Thoughts on Gikandi’s reading

The Gikandi reading was interesting as I for one have long regarded Picasso as the grandfather of modern art but now, I have my doubts. The first thing that came to my mind was the question of plagiarism. I mean, Picasso didn’t exactly credit the Africans for “borrowing” their pieces of cultural artifacts and instead, he as well as other scholars have shied away from acknowledging the African influence in the history of modernism. He defended himself by saying that Africa had a psychological effect on him but it was not a formal influence on modernism. But how does one differentiate a subconscious effect from a formal influence? I personally feel that there are many close similarities if not blatant imitations of African masks in Picasso’s work eg. the Grebo mask. As such, is Picasso guilty of plagiarism? If so, can he still be hailed as a great modern artist? I think that we as appreciators of art need to redefine our standards of what a great artist is. We are very much contributors to this cycle of exploitation if we fail to acknowledge the Africans’ art culture and their role in the history of modern art.
Also another question to ponder: are the Africans subalterns since the modernists have erased their existence from history? If so, can their voices ever be represented authentically using the English language given the many issues concerned with translation? Sorry this post has more questions than answers ☺

General thoughts on Modernism

Upon reading through the suggested literature for this week, Gikandi’s essay on the role of Africa in Picasso’s oeuvre seems to best embody the relationship between Modernism and Empire the module seems to call into question. In tracing the birth of Modernism back to a localized incident in the African context, Gikandi highlights the fact that in the legitimate and recognized realm of contemporary culture, the non-European, non-white elements are relegated to the peripheries by default.

The ‘other’ is given a voice through the vehicle of Modernism, but only momentarily, and that too, for the purpose of defining the ‘self’ by what it is not. The ‘other’ is stripped off any individual identity independent of one that has no correlation to the mainstream European ‘self’, hence any power delegated to African culture is one contained within the parameters of the white gaze as objects defining and supporting the pre-established principles and identity of European aesthetics.

An image congruent to this would be that of postive and negative space in aesthetics, wherby white and black can stand for either/or, despite the fact they are chromatically binary opposites.


Fig 1: Spaces between Moth (donald mackay,

The use of equal amounts of positive and negative space in a composition is what classically defines visual art as ‘good’, and with Modernism being a reactionary movement celebrating the upheaval of the classical, this formulaic nature of aesthetics is re-evaluated in literal terms in the aesthetic works themselves, yet with respect to the influences and foundations of the form itself, it ironically reverts back to the concept of defining what it is by what it is not–and what it can never admit to being influenced by.