Expansion of Colonialism in History of Art

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Art, as with any other form of communication, is a way to transmit a message and influence an audience. Art can inspire, impact and expand the audience’s point of view, yet it can also be used to translate racist ideologies. An example of that is given in a Brazilian colonial art piece,“Ham’s Redemption”, where a clear demonstration of racial incongruencies is depicted in the paint in order to diminish the humanity of blacks and enforce white supremacy. This phenomenon in art started with the expansion of colonialism, and by colonialism I refer to the period where European power reached a position of economic, military and political sovereignty over Asia, Latin America and Africa.

In order to promote such expansion, Europeans used racism as a tool, and by racism I refer to the creation of values for physical and abstract differences to the European’s benefit and at Black’s expense, in order to justify European’s privilege and aggression. Art was often used as a microcosm of this racial reality to continue the dispersion of racism and enforce racist ideologies, in order to keep European centralized power. Those implications help create a historical background that gives contexts for some aspects of inequality society faces today. As result of that, the perception society has of Blacks and their self-perception creates a historical background that give contexts for the racial inequality society faces today. Art has been used as a tool to convey racist ideologies since the colonial period, in order to allow Europeans to exploit Blacks for their own benefit.

Since colonial times, there have been deliberate efforts to convey racist ideologies by using art to enforce in the realm of ideas the superiority of Europeans over Blacks. In “The Art of Benevolent Racism”, Rasheed, Araeen, speaks about the specifics of art’s institutional power, that still forms a linear trajectory that began under colonialism and still affects those who are no longer colonized. Her analysis helps me argue that the structure base of power has not shifted and that the vision of society continues to associate black people as inferior and undeserving by denying them positions of power and privileges in society. The writer analyzes how racism takes places in the institution art by segregating black people from process to tell their own history since the colonial period, while I chose to focus on how racism that happened in Brazil in the Colonial period affected how black history was told through art, causing a distorted view of history.

Likewise, Robert Stam and Louise Spence go deep in detail about what is the meaning of colonialism and racism and how it depicts in films in “colonialism, racism and representation”. Their astute analysis helps me structure an argument of how colonizers used real and imaginary differences as a base for violence and exploitation to ensure their own benefit; how film and literature came as an important tool for the dispersion of those ideologies that have been hammering in people’s consciousness and that differences are base for violence and exploitation. While the authors argue ways to decode and deconstruct racism in imagine and sound, I argue that the deconstruction of racism is possible because it is not permanently engraved in celluloid and the human minds, it had a beginning and it must have an end.

The expansion of Europe in the eighteen hundreds as Great Colonial power formed an institutionalized control over art, culture and other media of communications. This control in art were primarily created by the restriction of time and resources that prevented non- whites when come to produced and express ideas. “Ham’s Redemption” portrays three generations of a family, with distinct complexions. The black grandmother on the left and the brown (mixed-race) daughter at the center holding a white child on her lap. At the right, one can find a white European male, the father figure. One important point to make is that the reality of this mix family was created in 1894 by the Spanish artist Modesto Broco, a white European that expressed his perspective of that situation.

The legitimation of Ham’s Redemption as a important piece of art that tells history of this mixed race family is given because of the artist were able to create the paint of a microcosm of the European perspective on eliminating blackness. Very often, the history of Africans and slave descendants is not told by their perspective and much of what we know is one perspective of a multidimensional scenario. The rare pieces of black art from the colonial time there are available today shows a different perspective of what a family looks like to a black artist. In the The Banjo Lesson, 1893 by Henry Ossawa Tanner the first African-American celebrity artist, Tanner portrays a beautiful relationship between the black grandson and black grandfather through a music lesson of the banjo, an African instrument. The artist plays with light and shadow, by putting light in the black boy who is on the centre of the picture, the artist attributed to him importance and significance, he is the future, what is to come.

The shadows in the grandfather conveys his hard life of slavery and submission is fading away and creating space for a better future. The Banjo Lesson and Ham’s Redemption was painted only two years apart, yet the paintings have contradictory messages. While The Banjo Lesson a painting by a black artist portrays a message that the future of blacks is looking bright and the darkness of the slavery and hard days is behind, Ham’s Redemption a painting by an European artist portrays a message that the future of black is the elimination of the race through a whiting process, where natural selection would bring black people redemption.

