PRINT December 2021



Photo: Brian J. Green.

Drawing on Oswald de Andrade’s storied 1928 “Manifesto Antropófago” (Anthropophagic Manifesto) and what might be called the ethics of cannibalism, Afro-Atlantic Histories (DelMonico Books/Museu de Arte de São Paulo), edited by Adriano Pedrosa and Tomás Toledo, embraces the art of four continents to reject the “canned consciousness” Andrade lamented as the bane of life. Considerably revised from its initial manifestation as a publication accompanying the 2018 exhibition of the same name (which was organized by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo and the Instituto Tomie Ohtake and will soon embark on an ambitious US tour), Afro-Atlantic Histories breathes new life into comparative looking, demonstrating that side-by-side comparison can reveal a spirit of companionship rather than competition. Boasting a striking array of juxtapositions, including Victor Meirelles’s 1862 portrait of conductor Henrique Alves de Mesquita next to Barkley L. Hendricks’s 1972 portrait of George Jules Taylor, the book slices through the silos of ethnic, cultural, and area studies to inch closer to the geometry of an actual and imagined movement in which artworks are imbricated. As is to be expected of any multiauthor volume, the essays within are uneven; one looks forward to what readers will do with the cumulative product: a feast of images and ideas that moves decisively away from histories that invariably prioritize representation and authorial intention over the apparent sentience of artworks traversing multiple historical, cultural, and political frameworks. Borrowing from Paul Gilroy’s construct of a “Black Atlantic” while also recognizing slavery’s afterlives, Afro-Atlantic Histories raises the stakes of so-called global modernism by boldly setting forth the conditions of an art history that is for, rather than against, a global majority—a majority with which existing institutional structures have only just begun to reckon.

Joan Kee is a professor in the history of art at the University of Michigan and a contributing editor of Artforum. She is currently working on a book-length project titled The Geometries of Afro Asia.