Aaron Douglas and Afriluminism
In 1993 I visited an artists’ workshop in
In little more than a hallway of a chop-shop, an assembly-line of men hacked pieces of wood into animal forms such as giraffes and rhinos, eventually smoothing them before finishing them with felt markers. Similar shops made “tribal masks” and other patronising, hackwork kitsch. Sure, I could blame Western buyers and the media culture that made them think such “rustic” feebleries were the best the continent had to offer.
But I had to admit, so long as the supply existed, the demand would not dry up. If someone made money from the stereotype, the stereotype could never die.
Of course, legions of genuine artists from across the Afrikan planet have generated beauty and wonder for millennia, from the sculptors and painters of ancient Nubia and Egypt to the stunning batik-makers of modern Senegal and the CG-imagists of the US.
Throughout the ages, oppression, ironically, been a powerful engine for cultural production; more predictably, oppression often restricts imagination. Afrikans were devolved into negroes in part by being taught to hate their Afrikanity; to overcome the culture of racial self-hatred, many painters fixated on their skin, turning out canvasses milling with featureless all-black figures at village markets, in worship or at play.
Initially exciting for the exaltation of the racially tabooed skin, the project quickly lost momentum due to the limitation of promoting “black” over “Afrikan,” a philosophy and aesthetic which are only skin-deep, or more accurately, skin-shallow.
But not everyone who painted black figures lacked imagination. One in particular was a genius.
In the 1920s and 30s, uptown
One of the finest painters of the era was Aaron Douglas, founder of a style that might best be called Afriluminism.
Most notably, his figures had eyes. They not only were seen; they could see. They were not merely the objects of history, but its makers. Then there were the settings.
From mythic portraits of Afrikan histories to stunning vistas of African futures, Douglas did in painting what the unfolding literature of Afrofuturism did in print: reveal the continuing epic of Afrikans creating civilisation, overcoming oppression, and building new worlds.
Here in E-Town, local Afrikan artists are depicting their own realities at the TU Gallery’s “5 Artists. One Love” exhibition. “I’d never before seen a show that features local Black artists,” says curator and contributor Darren Jordan, whose own work is a saturated vitality of reds, oranges and purples. Deciding he would create the type of show he’d never seen,
“One Love” features the photorealism of Richard Lipscombe, an artist whose family hails from
Acclaimed poet Langston Hughes was correct when he noted that the decision to write a non-political poem during an epoch of oppression was in and of itself a political decision, but so was African-Canadian writer George Elliot Clark when he told me, “Black people have a right to beauty.” The body of Afrikan artists must collectively create works which illuminate the death camps and the pathways out of them, but they must also decant the light of butterfly wings and canyons at sunrise and distant pulsars and the yearnings of the human heart.
5 Artists. One Love * Feb. 2 – March 8
TU Gallery (http://www.tugallery.ca)
10718 - 124
10am to 5pm Tues-Sat.; Thursdays to 8 pm