izquierdo - AWARE

María Izquierdo

1971 | Madagascar
Malala Andrialavidrazana - AWARE

Malala Andrialavidrazana

1954 | Tanzania
Lubaina Himid - AWARE

Lubaina Himid

1894 — 1966 | South Africa
Irma Stern - AWARE

Irma Stern

1940 — 2018 | Australia
Phyllis Booljoonngali Thomas - AWARE

Phyllis Booljoonngali Thomas

1965 | Senegal
Pélagie Gbaguidi - AWARE

Pélagie Gbaguidi

1964 | South Africa
Berni Searle - AWARE

Berni Searle

1959 | United States
Renée Green - AWARE

Renée Green

1924 — 2004 | Tunisia
Safia Farhat - AWARE

Safia Farhat

1964 | Brazil
Adriana Varejão - AWARE

Adriana Varejão

1970 | Israël
Yael Bartana - AWARE

Yael Bartana

1924 — 1989 | Egypt
Inji Efflatoun - AWARE

Inji Efflatoun

1946 | Turkey
Gülsün  Karamustafa - AWARE

Gülsün Karamustafa

1964 | Australia
Fiona Foley - AWARE

Fiona Foley

1972 | Lebanon
Lamia Joreige - AWARE

Lamia Joreige

1971 | Malaysia
Yee I-Lann - AWARE

Yee I-Lann

1957 | Australia
Destiny  Deacon - AWARE

Destiny Deacon

1970 | United States
Wura-Natasha Ogunji - AWARE

Wura-Natasha Ogunji

1970 | Nigeria
Marcia Kure - AWARE

Marcia Kure

1960 — 2008 | United Kingdom
Maud Sulter - AWARE

Maud Sulter

1964 | New Zealand
Lisa Reihana - AWARE

Lisa Reihana

1971 | New Zealand
Ani O’Neill - AWARE

Ani O’Neill

1942 | Nigeria
Colette Omogbai - AWARE

Colette Omogbai

1942 | New Zealand
Maureen Lander - AWARE

Maureen Lander

1950 | New Zealand
Kura Te Waru Rewiri - AWARE

Kura Te Waru Rewiri

1937 | New Zealand
Marilynn Webb - AWARE

Marilynn Webb

1956 | Morocco
Lalla Essaydi - AWARE

Lalla Essaydi

1966 | Zambia
Agnes Buya Yombwe - AWARE

Agnes Buya Yombwe

1926 | United States
Betye Saar - AWARE

Betye Saar

1971 | United States
Mickalene Thomas - AWARE

Mickalene Thomas

1962 | India
Sutapa Biswas - AWARE

Sutapa Biswas

1935 — 1974 | Brazil
Maria Auxiliadora da Silva - AWARE

Maria Auxiliadora da Silva

1948 | United States
Joyce J. Scott - AWARE

Joyce J. Scott

1960 | United States
Lorna Simpson - AWARE

Lorna Simpson

1948 | United States
Deborah Willis - AWARE

Deborah Willis

1967 | United States
Simone Leigh - AWARE

Simone Leigh

1961 | Jamaica
Jasmine Thomas-Girvan - AWARE

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

1959 | Greenland
Jessie Kleemann - AWARE

Jessie Kleemann

1965 | Australia
Julie Gough - AWARE

Julie Gough

1958 | Colombia
Doris Salcedo - AWARE

Doris Salcedo

1969 | United States
Kara Walker - AWARE

Kara Walker

1951 — 2021 | Japan
Tāri Itō - AWARE

Tāri Itō

1963 | France
Zineb Sedira - AWARE

Zineb Sedira

1959 | Japan
Yoshiko Shimada - AWARE

Yoshiko Shimada

1957 | United States
Cheryl Ann Bolden - AWARE

Cheryl Ann Bolden

1953 | Guadeloupe, France
Michèle Chomereau-Lamotte - AWARE

Michèle Chomereau-Lamotte

1940 | Philippines
Brenda Fajardo - AWARE

Brenda Fajardo

1941 | United Kingdom
Sue Williamson - AWARE

Sue Williamson

1959 | Australia
Judy Watson - AWARE

Judy Watson

1963 | Nigeria
Mary Evans - AWARE

Mary Evans

1944 | Martinique, France
Roseman Robinot - AWARE

Roseman Robinot

1964 | Martinique, France
Valérie John - AWARE

Valérie John

1909 — 1981 | Martinique, France
Marie-Thérèse Julien Lung-Fou - AWARE

Marie-Thérèse Julien Lung-Fou

1945 | Lebanon
Seta Manoukian (Ani Pema Drolma) - AWARE

Seta Manoukian (Ani Pema Drolma)

1966 | Netherlands
Patricia Kaersenhout - AWARE

Patricia Kaersenhout

1899 — the Netherlands | 1984 — Surinam
Nola Hatterman - AWARE

Nola Hatterman

1910 — 2004 | Martinique, France
Paule Charpentier - AWARE

Paule Charpentier

1967 | États-Unis
Marie Watt - AWARE

Marie Watt

1971 | French Guiana
Nathalie Leroy Fiévée - AWARE

Nathalie Leroy Fiévée

1938 — 2015 | Uruguay
Nelbia Romero - AWARE

Nelbia Romero

1969 | United States
Nao Bustamante - AWARE

Nao Bustamante

1969 | Netherlands
Sara Blokland - AWARE

Sara Blokland

1960 | United States
Coco Fusco - AWARE

Coco Fusco

1947 | Palestine
Efrat Natan - AWARE

Efrat Natan

1969 | Guyana
Moira Pernambuco - AWARE

Moira Pernambuco

1959 | Canada
Dana Claxton - AWARE

Dana Claxton

1933 | Algeria
Djamila Bent Mohamed - AWARE

Djamila Bent Mohamed

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