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An Artistic Rebirth
The early decades of the 20th century saw an explosion of artistic expression in the African American community. The move to the cities, as well as the greater confidence that came with leaving behind Jim Crow society, contributed to an unparalleled surge of creative enterprise, as artists, writers, composers, and musicians explored the nature of modern African American identity through their work. A dizzying array of new mass media-film and records, then radio and television-exported this revolutionary art to the rest of the country and the world and helped African American artists take a new and commanding role in the cultural life of the nation.
Face of Ancient Queen Revealed for First Time
Centuries after a noblewoman lived and died in Peru, scientists have reconstructed her face in stunning 3-D.
Some 1,200 years ago, a wealthy noblewoman, at least 60 years old, was laid to rest in Peru—richly provisioned for eternity with jewelry, flasks, and weaving tools made of gold.
Now, more than five years after her tomb was found untouched outside of the coastal town of Huarmey, scientists have reconstructed what she may have looked like.
“When I first saw the reconstruction, I saw some of my indigenous friends from Huarmey in this face,” says National Geographic grantee Miłosz Giersz, the archaeologist who co-discovered the noblewoman’s tomb. “Her genes are still in the place.”
In 2012, Giersz and Peruvian archaeologist Roberto Pimentel Nita discovered the tomb El Castillo de Huarmey. The hillside site was once a large temple complex for the Wari culture, which dominated the region centuries before the more famous Inca. The tomb—which looters miraculously missed—contains the remains of 58 noblewomen, including four queens or princesses.
Exclusive: Face of Ancient Queen Revealed for the First Time
“This is one of the most important discoveries in recent years,” said Cecilia Pardo Grau, the curator of pre-Columbian art at the Art Museum of Lima, in an earlier interview. (Read more about the amazing find in National Geographic magazine.)
One of these women, nicknamed the Huarmey Queen, was buried in particular splendor. Her body was found in its own private chamber, and it was surrounded with jewelry and other luxuries, including gold ear flares, a copper ceremonial axe, and a silver goblet.
Who was this woman? Giresz’s team carefully examined the skeleton and found that like many of the site’s noblewomen, the Huarmey Queen spent most of her time sitting, though she used her upper body extensively—the skeletal calling cards of a life spent weaving.
Her expertise likely explains her elite status. Among the Wari and other Andean cultures of the time, textiles were considered more valuable than gold or silver, reflective of the immense time they took to make. Giersz says that ancient textiles found elsewhere in Peru may have taken two to three generations to weave.
The Huarmey Queen, in particular, must have been revered for her weaving she was buried with weaving tools fashioned from precious gold. In addition, she was missing some of her teeth—consistent with the decay that comes with regularly drinking chicha, a sugary, corn-based alcoholic beverage that only the Wari elite were allowed to drink.
Ear ornaments are among the treasures from the imperial tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey, where the remains of the noblewoman were discovered.
Giersz’s team also has found a canal that leads from the Huarmey Queen’s tomb to outside chambers which bears residues of chicha. The channel would’ve allowed people to ceremonially share liquids with the noblewoman, even after her tomb was sealed. “Even after her death, the local population was still drinking with her,” says Giersz.
But what did this powerful noblewoman look like? In the spring of 2017, Giersz consulted with archaeologist Oscar Nilsson, renowned for his facial reconstructions, to bring the Huarmey Queen back to life.
Nilsson isn’t the first to try reconstructing the faces of South America’s pre-Columbian elite. Recently, archaeologists resurrected the Señora of Cao, a young female aristocrat who lived 1,600 years ago in ancient Peru’s Moche culture. (See how CSI tools brought the Señora of Cao back to life.)
Unlike that reconstruction—which was done almost entirely with computers—Nilsson took a more manual approach for the Huarmey Queen. Using a 3-D printed model of the noblewoman’s skull as his base, Nilsson rebuilt her facial features by hand.
To guide him, Nilsson relied on the skull’s construction, as well as datasets that let him estimate the thickness of muscle and flesh atop the bone. For reference, he also used photographs of indigenous Andeans living near El Castillo de Huarmey. (Chemical data confirm that the Huarmey Queen grew up drinking the local water, justifying the comparison.)
In all, it took Nilsson 220 hours to rebuild the noblewoman’s thoughtful visage, with no detail too small to ignore. To reconstruct her haircut—which the arid climate had preserved—Nilsson used real hair from elderly Andean women, which Gilesz had bought in a Peruvian wig-supply market.
“If you consider the first step to be more scientific, I gradually come into a more artistic process, where I need to add something of a human expression or spark of life,” says Nilsson. “Otherwise, it’d look very much like a mannequin.”
Some will get the chance to see Nilsson’s masterpiece in person. The finished reconstruction will be on public display beginning December 14, at a new exhibit of Peruvian artifacts opening at the National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw, Poland.
