by Elizabeth Harney and Ruth B. Phillips. Duke University Press, January 2019. 432 p. ill. ISBN 9780822368717 (pbk), $29.95.
Reviewed May 2019
Marianne R. Williams, Librarian-in-Residence, University of Arkansas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mapping Modernisms is the first book of Modernist Exchanges, a series dedicated to re-orienting the histories of modernist art to include perspectives outside the twentieth-century Western canon. Dr. Ruth B. Phillips, co-author of the widely used survey text Native North American Art and winner of the American Anthropological Association’s Council for Museum Anthropology Lifetime Achievement Award, acts as both the series editor and co-editor of Mapping Modernisms with Dr. Elizabeth Harney, Associate Professor of Contemporary and Modern African and Diaspora Arts at the University of Toronto.
Harney and Phillips bring together numerous case studies from the late nineteenth century to the end of the Cold War, with each chapter offering an augmentation and reconceptualization of the Eurocentrism of twentieth-century modernisms. Highlighting lesser-known modernist practices created by people historically defined as indigenous in relation to colonial and settler states, Mapping Modernisms addresses the complicated legacies of primitivism in modernist art history and acknowledges the need to counter the racialized and exoticized notions of authenticity as incompatible with modernity.
The book is organized into three parts: “Modern Values,” “Modern Identities,” and “Modern Mobilities.” In “Modern Values,” the authors outline the implications of the fine and applied arts hierarchy applied to Indigenous artists, each outlining the agency the artists maintained in creating their own modernity. By including case studies from Canada, the United States, South Africa, and New Zealand, readers are able to make global connections between the chapters and understand the widespread implications and similarities of colonial states within modernity. In the framing of the next part, “Modern Identities,” Harney and Phillips are careful to define their use of the term ‘indigeneity’ in relation to identity, and emphasize the transnational and cosmopolitan exchanges that influenced indigenous modernists from Papua New Guinea, Japan, Arctic Canada, and Nigeria. The third part of the book, “Modern Mobilities,” continues this exploration of movement and exchange while noting the structural oppressions and exclusions indigenous modernists faced while creating works within their settler and postcolonial contexts.
With thirteen full color plates and over fifty figures, this book successfully integrates the visual content of indigenous modernisms into the well-researched text. The only area to critique is the relatively few Indigenous authors included in the book, although Harney and Phillips address this clearly. They do not pose this book as a final examination of indigeneity and modernity, but the emergence of new considerations in this field. Overall, Mapping Modernisms: Art, Indigeneity, Colonialism is an excellent addition to any collection exploring the history of modernity and the decolonisation of modern art histories, and proposes a new conceptualization of modernity that would benefit any collection looking to re-examine its role in post-colonialism.