From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Africa, Venice, and the posthuman

Shaul Bassi


This essay interprets the role of a single painting by Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu in the context of several exhibitions held in Venice to mark the 500th anniversary of Jacopo Tintoretto’s birth. I read this artistic celebration as a paradigmatic intervention that honours the European cultural heritage while insulating it from contemporary concerns and their historical matrix. Mutu’s Automatic Hip offers an alternative, posthuman irruption in this seamless Eurocentric context, with a portrait that represents an enigmatic black woman traversed by and intertwined with many non-human presences. In the second half of the article I analyse short texts by Maaza Mengiste, Igiaba Scego and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who reimagine classic artworks from the Venetian canon to highlight their African and colonial themes and characters. Altogether, the essay offers an example of different ways in which African and Afrodescendant artists can enrich our understanding not only of the many ramifications of African history and culture, but also reconfigure the Western canon from a postcolonial and posthumanistic perspective.


art, museums, posthuman, postcolonial, Africa, Venice



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