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Francis Newton Souza’s Black Art and Other Paintings: Episodes from a Non-Aligned History of Art

Date and Time: 
Friday, November 12, 2021. 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Board Room and Zoom
Workshop: 
Decolonizing Archives, Rethinking Historical Methods
Meeting Description: 

Atreyee Gupta, Assistant Professor, Department of History of Art, and Co-Director of the South Asia Art Initiative at UC Berkeley will present "Francis Newton Souza’s Black Art and Other Paintings: Episodes from a Non-Aligned History of Art."

When Black Art and Other Paintings opened in London’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1966, the monochromatic black canvases that Francis Newton Souza—a South Asian artist from Goa then based in London—had painted between 1964 and 1965 shocked viewers. Viewers initially encountered the artworks as an immersive whole whose uniformity invoked the aesthetic universalism promised in abstraction. But this was only the surface; underneath lurked figures whose smidgeons became vaguely discernible only after the eyes adjusted to blackness. Seeing through blackness necessitated a kind of funambulist opticality whose demand was bodily. For in order to see the figures embedded in black paint, the viewer had to assume a range of difficult postures and hold them until both the light and the angle of vision were suitable for the act of viewing to finally begin. Why did Souza wish to amplify an embodied particularity over the alleged universality of vision as evinced in the discussion around abstraction and color on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s? What meaning did black, as a color, have for the South Asian artist? In the postwar North Atlantic worlds, the color black had remained associated with infinity, spirituality, and transcendence. In contrast, conceived at the intersections of mid-century nonalignment and global civil rights movements, Souza’s Black Art vitalized pictorial representation with pressing questions of political representation. Today, they urge us to consider the coordinates of decolonization and creative expression along an axis that is more capacious than we have acknowledged thus far.


About the Speaker

Atreyee Gupta is Assistant Professor of Global Modern Art and South and Southeast Asian Art in the History of Art Department and the Co-director of the South Asia Art Initiative at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently completing the monograph Non-Aligned: Decolonization, Modernism and the Third World Project, India ca. 1930-1960 and has co-edited the book Postwar – A Global Art History, 1945-1965 (Duke University Press, forthcoming) with Okwui Enwezor.

This hybrid event will take place in person, with lunch provided at 1:00 p.m., and over Zoom. Email ankitade@stanford.edu for more information.

 

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