An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 272

Clinton Howell Antiques - February 5, 2024 - Issue 272

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

My favorite source for material to write about, other than the aesthetic triumph of 17th, 18th and early 19th century furniture has to be the NY Times, a paper I love and that I love to hate. I can say the same about most newspapers, of course, but what I wish to talk about is an op-doc in the Times which is a short (8 minutes) movie on colonialism and its negative affects on the colonized and the colonizers, i.e. Western Europeans. I watched and read the subtitles and feel for the victims of colonialism, but the script goes far beyond Africa to India, Viet Nam and more. I understand  the screed, I really do. Colonization was no picnic for the colonized and the victims of injustice never had any recompense let alone an apology.

I am not a fan, however, of people who use art that they didn't create, to make a political point. If you don't have time to view the video, it is a monologue about the evils of colonization with images of African art, sculptures (totems) mostly, as the backdrop. The text of the screed is one thing--it could be edited to be more incisive--but linking African art to the text doesn't make sense to me. And, at one point, there is a denial of museums themselves as being a Western European idea that shouldn't even be necessary. Museums matter in this world, as no matter how much we may resent or not like the fact--we are all human and art reveals that and museums display it. (Thank goodness.)

The difficulty, of course, is that almost everything that we do has a political cast which is next to impossible to eliminate. People are rabidly pro and con, which I firmly believe can be ameliorated by both better information, an open mind, a willingness to compromise and the conscious decision to let the past subside. I doubt that the Dutch director of the film would agree with me, or my assessment of his work--he is, after all, making a valid point, but a point that, when hammered at, loses its effectiveness. As for the art of Africa, whether you like it or not, it is in the world--you can't ship it all back to Africa--it's just not possible. And what would that achieve? Would the African governments of the future care, or would the art be left in a basement of some government building? That, of course, is happening right now in some countries. It is the place where art goes to die.