In every newsletter of the exhibitions of Project ’1975′ a guest curator or art critic will write an essay on the topic of post-colonialism in contemporary art. The first one to write is Lucrezia Cippitelli, professor of Aesthetics at the Art Academy of L’Aquila, a visiting scholar at Cornell University.
Eurocentrism and its Critique: from Third World Perspectives to Global Internationalism
“Eurocentrism is anti-universalist, since it is not interested in seeking possible general laws of human evolution. But it does present itself as universalist, for it claims that imitation of the Western model by all peoples is the only solution to the challenges of our time.”1 Samir Amin’s incisive analysis of the concept of Eurocentrism traces its origins back to the end of the 1970s. Even if it seems to perfectly depict the world of the early 21st century, this notion first circulated at a time when the global process of decolonization was nearing its conclusion and the postcolonial critique was finding a place in the Anglo-Saxon academic world.2 In his seminal essay published in 1978, the Egyptian Marxist economist uncovers the roots of a phenomenon which he describes as specifically Modern – strongly rooted in the European Renaissance – and built up in only five centuries, in order to justify the powerful and impregnable one-dimensional cultural system of the modern world. The product of this ideological process is, according to Amin, a Western history that shows a progression form ancient Greece to Rome, to feudal Christian Europe, to capitalist Europe.3 It is a cultural construction of a one-dimensional continent (white, Christian, scientifically progressive, in constant philosophical development, enlightened, capitalist, free, democratic), which furthermore over the centuries invented and defended the abstract idea of a dominant West and its counterpart, the Other, the Rest, the Different, and often the Enemy.4
Art history and the global art system are no exception to this ideological construction of a monolithic center of the world opposed to (or imitated by) a wide and undefined periphery. The genesis of the system of the Académies des Beaux Arts may contain the first evidence. The Accademia del Disegno di Firenze was founded in Italy by Giorgio Vasari in 1563, and further developed in France a century later with the establishment of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1648. Since then, gradually in Europe and since the 19th century in the whole world, painters and sculptors acquired the status of “artist” as opposed to a mere “artisan”. Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Khartoum, Algiers and Beijing have the same format for art education, based on the model provided by the France of the Ancien régime.5
Download the SMBA Newsletter No 119 to read the full article.
Lucrezia Cippitelli, PhD, is professor of Aesthetics at the Art Academy of L’Aquila, a visiting scholar at Cornell University, and invited curator of the TIME_FRAME project at NIMK, Amsterdam. She is the author of Alamar Express Lab (Rome, Gangemi, 2007) and co-editor of Tania Bruguera (Milan, Postmedia, 2010).
1 Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, Monthly Review Press, New York: 1989, p. VII.
2 Edward Said’s Orientalism, regarded as central to the post-colonial movement, was published the same year, 1978.
3 Samir Amin, Eurocentrism, p.90.
4 Reflecting upon language, it is interesting to remind ourselves here of how metaphysical and nevertheless pervasive the concept of “West” itself is. In fact, in Arabic the word “Maghreb” literally means “West”: the area of the Arab empire where the sun sets, located in the northern part of the African continent, between the Atlantic coast and Sahara (and often including Malta, Sicily and Andalusia).
5 For an enlightening survey of the internationalization of the European art educational system in the colonies (especially the French educational system), see Jan Loup Amselle’s L’Art de la friche, and specifically the chapter entitled ‘Vers la Françafriche’, where the French anthropologist outlines the concept of “géopolitique du Beau”. Jean-Loup Amselle, L’art de la friche. Essai sur l’art africain contemporain. Paris: Flammarion 2005, pp. 129-161.
For a critical history of the construction of the artistic educational system in West African colonies and its clash with local artistic production, see also Olu Oguibe’s ‘Nationalism, Modernity, Modernism’ in The Culture Game, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004, pp. 47-59.