Reimagining History

Christine Alfery

Posted on December 07 2022

Reimagining History

Featured image: Nature's Beauty

Rethinking History -

Recently when considering art exhibitions in which I would submit my work, I came across a call from an art center in California that was inviting “artists to submit artwork for Reimagining History. The idea of reimagining history is not new in the world of art and literature.” This art center went on to give examples of “works of artists such as Robert Colescott, Cindy Sherman, and Enrique Chagoya examining issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and political identity through their visual retelling of iconic images and historical figures. In literature, examples span from Herodotus' The Histories in 440 BC to Tolstoy's War and Peace to the contemporary Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.”

What a grand idea and what an outstanding way to approach history! When I was in graduate school the trend was to rewrite and rethink history. I questioned the idea of rewriting history. It is something I am totally against. Things happen and they are written about. Artwork is created telling the story of what happened and histories are written. Yes, historians have a personal bias when they write. Yes, artists have a personal bias when they create, BUT …. that doesn’t change what happened during a particular time and place. That doesn’t change how individuals at the time depicted the events. Time can’t go backwards just because we wish or factually know or believe that perhaps a history or artwork was done with a particular bias. The only thing that can happen is that we write and create today how we think, know, believe and wish things had happened back then. We can create and write about the difference and move forward in our thinking, writing and creating with these differences in mind. We can’t erase time just because we wish that we could.

In art there is an excellent example of attempts to erase time. Robert Rauschenberg erased a work he owned by de Kooning. It is said that Rauschenberg was making a statement about how the tradition of drawing did not have to be the foundation of a painting. It was also said that Rauschenberg could not appropriate the work of de Kooning. Think about it, once the de Kooning was erased, whose work was it? And now since Rauschenberg and many others of his time made the point that the tradition of drawing did not need to be the foundation of a painting.

I rarely use a drawing as a foundation for a work. And when I think about history and the recent events in our current history that destroyed historical statues in the United States, I told myself, “That is no way to go about protesting how history was written!” I would prefer to think of history, and how it has been written as artists in the past have done, by approaching the past from the present and making a statement of how we can think differently.

My recent works highlight individuals, and how individuals, individuality, and independence does exactly that. My work reexamines and asks others to think about how individuals and the concept of the individual is thought about and I ask others to think differently about the concept of the individual.

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