“I’ve worked with this for 20 years, and there are many fascinating projects—but this one was really something else,” says Nilsson. “I just couldn’t say no to this project.”
So Bad They’re Brilliant? See the 17 Most Bizarre and Completely Outlandish Art Restoration Fails of All Time
"Beast Jesus" is not the only well-intentioned restoration job gone horribly, horribly wrong.The statue of Santa Barbara at Brazil's Santa Cruz da Barra Chapel, before and after restoration. Photo by Milton Teixeira.
Restoration is an art unto itself, helping preserve art history’s greatest masterpieces for posterity. But for every job well done, there are others that meet a critical eye—experts were famously divided over the bright colors revealed in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome by work done between 1980 and 1994, for instance. And still others end in outright disaster.
Here are some of the world’s most infamous restoration fails.
1. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (1503) The Louvre, Paris
Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne (1503), before and after restoration. Photo courtesy of the Louvre, Paris.
When the Louvre restored Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne (1503), removing centuries of dirt and discoloration, the change to the painting was dramatic—so much so that two conservation experts on the panel advising the restoration resigned in protest over the methods used to clean it.
Concerns that those mistakes might be repeated arose in 2016 as the Louvre prepared to begin work on the Renaissance artist’s 1513 masterpiece St. John the Baptist, which had not been cleaned since 1802. But after nine months of work, details in the saint’s hair and clothing, lost beneath 15 layers of varnish, reemerged, restoring the artist’s delicate handiwork.
2. Pyramid of Djoser (ca. 2667–2648 BC) Memphis, Egypt
The pyramid of Djoser in Egypt. Photo: Charlesjsharp, via Wikimedia Commons.
In 2014, the Egyptian government came under fire for its restoration of the country’s oldest pyramid, which was built for the Old Kingdom pharaoh Djoser. Although government officials denied that there was any problem, critics said the work had damaged the facade of the ancient site, prompting the UNESCO World Heritage Center to launch an investigation into the work.
It all seems to have worked out in the end, however, as the BBC published an article this April crediting the British engineering firm Cintec with saving the stepped stone building from ruin.
3. Santa Bárbara (circa 19th century) Santa Cruz da Barra Chapel, Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, Brazil
The statue of Santa Barbara at Brazil’s Santa Cruz da Barra Chapel before and after restoration. Photo by Milton Teixeira.
Historian Milton Teixeira was shocked to discover that an overzealous restorer had tarted up the statue of Santa Barbara at Brazil’s Santa Cruz da Barra Chapel in 2012. The dramatic makeover had given the wooden statue flat, white skin, over-the-top eyeliner, and a garishly colored robe.
The work was done over a six-month period by conservators from the Museu Histórico do Exército in Rio, and supposedly removed up to four layers of paint to restore the statue’s original appearance, according to Bol Notícias. But Teixeira, a frequent visitor to the church for 20 years, was nonetheless horrified. “They turned Santa Barbara into Barbie!” he told the local news outlet Veja.
4. St. Anthony of Padua statue (19th century) Soledad, Colombia
A restoration job left a St. Anthony of Padua statue looking as if it paid a visit to a beauty parlor. Photo courtesy of Juan Duque.
Perhaps even worse than a sexy Mary is this glammed-out Saint Anthony of Padua, unveiled last year at a Colombian church. The parish had sent the statue out for repairs due to termite damage. When the work was returned, the church was horrified to find that the 150-year-old sculpture had been given an over-the-top facelift, with both the saint and the baby Jesus in his arms seemingly sporting excessive eye shadow, blush, and lipstick.
The restored artwork was made fun of for its effeminate appearance, with Giovanni Montero, a former secretary of culture, telling local news outlet Semana that “the person who worked on the statue, whom I do not qualify as a restorer, practically deformed the original features of the saint”.
5. Saint George (ca. 16th century) Church of San Miguel de Estella, Navarre, Spain
Before and after a misguided restoration on the statue of St. George at Navarre, Spain’s Church of San Miguel de Estella. Photo via Twitter.
When the Church of San Miguel de Estella in Navarre, Spain, set out to restore its 500-year-old statue of the legendary St. George, it wasn’t counting on becoming an internet-wide laughing-stock. But that’s exactly what was in store for the Disney-esque job done by a local teacher. The church and the company responsible were both fined €6,000 ($6,840).
Fortunately, after three months of work, at a cost to the church of $37,000, the artwork was successfully re-restored to its original appearance. “Today, the statue has the same colors it had before last year’s extremely unfortunate intervention. But we know that we’ve lost part of the original paint along the way,” said Carlos Martínez Álava, head of the Navarre government’s historic heritage department.
