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Posts Tagged ‘colonization

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”*…

 

cabinet_kiosk_9_june_2020_nagel_alexander_01

Artist unknown (Cristovão de Figueiredo?), Hell, Museu da Arte Antiga, Lisbon, ca. 1515. Oil on oak, 119 x 217.5 cm.

 

Naked people are tumbling into the picture through a circular opening at top right, their features immediately blurred by rising heat and smoke. Below, various bodies are being put to the flames, a traditional punishment for those consumed by lust in their lifetimes…

No one knows who painted this depiction of hell, or who asked for it to be made, or even what purpose it served. We only know that it was done in about 1515 in Lisbon. To my eye, the facial types resemble those of the royal painter Cristovão de Figueiredo, who died in 1525. Several of the strange motifs—the figure with bent knee on a crutch, the pig orifice, the spurting fire, the beak-nosed figure, and the albino monster—are closely drawn from a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch that was in Portugal (probably in the Portuguese royal collection) at the time, and now hangs in the same museum as this painting.

Our painting of hell is big, much bigger than you might expect from looking at a photo. It doesn’t fit clearly into any category of picture known at the time. It is an independent panel, not a scene in a fresco cycle that gains meaning from the larger program. It’s not an altarpiece, nor is it a typical private devotional image, which would have been smaller. Its oblong shape suggests it was not part of a larger structure, as in triptychs by Bosch and others, where hell occupies one compartment, one part of a larger statement about human life and the world. This is a big stand-alone painting of a subject that normally didn’t stand alone. The painting lowers you right down to the sub-basement of hell and lets you look. The looking begins as voyeuristic fascination and then sinks into self-reflection…

There had been paintings of hell before, showing people (much like the people for whom the paintings were made) undergoing various punishments for their sins. But this painting no longer represents generic humanity. Here, the tortured are marked as white Europeans, being punished by mostly swarthy monsters with distinctly exotic trappings drawn from the newly encountered inhabitants of the farthest ends of the world—all the way down the African coast, all the way across the (Atlantic) Western Ocean, and, possibly, as far as India. And the punishments seem to concentrate on the sins unleashed by the European expeditions, the sins of rapaciousness: lust, gluttony, and greed. The monks and friars who accompanied these expeditions, tacking missionary work onto commercial exploits, are emphatically included among the damned…

Turning the colonial gaze back on the colonizers, the painting presents the hairstyles of the Europeans, such as the tonsures, in the manner of recent European reports and images depicting the strange hair and stylings of outlandish natives. Here, Europeans themselves go naked, just as bestselling accounts were then describing the inhabitants of America, Africa, and India. Here, white people are the rapacious ones, the lusty ones, the ridiculous ones, and the defeated ones. Two faces, the albino monster to the left and the flame mask to the right, turn toward us as if to say, yes, I know you’re enjoying watching this, and have you considered this might be you?

Some images from the period—just a few—show the costs of subjection and colonization for the native populations of America, Asia, and Africa. Almost none, apart from this one, prod their viewers to imagine the costs for the colonizers themselves…

Alexander Nagel offers a close reading of a remarkable work, a 1515 painting that turns a mirror on its viewers: “Hell is for White People” (much larger reproduction of the painting available there).

* Oscar Wilde

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As we see ourselves in others, we might recall that Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro González died on this date in 1541.  In the event Pizarro was assassinated in the palace he’d built himself to rule over Peru, after he’d conquered the Incas (and executed their leader Atahuapla).  Pizarro’s death was in retaliation for his own murder of an old partner, then rival, Diego de Almagro.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill”*…

 

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans? Then the Reconquista never happens. Spain and Portugal don’t kickstart Europe’s colonization of other continents. And this is what Africa might have looked like.

The map – upside down, to skew our traditional Eurocentric point of view – shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations. All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography. None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa. By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass. Only the Abyssinian Empire (modern-day Ethiopia) and Liberia (founded in 1847 as a haven for freed African-American slaves) remained independent…

More alternative– but instructive– history at “Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent.”

* Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

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As we explore, we might send an elegantly-filmed birthday greeting to Sidney Poitier; he was born on this date in 1927 (to Bahamian parents visiting Miami).  An acclaimed actor, he became the first Bahamian and first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (in 1964, for his role in Lilies of the Field). Then in 1967, he starred in three successful films, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year.  Poitier went on to direct a number of films, and in 2010 was awarded another Oscar, the Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.”  Poitier led a active life off-stage as well: he served as Bahamian ambassador to both Japan and UNESCO, and served as a director of the Walt Disney Company.  He was knighted in 1974, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 2009.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

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