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Europe and the Image of One's Own in the Contemporary Art of Lusophone Africa

Vanessa Díaz

In her PhD project, Díaz pursues the question how, in the emerging market of fine arts, the collective ideas and material images of Europe help to create, question and establish present and future expectations of an African modernity. The search for an African identity in the visual arts is not comprehensible without the ambivalent presence of Europe and the West more widely. Just as European art has used African “primitive” motifs as a source of new inspiration, African art has come to make use of images and motifs of Western origin that have emerged through decades of relations. Today, through global networking and diaspora, these images are not mere representations of strangers, they are part of the social and cultural life.
Until as late as the mid-seventies, Portugal under Salazar's dictatorship refused to abandon its “overseas provinces”, now known as Lusophone Africa. The after-effects of the long and armed independence struggle and autocratic colonial rule can be still observed in post-colonial Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique, in daily life as well as in the arts scene. For example, the governments still refer to the liberation movements as sources of political legitimacy. Yet the artistic production of these countries has been fruitful despite wars.
Diaz investigates the interactions between the European and the African Lusophone art world at the level of aesthetic standards, the art market and the notions of self and world that underlie the production of art, which often come together in uneven and problematic but also creative ways. Her focus lies on the question of how presences such as “Europe” and “tradition” contribute to the project of “African Art” in Lusophone contexts. How do the awareness of global aesthetic standards and the question of what counts as art, and what counts as African art, intertwine with the search for possible new ways of individual and collective self-perception?