As humans, we are able to identify ourselves as persons. However, there is also the language, the culture, the mentality embedded in our consciousness, and thus we perceive the concept of “I” within the framework of a much more extensive and complicated concept, which is the “nation.” Postcolonial studies, which are the matter of our current interest, are the science’s attempts to explore national identity in the postcolonial world and how humans perceive it.
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The term “postcolonialism” implies the cessation of the Mother Country’s predominance over the colonized ones and the historical period after the colonization. In art, postcolonialism is usually described as a form antagonistic to colonialism. Anita Seppä (2010) interprets the term as a historical consequence of the colonized peoples’ negative experiences (para. 43). The author also allocates several features of postcolonial art.
Postcolonialism seeks to disrupt the power of the colonists and turn their violence back unto them. There is an idea that postcolonialism is used detrimentally as a means of resetting the world into a binary model: pre- and postcolonial (McClintock, 1995, p. 11). Seppä confronts this idea by asserting that postcolonial art depicts the glory of the Western history in an inverted fashion of violence and brutality.
Finally, postcolonial art, in addition to being by nature hybridist – that is, incorporating the opposite cultures and integrating them into a whole, – makes a mockery of the opposing culture. It does so by using visual power and making it look somewhat underdone (Seppä, 2010, para. 44).
Thus, the postcolonial art represents the lost self in the world were the colonies are gone but the colonialist mind still lingers. It is focused around the multidimensional, amalgam model of the world and the search which is plagued by the perception of the unified rooting of all humans. One of the artists whose works are perforated with constant search and are a unique example of postcolonial art was Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Jean-Michel Basquiat had Haitian to Puerto-Rican to African to African American heritage and was aware of it. He began as a spray painter vandalizing the state property with enigmatic and clever aphorisms; at the age of twenty, he exhibited his artwork publicly (Parker).
His African American identity was emphasized by his reviewers to create an image familiar and recognizable in white society. However, in his masterpieces as well as in his public appearances, Basquiat eternalized the image himself. He acted in a triangular set of patterns: he was simultaneously a victim of violence, a force of power in flesh, and an entity rebellious against the binary world. He even thought of himself as an incarnation of African deities (Okpewho, Davies, and Mazrui, 2011, p. 439).
As for the art, Basquiat’s self-assigned celestial nature can be traced as one of the most powerful motifs. Another one was the artist’s perception of the world as a hybrid, a culture galore where his self got inevitably lost. He was only too well aware how multisided and versatile cultural experience could be.
The hybridity of the world, in his perception, consisted in the culture paradigm shift. He was an African American in the US, and this made him reconsider whether the national identity was at all stable. He came to a conclusion that it was not and these concerns are visible in his works. A plethora of identities within one human mind could not allow for a binary model of the world especially since he had known that, on the inside, humans were all alike (Dimitriadis and McCarthy, 2001, p. 95).
Thus, Basquiat did not comply the colonialist collective subconscious and made masterful attempts at using the colonist ideas against the latent colonizers. His work represents the search of an identity and the multifaceted perception of the world, which are the attributes of postcolonial art and history.
Gordon Bennett was raised oblivious to his Aboriginal roots. However, working at Telecom, he had to face racism in everyday, routine form, and he decided to find his identity. His artwork was an indispensable part of the search (Heiser, 2000, para. 1). He was inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat as an artist since the latter had not lived to meet Bennett personally.
Gordon Bennett recognized the struggle for identity as something beyond the boundaries of history and cultural context; it was a point both artists shared. He also appreciated Basquiat’s style and thought he understood the causes of Basquiat’s drug issues that led to the untimely death (Gordon Bennett, para. 10). As to the postcolonialism in Gordon Bennett’s artwork, it addresses the issues of the lost identity and the fracture of the world into multiple cultures – and the binarity of it, at the same time.
He feels the terrible historical mistakes and reproduces them on his canvases. His works lack Basquiat’s mimetic mockery of the binary world, instead appearing somewhat didactic. Nevertheless, the artist embodies the ideas of the likeness of all humans as he tries to seek an unused and non-banal way to voice his concerns over political and social issues in the form of postcolonial imagery. (Heiser, 2000, para. 3).
Dimitriadis, Greg, and Cameron McCarthy. Reading and Teaching the Postcolonial: From Baldwin to Basquiat and Beyond. New York, New York: Teachers College Press, 2001.
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“Gordon Bennett.” Visual Arts. Assessed January 14, 2016. http://visualarts.qld.gov.au/apt3/artists/artist_bios/gordon_bennett_a.htm
Heiser, Jorg. “Gordon Bennett.” Frieze Magazine 51 (2000). https://frieze.com/article/gordon-bennett
McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York, New York: Routledge, 1995.
Okpewho, Isidore, Carole Boyce Davies, and Ali A. Mazrui. The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2011.
Parker, Kimberley. “Basquiat, Jean-Michel.” Postcolonial Studies. Last modified April, 2012. https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/10/basquiat-jean-michel/
Seppä, Anita. “Globalisation and the arts: the rise of new democracy, or just another pretty suit for the old emperor?” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 2 (2010).