Manding or Miniakna peoples (Mali or Guinea). Early 20th century.
Beauty stops us in our tracks. It makes us pause, look, consider. Sometimes it overwhelms us. We are often told art should aspire to this standard and be proportionate, symmetrical, naturalistic, and orderly. But what of work that is designed to revolt and terrify? Across subSaharan Africa, artists working across a range of states, societies, and cultures deliberately created artwork that violated conceptions of beauty, symmetry, and grace—both ours and theirs. Subverting Beauty features approximately two dozen works from sub-Saharan African’s colonial period (c.1880-c. 1960) that are accumulative, composite, crude, counterintuitive, and disproportionate. More importantly still, it explores the reasons why artists working during this turbulent period in the continent’s history turned against beauty in order to express the meaning and vitality of their day-to-day existence.
(Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Museum of Art.)