The found object is a dominant creative idiom in contemporary art because many artists continue to appropriate mundane objects from nature or popular culture as their preferred medium to induce conceptually sophisticated artworks. From its invention in 1912, the found object/readymade became endowed with political, social and cultural values in relationship to the context of their production. This re-contextualization of found objects as artworks starting with Pablo Picasso became a prevalent creative ethos associated with Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism movements during the Euro-American modernist period. Thus, firmly rooted in Euro-American modernism, the found object became institutionalized in western art history as a unique Eurocentric expression of high art. However, such European-centered framing dismisses this genre from ‘Other’ cultures, particularly Africa, as time-lag mimesis of European avant-garde ideologies/art. This theory impedes understanding of the conceptualism of the found object in cultures outside the European mainstream. For example, African artists such as El Anatsui, Romuald Hazoume, Goncalo Mabunda and others, appropriate waste to interrogate the legacies of colonialism, neo-colonial impact on Africa, dictatorship and poor governance etc., in a specific postcolonial context which stands in a position of contradiction to Euro-American found object context. This lecture will examine the varying ways found object art differs in the European and African artworlds. It will advance the theory that the found object is context/culture-specific with unique iconological ramifications associated with specific civilizations. The lecture will further foreground the rationale for the decentralization of the current discourse on the found object to expand understanding of its anthropology as a dynamic genre of art.
Image: El Anatsui: Crumbling Wall 2000, (Source: OCTOBER Gallery)