The painting Ham’s Redemption created in 1894 by the Spanish artist Modesto Broco, translated racist ideologies and depicted glimpses of white supremacy as well as misogyny. It was very well received by art institutions because the core values the painting exposed matched the core value of the people who own and run the art institutions. When one analyzes the history of art institutions, it is clear that there is a filter that prevents that blacks and slave descendants to have their perspective legitimated. Art institutions are predominantly dominated by whites, they are the one who own galeries, they are the ones who mostly buys art, they are the ones who decide on the price tag and legitimation of what is good or bad.

The contrast of perspective when it comes to understanding and legitimate the angle which a black artist tries to present his/her prospective becomes a barrier that prevents a diverse landscape of art as Rasheed express, “my concern here is about a specific aspect of art institutional power, which still follows the linear trajectory that been under colonialism and incorporated racial views about the colonised, and how it affects the reception, recognition and evaluation often contemporary artwork of those who are no longer colonial subjects” (Rasheed 1). It is incontestable that the financial resources are primarily controlled by whites, therefore there is a significant concern that the art landscape becomes a microcosm of the colonial times where white perspective and taste is considered the universal.

In “Ham’s redemption” when the painter a Spanish white artist portraits the white baby the lightest skin character in the center of painting, the artist conveys to the viewer that a place of importance and significance is given to the baby over the others characters that occupies the second plane in the picture. Those assumptions made again and again, creates a parallel reality that is believed to be true and creates significant effects to the self image of blacks that can only find negative and deceiving portraits of themself in art.

In the paint Modesto Brocos, portrays the baby in a privileged position attributed to his skin color benefits and entitlement. This is reminiscent of 1910’s cinema where entitlement and advantage is given to characters based in their skin color. For example, the image attributed to blacks and other of non-whites have been distorted in order to promote white imperialism, “Since the beginning of the cinema coincided with the height of European Imperialism, it is hardly surprising that European cinema portrayed the colonised in an unflattering light” “African was portrayed as a land inhabited by cannibals in the Lubin comedy Rastus in Zululand(1910) and slave was idealized, and the slaves degraded, in The Birth of a Nation (1915).” ( Spence, Stan, Pages 2–20.) When comes to the image an important notion to make is that the present is linked with the past and future in a historical linear trajectory that manipulates of what the common perception of reality, in this case, the endorsement of as a supreme race.

The flexibility which racism transit within society has always been violent, subtle and quiet. The unfair and uncontested reality justified by racist outlooks often is perceived as the norm and escape examinations. Brocos’ distinguishes the roles of the elderly black woman and the white young male as in society through simple details that could pass unnoticed, such as the fact the white male has shoes while the black grandmother is barefoot, or the fact he stands in solid rock ground, while the grandmother stands on a dirt floor. Those distinctions portrayed in the painting replicates how racism is structured in society. In silence the painting screams that there is a distinction between both characters. The distinction is mainly given by the color of their skin and social position the individuals are portrayed in.

As usual, the black character is portrayed in diminishing and inferior position while the white man is portrayed in a dominate and superior. This scenario is often founded in different forms of art, in movies for exemple black image is frequently manipulated creating an illusory perception of what is a black person “Another common racist stereotype is the Black jester or Black clown/entertainer (Bogle, 1996; Hall, 1981; Noble, 1945). Bogle (1996) explains that this was the most common stereotype in the films of the 1920s. The jester portrays Blacks as lazy and preferring to dance and cavort about, often for the pleasure of their White masters, rather than perform meaningful work”. Lazy, poor, uncivilized are just a few of the many diminishing expressions black people are portrayed in art and media throughout history. Those stereotypes are fundamental parts of regimes of representation, this approach is controversial because it essentialize the nature of blacks, and creates separations between normal/acceptable from abnormal/unacceptable.

The negative stereotypes attributed to black woman in mainstream culture , is result of the aftermath of slavery and it social, political and economical effects. Placed in a vulnerable position in society , black woman were never able to take control of their story therefore. Most of the stereotypes associated with black woman has been created as an instrument of a third party interest.