6. Buddha statue (ca. 1000) Anyue, China
The Anyue Buddha before and after restoration. Photo by Xu Xin, via Weibo.
It was a guide at the Dunhuang grottoes in Gansu province who first took issue with the new paint job on a 1,000-year-old Song dynasty Buddha statue in China’s Anyue township. The amateur restoration job was carried out by local villagers back in 1995, but it wasn’t until Xu Xin shared pictures of the sculpture on Weibo in 2018 that the catastrophic paint job attained global notoriety.
The Anyue county government blamed the well-meaning villagers’ lack of conservation knowledge, and said that officials didn’t notice the new paint job until it was complete. “After the incident, the Administration of Cultural Heritage improved the management and protection of other relics,” according to a government statement. “No similar repair work was carried out again in recent years.”
7. Ocakli Ada Castle (ca. 100) Sile, Turkey
Ocakli Ada castle in Turkey, before and after restorations.
The picturesque ruins of the 2,000-year-old Ocakli Ada Castle in the seaside town of Sile, Turkey, were utterly unrecognizable after a five-year restoration project was completed in 2010. The crumbling edifice was completely rebuilt with modern materials, creating a smooth and blocky appearance that looks like it’s straight out of the game Minecraft.
The work was roundly mocked on social media, with many comparing the castle’s façade to cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants. The town defended the work, telling the Daily Mirror “the criticism on social media is not based on knowledge and it disregards the developments and the decision made during the process of restoration.”
8. Castle of Matrera (ca. 9th century) Villamartin, Spain
Spain’s Castle of Matrera, before and after restoration work was carried out by architecture firm Carlos Quevado Rojas. Photo by Leandro Cabello, courtesy of Carquero Arquitectura.
A similarly questionable effort was made by architectural firm Carlos Quevado Rojas in restoring the Castle of Matrera in Villamartin, Spain. After the ninth-century medieval fortress partially collapsed in 2013, restorers rebuilt and stabilized the structure—but the Historic Heritage Law bans mimetic reconstructions, which meant the firm had to use modern materials that were visually distinct from the existing ruins.
The result was an outlandish patchwork of old and new that drew outrage, with left-wing political group Izquierda Unida lodging a complaint with the Ministry of Culture. Meanwhile, the franken-castle’s bizarre appearance predictably went viral, and apparently became a renewed tourist attraction.
9. Buddhist frescoes (ca. 907–1125) Chaoyang, China
One of the ancient Buddhist frescos in Yunjie Temple in Chaoyang, northeast China, that has now been covered by cartoon-like paintings as part of a restoration. Photo courtesy of STR/AFP/Getty Images.
The ancient Buddhist frescos in China’s Yunjie Temple were in dire need of conservation work to preserve the flaking, disintegrating paintings. Unfathomably, in what is an all-too-familiar occurrence, the £100,000 job turned into a technicolor nightmare. New storybook-style paintings completely replaced the original Qing dynasty-era works.
The result amounted to nothing less than the “the destruction of cultural relics since the original relics no longer exist,” Wang Jinyu, an expert on fresco restoration from the Dunhuang Academy, told the Telegraph. In response, two government officials were fired, one of whom claimed it had been an the “unauthorized conservation project.”
10. Ancient mosaics (ca. 2nd–6th centuries), Hatay Museum, Antakya, Turkey
Mosaics at the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Turkey. Photo by Mehmet Daşkapan.
A local craftsman, Mehmet Daşkapan, was the first to raise a red flag over restoration work being done at the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Antakya, Turkey, on mosaics from 2nd to the 6th centuries. The photos were damning, with the delicate figures appearing distorted and fine details lost.
The Culture and Tourism Ministry denied that there was any problem, claiming that the photos were taken during the initial phase of the restoration work, and that they would soon be restored to their original splendor. Restorer Celal Küçük also defended his work—but the pictures speak for themselves.
11. Mary and Baby Jesus statue (mid 20th-century) Sainte-Anne-des-Pins Catholic Church, Sudbury, Ontario
Heather Wise’s attempted restoration of a statue of Jesus. Screen grab via YouTube courtesy of Coisas da Net.
A Canadian church had a vandalism problem, with local hoodlums repeatedly decapitating a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus. When the head finally disappeared for good, local artist Heather Wise offered to replace it free of charge—and the church happily accepted, given that her professional estimate was just $10,000 CAD ($7,300).
But what they got was a freakish, spikey-headed red monstrosity that became a Twitter sensation, often gleefully compared to Lisa Simpson. Wise claimed that the terracotta face, which soon began melting in the rain, was just a temporary placeholder while she carved a stone replacement, but thanks to the media attention, the penitent thief was moved to return the original head.
The church announced plans to clean and restore the statue, but admitted it had actually grown fond of the ridiculous red baby Jesus. Wise, however, wanted it back—it was her most famous work of art, after all.
