History has different colours
Some years ago I was standing in front of Abu Semple temple in South Egypt, after taking around inside the temple. Two meters away stood a lot of street art, expressing the Egyptian Youths' thoughts and passions, which grabbed my attention but never the attention of my western colleagues. This is a matter of taste but also it is a matter of recognition: Which art is to be recognized and which not? How does history affect people's taste in art and their ability to criticize it? If the art of today is an actual result of a history and of human production, will we study it isolated from a more comprehensive history? To be explicit, can we study art without criticizing the Eurocentric colonial perspective?
Supporting the decolonize KunstGeschichte campaign changed the structure of this article in order to contribute to the discussion around this topic at the University. This is built around a shared opinion of the campaign's desire to create a society of many, an art of many and a future of many, moving towards equality through the tools of education, awareness, and a critical analysis of history and power positions.
To define what is a more comprehensive reading of history, one needs to break through the normative historical view written by people in power, the power constructed by colonialist and postcolonialist global structures. One needs to be able to criticize such histories, as illustrated by the Senegalese historian and writer Check Anti Diop. He states: “Only a loyal, determined struggle to destroy cultural aggression and bring out the truth, whatever it may be, is revolutionary and consonant with real progress; it is the only approach which opens on to the universal. Humanitarian declarations are not called for and add nothing to real progress.” In The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, Cheick dedicates his work to find another perspective on history, arguing that the history of Africa today as well as the history of the world and without a doubt art history- is written by the colonizers. There must have been a systematic erasing of the histories and the cultures of the powerless colonized societies, which represented the majority of the population. Clearly, to oppress a society you need to oppress their culture and their history. This is to demonstrate to them that there is no way back from their current state and to force the colonialist history on the population, a history that started when the first European Adventurer stepped on their land.
This kind of history created the very complicated relationship between Europe and the others, as summarized by Sartre's introduction to Frantz Fanon: “In the colonies, the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on the native had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full of high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country, they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam."
We continually try to take the step forward and, after all of these years, we still talk about decolonization because we recognize the small power structures responsible for creating not only the public taste and but also the critical methodologies in art and in history. This hegemony that has covered all of the worlds has one sound and one smell. Gramsci defined cultural hegemony as the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of that society—the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and more—so that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm. The universally valid dominant ideology justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class or ruling power.
So when street art is juxtaposed next to an ancient temple, the street art is deemed valueless in comparison to this ancient historical landmark, full of artifacts and writings from Ancient Egypt. No one, including myself and my fellow colleagues, paid enough attention to the art on the street- it was not recognized as art in the same way the temple was. This historical line of artistic development in Egypt was cut somewhere: there was some shift in history that marginalized this area and kicked it out of the creative vision of the universe, and this shift was colonialism.
Decolonisation is one of the tactics to deconstruct this existing discriminative system and its hegemony. It comprehensively constructs the society of many in a way such that everybody is visible- away from a centralized culture excluding populations and appropriating their art and their culture. A society where everybody is not only visible but also normal. To start this decolonization process we all need to study art and art history from a wider perspective with professors sharing a critical viewpoint to the Eurocentric history. There is a need for visibility, a need for a real development, for building a society where all have voices- and not where there is only one voice: that of violence.