For example, “Ham’s Redemption” a portrait painted six years after the end of slavery in Brazil, was used as propaganda by Europeans investors to attract young white males to work in the development of the country by using attractive black and brown woman as bait to feed their purposes. By portraying the daughter with characteristic such as pleasing persona, wearing rose colored feminine clothing, sweet temper, shoes on her feet, and the promise of a white child, the artist conveys attractives and seduction by dissociating her blackness from her roots. Today, art and media has a different approaching when comes to portraying black woman; characterized in media as overbearing, hostile, aggressive, ill tempered, anger, illogical, and hostile black woman struggles to distance themself from the image they constantly see related to their image. For example, “ The behavior of reality TV cast members characterized by aggressiveness, excessive materialism and hypersexuality, it also found, influences the way African-American women are viewed both in the workplace and in social situations.

And because of the ubiquity of these shows, reality TV cast members often become role models for African-American teens and young adults as they absorb attitudes toward money, sex and possessions, and adopt similar speech patterns and fashion choices, the paper notes.” The lack of positive representation in media creates a reality where black youth struggles find role models to shape their ideas, actions and future. Also, it make improbable that they will see themselves in positions of power, leadership, power or accomplishing meaningful work. To sum at all, black stereotyping is one of the effective and subtle ways where control and segregation happens within our society, by portraying negative figures associated with black image and creating a reality that depicts all black people can do is occupy the irrelevant, insignificant and incapable places.

Another effective and subtle way art can depict racism and create an impact in racial inequality is by praise and magnify white as a supreme race. The naturalization of white supremacy have been imposed in society for a long time and enforced by media and art, creating the image of whites as universal. Another way how Broco depict this message is when he painted the baby as the representation of what Brazil could expect of the future. The idea that whiteness come with privilege is given again. Broco makes clear that there is a significant distinction among the characters— the darker one skin color is the lower position one holds in society.

The white man at the right is placed in a distinguished position due to his skin color, gender and social condition while the Dark skin grandmother is at the left helpless in a diminishing context. The portrait implies that the darker the skin color one has correlates to how inferior a position that person occupies. Presenting characteristics of colorism, the painting exposes the theory that affirms the lighter one’s skin is, the more access and privileges that person would have. This method of segregation is used to affirm the hierarchy of white as race and to benefit individuals that present similarity with whites.

The media play an important role in how light skin and dark skin are perceived. Advertising and/or film industries continue to perpetuate the white beauty ideal. Blacks who have light skin and more physical features (e.g., nose shape, eye color, lip size, hair texture, etc.) that align with Eurocentric ancestry rather than African ancestry tend to enjoy greater professional success. For example, film producers hire lighter-skinned African Americans more frequently, television producers choose lighter-skinned cast members, and magazine editors choose models with European features. On the other hand, darker-skinned African American in the media equates to misconduct, crime, incivility, violence, lack of intelligence, and poverty, the general public has preconceived notions about darker-skinned people (Knight).

The concept of colorism displayed in Art and Media today resembles the colorism in Ham’s redemption painted in 1895. Understand that the presents looks like the past is a key factor to start questioning why are those images keep on being portrayed over centuries, who those imagery benefits and who it harms. It is definitely not an accident how the art/media chooses to portray and represent different communities based on race. Although slavery was abolished, colonised societies still depicts segregation ideals through many different forms of communication and segregate communities through differents channels.


Cite this paper

Expansion of Colonialism in History of Art. (2021, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/expansion-of-colonialism-in-history-of-art/



How did colonialism affect art?
Colonialism had a significant impact on art, as it often involved the appropriation and exploitation of indigenous art forms and cultural practices. This led to the suppression and erasure of local artistic traditions, while also influencing the development of new hybrid styles and forms of expression.
What does colonialism mean in art?
In art, colonialism refers to the period of time during which a country or region is controlled by another country. This can be evident in the art of the time, which may reflect the cultures of both the colonizing and colonized countries.
What influenced art in Colonial times?
The art of Colonial times was influenced by the political and religious climate of the time. The art was also influenced by the culture and traditions of the people who lived in the Colonies.
What were 3 reasons for colonial expansion?
The ability to reflect on one's own teaching practice is essential for any teacher who wants to continuously improve their teaching. By reflecting on what went well and what could be improved, teachers can make adjustments to their instructional methods and create a more effective learning environment for their students.
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