12. Religious sculptures (ca. 15th century) Ranadoiro, Spain
At left, the 15th-century statue of Virgin Mary before being “restored” (right) by a local woman in Asturias, Spain. Photo DSF/AFP/Getty Images.
In another case of a misguided church parishioner wreaking havoc on a beloved piece of religious art, Maria Luisa Menendez took it upon herself to jazz up a trio of 15th-century wooden sculptures with a fresh coat of paint. (One was originally unpainted.)
Even though the statues had been professionally restored just 15 years before, the parish priest apparently gave his blessing to the amateur. Her brightly colored efforts—she gave the Virgin Mary turquoise hair—were widely derided for their cartoonish appearance, and were also destructive to the original paint and patina.
“They’ve used the kind of industrial enamel paint they sell for painting anything and absolutely garish and absurd colors,” a local resident told Guardian. “The result is just staggering. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
13. Tree of Fertility (ca. 1265) La Fonte dell’Abbondanza, Massa Marittima, Italy
Restorers were accused of censoring the phalluses on the Tree of Fertility in Tuscany, Italy. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
One of Italy’s most unique works of art, the Tree of Fertility, was uncovered in the year 2000 and is famous for its depiction of numerous phalluses—or at least it was, before a 2011 cleaning. The restorers who did the work were accused of censoring the historic fresco by removing about 25 dangling penis fruits from the previously laden branches.
“The restoration in no way radically modified the original features,” insisted Mario Scalini, the local province’s head of heritage and arts, telling the Telegraph that restoring the badly damaged fresco required the removal of salt and calcium deposits. “The operation was carried out with the greatest of care.”
A town official called for an investigation into the matter, but the damage was apparently done. Fortunately, recent photographs appear to show at least a few surviving penises.
14. Great Wall of China (1381)
Repaired section of the Great Wall of China. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images.
In 2016, the world was shocked to discover that restorers had essentially paved over a 1.2-mile section of the Great Wall of China, built during the Ming Dynasty in 1381. To prevent the crumbling edifice from falling into further disrepair, workers poured a mix of lime and sand atop of the structure, completely disregarding the original crenelations and towers.
“This was vandalism done in the name of preservation,” said Liu Fusheng, a county park officer, at the time. “Even the little kids here know that this repair of the Great Wall was botched.”
15. The Mask of Tutankhamun (ca. 1323 BC) Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Christian Eckmann works on the restoration process of the golden mask of Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.
When staff at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum snapped the beard off of the 3,300-year-old funerary mask of King Tutankhamun, they panicked and tried to quickly glue it back on—using industrial strength epoxy, in the middle of the gallery, during visiting hours. It was nothing short of a disaster, and the problem was only exacerbated when they tried to scrape off the glue, scratching the historic antiquity.
Those responsible faced disciplinary action for breaking protocol by not informing the Ministry of Antiquities about the accident, and for damaging the artifact. Fortunately, a German conservator was able to remove the glue and restore the mask.
16. Leonardo da Vinci’s Orpheus Being Attacked by the Furies Private collection
Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Man, Full Face, and the Head of a Lion (ca. 1508). Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II/Royal Collection Trust, via the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands.
You know it’s bad when no photos ever resulted to show a famous a work of art’s restoration. In 2001, Leonardo da Vinci expert Carlo Pedretti discovered a lost Leonardo drawing in the collection of one Stefano della Bella. The sketch, Orpheus Being Attacked by the Furies, was believed to have come from the Codex Atlanticus, compiled from various Leonardo notebooks by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni.
The good news was short lived. Pedretti soon announced that a team of colossally uninformed restorers had destroyed the historic artwork by treating it with water and alcohol without first testing the ink for solubility. Thanks to the boneheaded oversight, the delicate drawing disappeared. Writing in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, Pedretti expressed his hope that chemical or nuclear experiments might recover the lost image, but the damage was sadly irreversible.
17. Elías García Martinez, Ecce Homo (ca. 1930) Sanctuary of Mercy Church, Borja, Spain
Elías García Martínez, Ecce Homo (1930), and Cecilia Giménez’s infamous 2012 restoration attempt.
In undoubtedly the most famous example on this list, Cecilia Giménez put her small Spanish town on the map when her hilariously inept attempts to restore a religious painting of Jesus in the crown of thorns went viral. The 82-year-old had the best of intentions when she set to work on the rapidly deteriorating fresco, but her skills were not quite up to the task, to put it lightly.
The finished product, universally mocked as Beast Jesus or “Ecce Mono” (“Behold the Monkey”), had the unexpected result of turning Borja into a destination for tens of thousands of sightseers eager to behold the infamous restoration job for themselves. Giménez became an unlikely celebrity on the strength of the internet phenomenon, which inspired an opera and a documentary, and now has a dedicated art center, proving that even the worst art disasters can sometimes have a silver lining.
