Seanne N. Murray
Words and Art, When Does Tradition Begin?
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Leonardo Da Vinci is my favorite polymath.
I am a fan of the so labeled Renaissance period given the nature of freedom to connect, explore and discover the many elements of learning whilst recognizing the fluidity amongst and between all art forms, science, and technology.
Of course, those activities and notions were not new to that period given the exploration of the cultures that preceded the roaring Middle Ages.
Renaissance itself indicates a renewed interest in something.
So, really it is a study of what already exists, the known and unknown.
African art, based on time alone, is the original art, with the oldest found artifacts dated around 70,000 B.C.
As I learn more about the oft pretentious world of art and its categories and subcategories, I find the language deeply concerning.
When I see words like “traditional” clearly associated with European art, it confuses me knowing that the long-established history of art and culture began centuries before artworks evolved from European artisans.
Currently, Sanford Biggers, described as a Harlem-based interdisciplinary artist who works in film/video, installation, sculpture, music, and performance, has an installation at Rockefeller Center.
Some say that his sculpture subverts “traditional” sculpture, challenging the motifs of “classical” artwork.
Mr. Biggers explains his series of bronze pieces as a combination of African masks and European figures to explore mythologies in those cultures.
Benin bronzes were made over 600 years in the Kingdom of Benin. What could possibly be more traditional than anything connected to African sculpture in bronze?
Afrofuturism, a term coined in 1993, denotes themes of African culture, science fiction and technology. However, these pieces often highlight historical evidence of advances that date back thousands of years that are not new nor part of some Black Pantheresque revolution, the feature film, not the movement.
Timbuktu, in Mali, is one of the oldest Universities in recorded history with over 7000 handwritten books is its public library dating back to the 14th century. Perhaps, we are now in the revival or renaissance, as it were, of that period.
The Kingdom of Kush, not a sci-fi creation, reached its peak in the second millennium BC and is home to ruins of over 200 pyramids, more than all of Egypt.
Is that not part of our world tradition and history on which our current time and future have and will continue to be based? Is that not the epitome of both classical and traditional?
As a side note, the richest human being to have ever lived was Mansa Musa, an African ruler from the 1300’s whose wealth is estimated at $400 billion, leaving Jeff Bezos in the proverbial African dust though he is often identified as the world’s first ever $200 billionaire.
Even as I write this, somehow Mansa Musa manages to disturb my spell check, but Bezos does not. I guess that is a Bill Gates problem and indicative of the depths of informational lack that are pervasive in our technology today.
Mansa Musa should be a name that easily falls from the tongue given his wealth and his stature as the only man who single handedly devalued gold via his generosity to the poor.
The real question here is when does tradition begin? Does it begin with history, with the beginning of mankind or is it established arbitrarily by the powers that be with a limited and often inaccurate point of view?
In this day and age of diversity, equity and inclusion, a phrase I truly abhor, catchy with its DEI abbreviation better suited for Don’t Engage In racism, it is appropriate to evaluate word choices with intrinsic bias and historical incorrectness.
Art, with all of its beauty and/or disgrace, as seen in the eye of the beholder, should be free of bias that limits its construct by time.
Tradition that excludes thousands of years of heritage shines through even without wisdom as history, itself, is indelible.