Taking influence from Aime Cesaire's Discourse of Colonialism, 'After Cesaire/Modern Tropiques' is a bringing together of Black British artists, and so individuals from the Diaspora, currently working today. The exhibition features the works of Adelaide Damoah, Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Phoebe Collings-James, Rachel Jones, James Massiah and Irvin Pascal.
The artists selected, though having little or no interaction with each others practices, all exhibit a cohesive spirit that allows one to ponder on a collective consciousness in the working practice of Black British artists making today. Whether it is an unknowing collective thought, much like the Surrealist automative method 'The Exquisite Corpse', or, rather, a similarity in reaction to a colonial past the artists largely didn't experience but are aware of and chose to either explore boldly or reference subconsciously.
Surprisingly, few assessments of postcolonial criticism pay much attention to 'Discourse' besides mentioning it in a litany of 'pioneering works' without bothering to elaborate on its contents. Robert Young's White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (1990) dates the origins of postcolonial studies to Franz Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth' despite the fact that some of the arguments in Fanons text were already present in Cesaire's. Cesaire sought to revise Marx by suggesting that the anti-colonial struggle supersedes the proletarian revolution as the historical movement of the period.
Suzanne and Aime Cesaire, on returning to Martinique from Paris in 1939 launched a journal called Tropiques. The appearance of Tropiques coincided with the fall of France to the fascist Vichy regime, which consequently put the colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guiana under Vichy rule. The journal was later censored for being a 'revolutionary review that is racial and sectarian' and for 'poisoning the spirit of society'. In order to survive, they masked the radical journal as a journal of West Indian folklore, and despite its repression, survived as one of the most important and radical surrealist publications in the world.
From 1941 to 1945, the essays and poems published reveal the evolution of a sophisticated anti-colonial stance as well as a vision of a post colonial future. Theirs was a vision of freedom that drew on Modernism and a deep appreciation for pre-colonial African modes of thought and practice; it drew on Surrealism as the strategy of the revolution of the mind and Marxism as the revolution of the productive forces. It is this vision I wish to celebrate and recreate in this exhibition.
Tropiques also published Breton as well as texts by Pierre Mabille, Benjamin Peret, and other surrealists. Unlike critics who boxed surrealism into narrow 'avant garde' tendencies such as futurism and cubism, Suzanne Cesaire linked it to broader movements such as Romanticism, socialism, and Negritude. Surrealism, she argued, was not an ideology as such but a state of mind, a 'permanent readiness for the Marvellous'