Milner and reconstruction
High Commissioner Milner transferred his headquarters from Cape Town to Pretoria in 1902. The move symbolized the centrality of the Transvaal to his mission of constructing a new order in South Africa. When Milner departed in 1905, his vision of a country politically dominated by English-speaking whites had failed. Schemes to flood the rural Transvaal with British settlers yielded only a trickle, and, worse yet, compulsory Anglicization of education only intensified feelings of Afrikaner nationalism. Opposition to “Milnerism” defined the emergent political groups led by former Boer generals Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, and J.B.M. (Barry) Hertzog. Milner had hoped to withhold self-rule from whites in South Africa until “there are three men of British race to two of Dutch.” But, when Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s Liberal ministry granted responsible government to the former republics in 1907, Afrikaner parties won elections in the Transvaal.
Yet, if Milner’s political design failed to take shape, he did largely realize his blueprint for economic and social engineering. Served by a group of handpicked young administrators, he made economic recovery a priority because it was imperative to restore the mines to profitability. He lowered rail rates and tariffs on imports and abolished the expensive concessions granted by the Kruger regime. Milner also made strenuous efforts to ensure cheap labour to the mines. To achieve this goal, he authorized the importation of some 60,000 Chinese indentured labourers when Black migrants resisted wage cuts. Chinese miners, who would mostly return home by 1910, performed only certain tasks, but their employment set a precedent for a statutory colour bar in the gold mines. Although this experiment provoked political outcries in the Transvaal and in Britain, it succeeded in undercutting the bargaining power of Black workers. The value of gold production swelled from £16 million in 1904 to £27 million by 1907.
The administration worked to remodel the Transvaal as a stable base for agricultural, industrial, and finance capital, spending some £16 million to return Afrikaners to their farms and equip them. It established a land bank, promoted scientific farming methods, and developed more-efficient tax-collection methods, which increased pressures on Black peasants to work for white farmers. Especially on the Witwatersrand, the young administrators tackled town planning, public transport, housing, and sanitation, and in each of these spheres a new urban geography proceeded from the principle of separating white and Black workers.
The South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) was appointed to provide comprehensive answers to “the native question.” Its report (1905) proposed territorial separation of Black and white landownership, systematic urban segregation by the creation of Black “locations,” the removal of Black “squatters” from white farms and their replacement by wage labourers, and the segregation of Blacks from whites in the political sphere. These (and other SANAC recommendations) provided the basis for laws passed between 1910 and 1936.
The Role of the Black Church
The African American Church&mdashA Bulwark
In many African American communities, large and small, the social, political, and economic life of the people centered around the church. The pastor was often the community leader, teacher, and business strategist. Families often spent many hours at the church each week or when the preacher came to their community, sometimes only once or twice a month.
Elizabeth White. All God's Chillun's Got Wings! Soft-ground etching and aquatint, ca. 1933. Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Foundation, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6164 (5&ndash22)
Courtesy of the Sumter Gallery of Art, Sumter, South Carolina.
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Activism in the Black Church
This pamphlet discusses the history of this African American denomination, educational efforts among people of color in Ohio, and other issues vital to the African American community during Reconstruction. It provides important historical data about the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), especially in Cincinnati, discusses the church's diverse ministries, and outlines the denomination's numerous uplifting and charitable endeavors in the Cincinnati community. There is also historical information about Wilberforce University in Ohio, an institution of higher education purchased by the A.M.E. Church in 1863.
Proceedings of the Semi-centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati . . . February 8th, 9th, and 10th, 1874. Edited by Rev. B. W. Arnett. Cincinnati: H. Watkin, 1874. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (5&ndash3)
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An African American Institution of Higher Learning&mdashWilberforce University
A group of Ohioans, including four African American men, established Wilberforce University near Xenia, Ohio, in 1856, and named it after the famous British abolitionist, William Wilberforce. When the school failed to meet its financial obligations, leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church purchased it in 1863.
The articles of association of Wilberforce University, dated July 10, 1863, state that its purpose was &ldquoto promote education, religion and morality amongst the colored race.&rdquo Even though the university was established by and for people of color, the articles stipulated that no one should &ldquobe excluded from the benefits of said institution as officers, faculty, or pupils on account of merely race or color.&rdquo
The failures of Reconstruction have never been more evident — or relevant — than today
The combination of covid-19 and the uprisings following the police killing of George Floyd have changed the way we see our connections to one another, creating a transformative moment in the American political imagination similar to what the country underwent during Reconstruction after the Civil War. How this moment will change our society remains to be seen, but two recent sets of protests have the potential to shape the aftermath of the pandemic and the uprisings in very different ways.
