For generations, the British travelled around the globe, colonised countries and then nicked all their nice shit for our museums. I mean, the British Museum is great and all, but how do you think they got all that good stuff? Our museums, as a result, sort of relegate other countries to cultural footnotes in our own history. Africa is a collection of tribal masks and ceremonial shields, the Arab world is carpets and calligraphy, etc etc etc.
American artist Fred Wilson undermines all those narratives. In the work here, Wilson draws lines between Africa and the Ottoman Empire. Lining the walls are old Orientalist paintings and prints where single black figures are highlighted, leaving everything else obscured. A neat little inversion. There are African masks and statues on plinths dotted throughout the space, globes painted totally black, African flags reprinted in black and white, cowrie shells sprinkled on the floor. Then, in the middle of the space, two big black Ottoman-tiled walls, swirling with Arabic calligraphy, stand proud. One says ‘Mother Africa’, the other says ‘Black is Beautiful’. Two huge pitch-black glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling, black glass teardrops drip down the walls. It’s direct, obvious, angry art.
Wilson has created a micro-museum of forgotten black history, of conflicting colonial narratives. You feel like he’s grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and screaming into your face: ‘Black people were here! We won’t be forgotten!’ The exhibition is a roar for attention, a demand to be noticed.
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How can a so-called critic be so ignorant simultaneously of history, African culture and art? I can fully believe history is being "rewritten" in his tiny mind, but damn, the self-loathing and revisionism is palpable. Get this guy away from anything vaguely political because it's cringe inducing to read his reductive non-critiques.