“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”
— Frantz Fanon
As we stroll through IRREVERSIBLE 100 MOST– the magnificent exhibition dedicated to the third anniversary of this publication which has now grown indispensable to the art scene, our minds can’t help but recount the long history of art from the symbolic, classic, to the romantic, from the modern with its various phases—impressionism, futurism, expressionism… to the neo-modern and its grandiose moment—Cubism. However…
There is no progress in art. There is a history of art and there are phases, periods and battles. Cubism dismantled the until then mono-perspective way which rendered the object from one angle alone, to present the visage for a sight as true from the side we see than the one we don’t. Henceforth, representation is no longer singular. The object is total in the simultaneity of all its faces. It exits the plan of representation to give us its completeness. It moved us out of the prison of a stereotyped gaze to present rather than represent. It pushed us to enter the object no longer limited by its front-view—a segmented vision. We exited the canvas!
Speaking on March 19th 1966 in Dakar, Senegal at the opening of the first Black World Festival, Leopold Sedar Senghor, a founder of the Negritude movement said: “One must be aware of the fact developing before our very eyes, by a civilization that embraces all continents, all races, and all peoples of the Earth. The progress of science, the development of methods of transportation and information, the exchanges of people, goods and ensuing ideas have resulted, in this second half of the 20th century, in the fact that people are no longer strangers. We are thrown together. This leads to imperialistic greed of some, to resistance of others, and to tensions and conflicts. However, despite hatred and wars, we must enter into talks, negotiate and organize together, among people, our region, our continent and our planet Earth. Therefore, a Universal Civilization has been developing since the start of the 20th century, in which each continent, each race and each people make a positive contribution.”
The speedy progress of sciences and methods of information, the exchanges, tensions, conflicts, dialogue, negotiation, contestation, rejection, appropriation and the organization of the planet we know witness would have probably led Senghor to summarize globalization!
Our era—the contemporary also engages its battles—of a celebration of montages of materiality of “balliage of mineral, vegetal and animal detritus, of dust and sand” as Dubuffet recounted, of mixing to the point of residue which once applied to the canvas, gives an apparently grayish ensemble. But, at a closer look, this broken material reveals a kind of liturgy, a kind of resurrection of things, it contains marvels! We can see butterflies, unknown flowers, vegetation, vitality, exuberance, the unimaginable “texturology”! The fingerprint! There is a sample of our era-contemporary art.
Here, noble, natural and solid materials such as gold, marble stucco, stone! They are no more! “I went to take mud, I went to take the most despicable materials, the most inexistent, those that were taken back to the state of amorphy and tried to pull a texturology from them, to lift life, the deaf but infinite life they contain which I am evidencing for you.” (Dubuffet)
What our contemporary artists offer for our gaze to linger upon are remedies to our frustrations and psychoses that impose a fuzzy rationality; a challenge to the spirit that manipulates things. These artists have escaped our cannons and norms, our rules and precepts to point toward the path of art thus rescuing us from a world that seems not to contain anything, anymore.
While the past had only to throw bridges toward the real, contemporary art embraces it for itself; here, we are in reality! It is in total darkness that one can better see the light: extraordinary reflections ranging from a subtle violet to yellow, blue, etc., making it so that there is mobility. This art then becomes an optical instrument that allows decomposing light and revealing its specter. This is a physical as well as metaphysical experience.
Materiality has always been exploited by the human. It has been devoted to various usages but is still unknown. Contemporary art takes materiality in itself, for itself. It is no longer about representation of something else; it is itself, for itself. Everything before was representation having to do with image, now, there is no more image, there is montage—an ensemble of the real.
The canvas is no longer the frame; it is a piece of cloth that can be turned upside down; there is no more sense because sense would means that we are still in an optic of spatiality of the Cartesian type. Contemporary art is somewhat like the transposition of what has been the renewing of physics and the cosmos in the beginning of the twentieth century. It has once again undone the representation we’ve had of the world to show us that all work of art don’t hang on a wall.
Contemporary art has its own fundamental laws: no one has the right to make again what others have already done: here is its sovereign and eminent principle: Innovation! Welcome to a new world. We cannot redo experiences; change must come for this generation to fulfill its mission.
Babacar MBow is the International Programs & Exhibits Coordinator for the Broward County Libraries Division in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Managing Editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture, ABC-CLIO, (2008) and editor, The Idea of Modernity in Contemporary Haitian Art, Deschamps Educa-Vision (2008)