One set of protests, occurring largely in April and May, sought to end social distancing and “liberate” shut down economies so Americans could get back to the malls and restaurants of everyday life. Another, set off by the Floyd killing, throws into stark relief the fatal consequences of returning to a world in which, as President Barack Obama stated, “being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal.’”
While our current moment differs from Reconstruction, or other past moments of crisis and transformation like the Great Depression and World War II, an honest history of Reconstruction begs us to consider the dangers of getting “back to normal” with piecemeal fixes and short-term thinking. Doing so sabotaged Reconstruction’s potential of achieving equality and democracy, and that mistake echoes to the present.
During and after the Civil War, many Americans also experienced a world turned upside-down. Reconstruction reunified the fractured nation after the destruction of the Confederacy and slavery with it. Historian Eric Foner explains the most radical developments of Reconstruction were the “massive experiment in interracial democracy” and the “transformation of slaves into free laborers” that accompanied the wholesale remodeling of Southern society. From the tense labor negotiations of emancipated laundresses to the armed drill parades of black political clubs, free and freed African Americans claimed access to the promises of this moment and imagined more into being every day.
Between 1863 and 1865, Abraham Lincoln oversaw the passage of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery or involuntary servitude everywhere in the United States “except as punishment for a crime,” though John Wilkes Booth assassinated him before the states ratified the amendment.
In that time, Congress also created the Freedmen’s Bureau to act as agents of Reconstruction throughout the former Confederate states, overseeing land, labor and political disputes between black and white southerners. The bureau took responsibility for implementing General William T. Sherman’s infamous postwar Field Order 15. An early success of Reconstruction, the order redistributed confiscated Confederate land — “40 acres and a mule” — to formerly enslaved people and provided unprecedented access to land, wealth and independence.
When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency, however, he returned that land to its prior owners and helmed a tepid era of what scholars call “Presidential Reconstruction” that emphasized Southern states’ rights to self-governance.
Ultimately, Johnson and the Freedmen’s Bureau failed to acknowledge and address the deep racial animosity and class conflict of the postwar South. The rise of sharecropping, a system of land rentals that gave African Americans some autonomy over working conditions but required a deeply exploitative debt relationship, demonstrated the federal government’s inability to enforce fair treatment of people who were formerly enslaved. Johnson’s reversal of Field Order 15 only made it worse.
Then the 1866 midterm elections reshaped Congress, and in the process, Reconstruction. Between 1868 and 1870, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments ensured citizenship and protected equal rights for African Americans, symbolizing the fundamental transformation of the political process and tremendous potential of a time period known as “Radical Reconstruction.”
In the face of violent voter suppression and intimidation, newly enfranchised African American Republican voters elected the nation’s first black senators, representatives, state representatives and lieutenant governors from former Confederate strongholds like Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. It would take almost a century after Reconstruction ended before the next African American senator, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, joined their ranks in 1966.
But like the Freedman’s Bureau, these experiments in interracial democracy were cut short before they reached their full potential.
Reconstruction formally ended — or rather, was abandoned — in 1877 when President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled federal troops out of the South, honoring his end of a dubious bargain that won him the contested election of 1876.
Freed from oversight, self-proclaimed “redeemers” continued their quest to reclaim the South from African American and Republican rule, which they did throughout the region over a half century, dismantling the political and legal protections for African Americans in the name of reasserting labor control and racial dominance. The most infamous form of this retrenchment was racial terrorism but the horrors of rape, lynching and torture worked in tandem with coercive labor agreements, disenfranchisement and segregation to erase the potential for a reordering of power and reassert white supremacy among the broken remnants of a slave society.
The commitment to Reconstruction dissipated among many white Northerners too. Northern factory owners, financiers and merchants relied on Southern cotton, and industrial workers feared freedom and mobility in the South would lead to an influx of cheap black labor in the North that could undercut white wages and white supremacy. Even some white Union soldiers turned their backs on racial equality and black rights, despite having been early advocates for abolition after being radicalized by direct encounters with slavery and military service alongside self-emancipated African American men.
Across the reunited sections, white Americans’ dedication to Reconstruction also waned as they struggled to put years of unprecedented death and destruction behind them. Using celebrations of soldiers’ experience, loss and faith, they created a shared narrative that replaced the specific causes and outcomes of the war with increasingly vague paeans.
Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction
In 1905 Paul Cézanne wrote to the younger artist, Emile Bernard, “I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you.” One can immediately imagine how Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) would have seized upon such a statement with its promise of “truth” “in painting,” two dubious precepts. Derrida would be compelled to deconstruct such a proposition. Despite its name, the Deconstruction that is associated with Derrida is not an act of destruction or a breaking up, instead Deconstruction, like Structuralism is an activity or performance. Deconstruction is reading, a textual labor, traversing the body of a text, leaving “a track in the text.” Unlike other forms of critical analysis, deconstruction cannot happen from the outside but, as Derrida stated, “Deconstruction is something that happens and happens from the inside.” As he stated to an audience of academics at Villanova in 1994 (in English),
The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things–texts, institutions, traditions, societies, beliefs, and practices of whatever size and sort you need–do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they are always more than any mission could impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy..A “meaning” or a “mission” is a way to contain and compact things, like a nutshell, gathering them into a unity, whereas deconstruction bends all its efforts to stretch beyond these boundaries, to transgress these confines, to interrupt and disjoint all such gatherings.Whatever it runs up against a limit, deconstruction presses against. Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell–a secure axiom or a pithy maxim–the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might say that cracking nutshells is what decontsructrucion is. In a nutshell.
Deconstruction does not appeal to a higher logical principle or superior reason, something which Derrida considered to be metaphysical. His goal was to upsets the system of hidden hierarchies that composed philosophy by producing an exchange of properties. His major target was the hierarchy between speech and writing, in which speech was presumed to have preceded writing, this giving to speech a (false) priority and the (false) presumption of origin. In inverting the hierarchies embedded in paired opposites, Derrida insisted neither element can occupy the position of origin (such as speech over writing) and the origin looses its metaphysical privilege, which is why he insisted on deconstructing the Structuralist system of polarities and oppositions. He pointed out that the pairs, far from being equal or balanced, were, in fact, hierarchized, with one term being preferred (culturally) over the other. If this is the case, if “good” is preferred over “bad”, then the meanings of each/both term/s are interdependent. If the terms are interdependent, then they cannot be separated or polarized. If the terms cannot be separated or opposed in any final way, then their meanings are also interdependent and inseparable. This logical march which deconstructs
Structuralism began with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) who was concerned with the problem of transcendence, the objectivity of objects, and their existence outside of temporal consciousness. In other words, the object had to be a form of knowledge of the object itself, not the mental acts which cognitively construct it. Phenomenological reflection suspends or “brackets” the question of existence and privileges the experience-of-object, which is the “object to be described” and this privileging means that the identity of the object must be ideal. But Derrida did not believe that Husserl’s transcendental acts of pure perception existed or that such states of purity could exist. Husserl posited an absolute ideal of objectivity, geometry, in order to differentiate between subjective and objective structures. Derrida asserted that Husserl “lodged” objectivity within subjectivity or self-presence, and that if this is the case, then the self must differentiate itself from the object and thus, Husserl introduces the idea of difference.
Derrida charged that Husserl created a structure of alterity or the otherness of the meaning or self. Living presence, according to Derrida, is always inhabited by difference. To express this differently, so to speak, difference creates an endlessly deferred meaning as the self and the object oscillate, unable to fix a position. By deconstructing Husserl’s philosophy, Derrida relocated his philosophy as writing. Without this “fixing” of a position, then a transcendental position is impossible, for if Derrida is correct and Husserl is merely writing, then yet another metaphysical account of the mystical thing in itself is revealed to be a figurative fiction. To the dismay of traditionalists, Postmodernism robs us of the fantasy of certainty. If we can never be certain, we can never know the truth. In contrast, the “close reading” of the Structuralists, that sought to find “unity,” gives way to a new close reading–Deconstruction–that seeks the “uncanny”–a Freudian term–that works against the bounds of the text. “The uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar…” said Freud, referring to something that is repressed but recurs, responding to deeper laws, which for Deconstruction is that which is hidden in the text.
Deconstruction intervenes in philosophical texts, seeking what is not acknowledged, and intercedes in the field of oppositions and their hierarchies and works within the terms of the system in order to break open the structure and to breach its boundaries to determine what might have been concealed or excluded, or repressed. To deconstruct a discourse is to show it undermines the authority of philosophy and reveals its literary/rhetorical aspects. In identifying the rhetorical oppositions that structure the ground of the argument Deconstruction deconstructs philosophy as language, as writing. In The Truth in Painting (1987), Derrida interrogated Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) by introducing the concept of the passé-partout or what Americans refer to as the mat that encircles the painting or print or photograph, i. e. the work of art. He wrote,
Between the outside and the inside, between the external and the internal edge-line, the framer and the framed, the figure and the ground, form and content, signifier and signified, and so on for any two-faced opposition. The trait thus divides in this place where it takes place. The emblem for this topos seems undiscoverable I shall borrow it from the nomenclature of framing: the passe-partout. The passe-partout which here creates an event must not pass for a master key.
