Dialogue and Discourse

Constructing Identities: Modigliani and Cultural Appropriation

Talk

Thursday, December 14
6:30 – 8 pm
Scheuer Auditorium

This conversation with artists Brendan Fernandes and Aliza Nisenbaum, moderated by Joshua Cohen, Assistant Professor, African Art History, The City College of New York, revisits the work of Amedeo Modigliani through the 21st-century lens of formal and cultural appropriation. As these artists engage with layered notions of identity and incorporation of “other” subjects and elements in their own practices, they consider what is at stake in trying to inhabit a visual language or persona that is not one's own.  What prompts this gesture of identification, and how do we go about reading degrees of cultural hijacking, appreciation, or both, at once?

Joshua Cohen (B.A. Vassar College, Ph.D. Columbia University) is a historian of African art specializing in 20th-century cross-cultural exchange. His areas of interest include modernist appropriations of African sculpture; histories of West African national cultural policies and ballet performance; "primitivism" in art practice and discourse; postcolonial studies; museum studies; and global modernisms. He is the recipient of Fulbright, Lurcy, Kittredge, Dedalus, Mellon, Whiting, and other fellowships. His first book-length project tracks African and European modernist engagements with African sculpture between 1905 and 1980. A second project builds on research conducted in Guinea and elsewhere since 2002, examining international staged productions of West African dance, music, theater, and masquerade. An initial essay on Fodéba Keita and Les Ballets Africains was published in 2012.

Brendan Fernandes is a Canadian artist of Kenyan and Indian descent. His work uses “African” objects to call into question ideas of authenticity between the artifact and the souvenir. These comparisons bring the notion of provenance as a history of ownership into view. The ambiguousness of provenance raises questions about authenticity, and colonial authorship of histories. Where these objects are in flux and oscillate between being one thing and another, the complexities of their histories can be seen. Through these works, these objects continue to bring awareness to socio-political questions regarding neo-colonialism and identity today. He completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007) and earned his MFA from the University of Western Ontario (2005) and his BFA from York University in Canada (2002). Fernandes has exhibited widely domestically and abroad, including exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Museum of Modern Art; Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal; The National Gallery of Canada, Ontario; and The Brooklyn Museum, New York. Fernandes is currently Artist in Residency at Northwestern University in the Department of Art Theory and Practice.

Born in Mexico City, and currently based in New York, Aliza Nisenbaum’s paintings are intimate exchanges between herself and her subjects. The artist makes portraits of undocumented Latin American immigrants, and of other distinct communities, using the focused attention of observational painting to mark those who are socially unmarked in society, along with the apparently anonymous goods that constitute a transnational trade in quotidian objects such as flowers, garments, handcrafts and letters. Often lushly decorated with patterned textiles, her canvases demand close looking in keeping with her personal connections to her subjects. Nisenbaum has presented her work at numerous museums including the Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art (Biennial 2017); Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; and MCA Denver among others. She has been an artist in residence at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program; Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and has received the Rema Hort Mann Award and the Fellowship for Immigrant Women Leaders from NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA). She has also been a participating artist at Immigrant Movement International, Corona Park, Queens. Nisenbaum is currently Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of Visual Arts at Columbia University School of the Arts.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Kneeling Caryatid, 1911-12. Paul Alexandre Family, courtesy of Richard Nathanson, London. Image provided by Richard Nathanson, photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates, London

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