Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives

Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives

Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives

Behind the Masks of Modernism: Global and Transnational Perspectives


"A wide-ranging collection that allows the mask--as artifact, metaphor, theatrical costume, fetish, strategy for self-concealment, and treasured cultural object--to clarify modernity's relationship to history."--Carrie J. Preston, author of Modernism's Mythic Pose: Gender, Genre,
Solo Performance

"Covering an impressive range of geographies, cultures, and time periods, these carefully researched essays explore the fascinating role of masks and masking in mediating the relationship between tradition and modernity in both art and literature."--Paul Jay, author of The Humanities "Crisis" and the Future of Literary Studies

Behind the Masks of Modernism reconsiders the meaning of "modernism" by taking an interdisciplinary approach and stretching beyond the Western modernist canon and the literary scope of the field. The essays in this diverse collection explore numerous regional, national, and transnational expressions of modernity through art, history, architecture, drama, literature, and cultural studies around the globe. Masks--both literal and metaphorical--play a role in each of these artistic ventures, from Brazilian music to Chinese film and Russian poetry to Nigerian masquerade performance.

The contributors show how artists and writers produce their works in moments of emerging modernity, aesthetic sensibility, and deep societal transformations caused by modern transnational forces. Using the mask as a thematic focus, the volume explores the dialogue created through regional modernisms, emphasizes the local in describing universal tropes of masks and masking, and challenges popular assumptions about what modernism looks like and what modernity is.


Andrew Reynolds and Bonnie Roos

Probably no Western work of high modernist culture has made more controversial use of the mask than Pablo Picasso’s 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (figure 1). in this, Picasso’s first work of analytic cubism, the artist paints five nude women, presumably “ladies” of Barcelona’s Avinyó Street, which was known for its brothels. While the curtains of the background imbricate the backdrop of the artist’s studio, the life-sized women posing for and visually engaging the spectator around a table of fruit suggest the spectator’s presence in a brothel, situating him or her as a consumer of these bizarrely unwelcoming, sharp female bodies. in this overlay, Picasso connects the practice of buying and selling art to the practice of prostitution. At least two of the women wear African masks, a detail inspired by Picasso’s visits to ethnographic museums. the other three women, one of whose masklike face (but not body) is darker than the others, are inspired by pre-Roman Iberian sculptures Picasso had seen at the Louvre.

As one of the masterpieces of the Western modernist canon, the work raises important questions about Picasso’s use of the mask that invite a broader inquiry into the European modernist moment. For example, given the violent, imperialist practices that led to the display of “African” artifacts, such as masks in ethnographic museums, is Picasso’s use of the masks on these women exploitative, endorsing a subversive cultural appropriation? Or is Picasso embracing the African influence, along with the Iberian, as characteristic of Spain’s rich cultural heritage, developing within it something of Western Europe’s own “primitive other”? Is Picasso’s application of the masks on the prostitutes further mystifying and exoticizing the women, or making them more repellent for the viewer?

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