Using the concepts of inside/outside and the idea of betweenness, Derrida was led to the next obvious question: “What is art? Then: Where does it come from ? What is the origin of art? This assumes that we reach agreement about what we understand by the word art. Hence: What is the origin of the meaning of “art?” The modern meaning of art must begin with Kant’s third Critique which was then commented upon by Georg Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics (1818-1829), who, in turn was over-writen by Martin Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art (written 1935-7, published 1950/60) and Derrida also used Kantian the concept of the “parergon” to question the supposed autonomy of art and its relation to various discourses, such as history and philosophy, which seek to preserve its autonomy. The parergon is the frame, the boundary between the art work (ergon) and its background and context, and in surrounding the painting, the frame guarantee its musical/metaphysical autonomy as “art.” Kant rejected the boundary-conditions and prevented the invasion of art’s privileged domain by assuming a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic, or that which is proper to the domain of art and that which is outside the properties of art itself.
Kant introduced the metaphor of framing in an attempt to delimit a proper space of aesthetic representation, but in so doing, Kant perceived a problem, an undecidability in some seemingly marginal details that could not be detached without altering or upsetting the composition. For example, what is intrinsic to a sculpture with drapery? Should the body be considered as autonomous, that is self-sufficient without the drapery, or is the drapery intrinsic to the work of art itself? Decorative outwork was perceived of as part of art’s intrinsic quality, such as clothing on statues, which is not part of the essential form, and architectural details that are purely functional but that cannot be excluded from the overall artistic impression. Therefore for Kant, the parergon is a hybrid of inside and outside, frame, clothing, column, and there is no deciding what is intrinsic to artwork and what belongs to the outside frame. From the standpoint of Deconstruction, this “Framing” discourse is the chief concern of aesthetics which legitimizes its own existence by fixing a boundary between art and other modes of knowledge, including history and theory. “Art” becomes “art” through boundaries that exclude its other. Clearly, this notion of “frame” and the idea of “boundary” are both figural constructs hidden in plain sight within the discourse of aesthetics.
The frame is another variation of the Structure. Rhetorical figures, such as the “frame” in art, exist within discourse for a reason. Therefore, Derrida asked, “What is at stake?” why is the frame/the structure necessary? In asking why it is necessary to place art within s structure, to produce boundaries to validate “art,” he then demystified the notion of aesthetics as disinterested value. Aesthetics in “interested” in the sense that it defines and therefore produces “art” via these framing devices. The frame must be present in order to structure and the purpose of structurality is to both contain art within and exclude all that is deemed non-art. In the case of art, that which is “not art” is excluded in order to shape and form “art” as an entity that is transcendent. Therefore, Derrida asked, “What particular interests are served by aesthetics”? Contrary to the notion of a discourse that assumes art gives access to the realm of timeless and disinterestedness values, any discourse on art is always and inevitably bound up with interests that belong to the outside (of art).
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Digital Art History: A subject in transition
This paper explores the use of computer graphics and computer vision techniques in the history of art. The focus is on analysing the geometry of perspective paintings to learn about the perspectival skills of artists and explore the evolution of linear perspective in history. Algorithms for a systematic analysis of the two- and three-dimensional geometry of paintings are drawn from the work on “single-view reconstruction” and applied to interpreting works of art from the Italian Renaissance and later periods. Since a perspectival painting is not a photograph of an actual subject but an artificial construction subject to imaginative manipulation and inadvertent inaccuracies, the internal consistency of its geometry must be assessed before carrying out any geometric analysis. Some simple techniques to analyse the consistency and perspectival accuracy of the geometry of a painting are discussed. Moreover, this work presents new algorithms for generating new views of a painted scene or portions of it, analysing shapes and proportions of objects, filling in occluded areas, performing a complete threedimensional reconstruction of a painting and a rigorous analysis of possible reconstruction ambiguities. The validity of the techniques described here is demonstrated on a number of historical paintings and frescoes. Whenever possible, the computer-generated results are compared to those obtained by art historians through careful manual analysis. This research represents a further attempt to build a constructive dialogue between two very different disciplines: computer science and history of art. Despite their fundamental differences, science and art can learn and be enriched by each other’s procedures. A longer and more detailed version of this paper may be found in .
So, what is Obscenity?
Obscenity is a social construction that varies according to time and place. In Hindu mythology, the yoni is the symbol of the fertility goddess Shakti , who was revered as far back as 4000 BC. It was seen as equal to its male counterpart, the lingam, and together they were the source of all existence. A similar mythology is present in Japan with the concepts of yin and yang , representing female and male energies. At the same time, the country still considers images of vulvas to be obscene from a legal point of view, as demonstrated by the 2014 conviction of the artist Megumi Igarashi .
But thanks to the influence the influence of female artists – and even advertisers – the vulva is back in the 21st century.
Top Image: An example of a Sheela na gig, a carving of a naked woman with an exaggerated vulva. Source: Pixabay License