The Financial Times has an interesting story about the limitations in thinking about cultural works as rooted in parochial nations. The essay begins with the example of African writers who had been huge international sellers in the 18th Century. Then it moves to art:
An expectation that art should express nationhood can even act as a straitjacket. Frank Bowling, the Guyanese-born artist who won the silver medal to David Hockney’s gold at London’s Royal College of Art in 1962, uses a vibrant palette in his abstract work, sometimes touched by memory and history. His early “Map Paintings”, revealing the contours of an enlarged South America through layers of colour, reimagined a decolonised world, around the time that Jasper Johns and other US artists were deploying maps and flags to question US power.
But the hostility Bowling met as a Caribbean-born painter daring to venture into abstraction sent him to the psychoanalyst’s couch. As he told me in 2007: “People had a locked-in view of what I should be doing as an artist; that my role was to represent a certain viewpoint.” His huge map canvases languished in storage for three decades until they emerged to cause a stir at the 2003 Venice Biennale.
Bowling’s rising reputation (his “Poured Paintings” were shown at Tate Britain in London two years ago) is part of a wider movement shaking the art world. Along with a proliferation of biennales, there has been an acquisition drive to fill glaring gaps in the collections of western art institutions such as the Tate, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
This dawning reappraisal of generations of artists from the global south, or its diasporas, is also calling into question what one international art curator at Tate Modern, Kerryn Greenberg, recognises as western art history’s “linear narrative of modernism”.