Kobena Mercer is Professor of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University. He is author of
Diaspora Aesthetics and Visual Culture
This chapter calls for a rewriting of twentieth-century modernism in light of the cross-cultural dialogues among African American and Black Atlantic artists and their European and American counterparts, which was a constant factor even if it went unseen until monocultural narratives were challenged in the 1980s. Following criticism of separatist tendencies that compound neglect of aesthetics in diasporic practices, it is argued that the visual culture model most relevant to intercultural conversations among artists such as Romare Bearden and Pablo Picasso, or Jasper Johns and David Hammons, is one that takes account of Fanon’s analysis of the oppressive power of the gaze. The mask is a recurring trope in diaspora art, since it acts to protect the inner realm of subjectivity from racialized “othering,” while also seeking to preserve a space for memory and mourning for a lost African origin that can never be regained, only imaginatively reinvented.