Portraiture, Colonialism and Racism

Resident contrarian, Breakerbaker offers a lesson on race and art history, pinged to our discussion yesterday of Salome:

I just mean from an art historical perspective. These European white guys having a sort of skewed perspective bordering on colonial fetishism when it came to Africa (most notably Picasso), the Near and Far East (too many French Academics to mention), and the Pacific Islands (Gauguin). There's a sort of sometimes hidden, sometimes overt European colonialism to so much of the painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A couple obvious examples:
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), which is generally accepted as the 'first cubist painting' is little more than a culturally insensitive, borderline racist, not to mention misogynist depiction of nude European women striking poses in African tribal masks.

It's nearly impossible to look at any of Gauguin's paintings from Tahiti and not think of the countless adolescent island girls to whom he brought the great gift of syphilis.

The Near East fascination, because of its connection to Biblical stories is far more intrinsic to the longer history of Western Art, so that, along with the unmistakable craft of somebody like Regnault (or Ingres before him) can obscure the realization that these were white Frenchman of the 18th and 19th centuries (in Picasso's case, Spanish and 20th century) depicting a very limited understanding of what it is to not be white and French.

I don't mean at all to take away from the painting, but it is my understanding that the picture was not originally to be of Salome, and was instead to be called something like "The Favorite Slave."

ThisĀ  is over my head, but quite interesting. I thought about race when I saw the picture, mostly because of the woman's kinky hair--but I liked it and thought nothing more of it. Well there is the oft-noted fact of how wide, phenotypicaly, "black" extends in non-New York America. And some bamboo earrings, an I tell you I could have gone to school with old girl.

Also I think, given my obsession as a younger man with naming racism, I am a little fatigued. Well that's not quite right--I've come to accept prejudice as a rather natural thing. (White supremacy, not so much.) Thus, I kind of expect it in the art, and maybe miss some of it.

I looked at the Picasso, and wasn't really offended. But maybe I would be, if I knew more.

UPDATE: It's worth mentioning that highlighting racism--or any other -ism--in someone's work, isn't the same as saying that their art sucks. I think we'd lose a lot of art if started disqualifying stuff based on quotient of noxious ideas. I don't think Breaker was calling for anyone's head.