I think about what controls art and why when I think of “Chevron” by Ciara Newton. I think about the masquerade of 20th century artists who used their colonialism to steal the aesthetics of African art. This artistic passive aggresion stripped the works of their meaning and maliciously employed their power. Ciara Newton’s work counters that malignant force by facing the cinders of charred and strung beads that once held seven human bodies. The chevron now makes me think of how that so-called intrepid art aesthetic of europe still seduces young people today in school systems of the west.
After colonial artists stole from exploited people and places they stole from the poor, destitute, workers of factories in the 19th and 20th century. This stripped bare fetish for labor aesthetics is called modernism. The Chevron series does not align with that shallow, hollow form of the past.
The predominant aethestics of contemporary art still flirt with that violence. Newton instead estabished how each body was marred by the aggresion in art from colonialism to now. Her bead choices and treatment remind me that in every seductive contemporary aesthetic taste there is a needs to look up where our visual histories come from.
The white western aesthetic of art denied its genocide in all of these cases. Picasso said, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” When will this habit of theft, so deeply attached to murder, genocide, and exploitation leave our practices? When will the aesthetics of art not require violence?