WAI Architecture Think Tank, Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia

Notes on (Post-)Modernist Abstractions and (Post-)Colonial Resolutions


Even when they are dangerous examine the heart of those machines you hate before you discard them

Audre Lorde, 'For Each of You'

many theorists say trauma is time out of joint.
the audio track speed
doesn’t match the images

Raquel Salas Rivera, 'i fight with my girlfriend because the fascists want me dead'

Definitely, the postmodern debate seems stuck in modernity’s constitutive oppositions. Where is the alternative when all that is offered is an old account of domination in which a self-described (abstract) universal precludes any transformative opposition through a founding exclusion of (concrete) local cultures and a new account of hegemony in which the political field is inhabited by already constituted culturally different others of the West who are dominated because of the identification of a particular local [Western] culture with the Universal?

Denise Ferreira da Silva, Towards a Global Idea of Race

Introduction: On Opacities, Abstractions and Resolutions

When the Martinican poet, novelist and theorist Édouard Glissant clamours for the right to opacity in Poetics of Relation, he outlines the possibility of entanglements through an open totality evolving upon itself as the 'subsistence within an irreducible singularity'.1 This opacity challenges the transparency of reductive thought produced by eugenics and other colonial epistemologies. Devised as a challenge to the absolute and 'universalist' truths promised by the methods of Western modernity, opacities – which coexist and converge as weaving fabrics – are introduced as the 'real foundation of Relation, in Freedoms'.2

Although many scholars – including Argentine–Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel, Bolivian philosopher Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui and Colombian theorist Arturo Escobar – have argued that there are many modernities and exteriorities to modernity at play, in this article we will focus on the Euro-North American brand of modernity that is at the core of the transatlantic slave trade and the development of a global capitalist system.3 However, in conventional architectural discussions about the 'global design' of modernity, Modernism and Post-Modernism, other relations (of subjugation, repression, subordination) are obscured by different forms of non-emancipatory opacities.4 Not all the processes of modernity seek transparency, and not all opacities are liberatory.5

Difficult to trace because of their ubiquity in Euro-North American bodies of knowledge and work, these non-liberatory opacities range from processes to responses, attitudes, ideological systems, stylistic episodes, material infrastructures, strategies of deployment, world views, sociopolitical phenomena, aesthetic–political regimes and dogmas. This text proposes to reframe the scope of these hegemonic ideologies against the subject matter that made them possible, all the while strategically remaining outside of its universalist picture.

In Critique of Black Reason, the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe describes how 'Blackness and race, the one and the other, represent twin figures of the delirium produced by modernity.'6 In his description of these figures, which he calls ‘the vertiginous assembly’, he outlines three moments that include the organised despoliation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the birth of writing among Blacks, their demanding of the status of full subjects and the unfolding innumerable slave revolts, the independence of Haiti, the battle for the abolition of the slave trade, African decolonisation, the civil rights struggles in the United States and the dismantling of apartheid.7 The third moment is determined by the 'globalisation of markets, the privatisation of the world under the aegis of neoliberalism, and the imbrication of the financial markets, the postimperial military complex and electronic and digital technologies' that turn the brutality of the plantation into a planetary condition in what he calls the 'becoming Black of the world'.8 Modernity implies the convergence of systems of capture, predation, extraction, asymmetrical warfare, biological and economic collusion during the fusion of capitalism and animism, intensifying zoning and repression practices, systematic mass imprisonment, execution and, after all, the rule of necropolitics.9

Modernity – defined by the Jamaican writer Sylvia Wynter by the 'rise of the West' and the 'subjugation of the rest of us' – is intrinsically linked to the economies and practices of what Karl Marx called ‘primitive accumulation’, its evolution into capitalism and its by-products (race, Blackness, the colonisation of the Americas and the Caribbean and the underdevelopment of Africa).10 While modernity and colonialism – at some point interchangeable and today still linked – encompass, among many of the aforementioned moments, ‘human and economic exploitation’, and the ‘actual ownership of the means of production in one country by the citizens of another’, Modernism, in the arts and also in architecture, is the process of abstracting those forces as a set of assembly instructions and aesthetic parameters.11

Under the illusion of a 'new beginning', the tabula rasa, Modernism (an aesthetico-political engine powered by the Eurocentric delirium) strives in its many iterations to erase any connection to past, present and future damage, to destruction, ecocide and genocide.12 Whether by denouncing what it is not (Ornament and Crime); declaring its infatuation for technologies, foods and fascist political systems (Italian Futurists); outlining its industrialist and capitalist elements and principles (the five points for a contemporary architecture, Maison Dom-Ino); or diagramming an oversimplified set of hierarchical relationships in the form of urban plans for Europe, the colonised and even the decolonising world; Modernism – with its predetermined aesthetic kit-of-parts and simplified tools of social and urban analysis – is the materialisation of abstraction as practice.13 Opposed to Glissant’s opacity, abstraction isinterpreted in this text as the use of aesthetic principles, strategies and methods of representation to conceal the footprint of colonialism. In this context, opacity comes as a choice, while abstraction is always imposed. As multiple Modernist practices appear at the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe and, as a result, in its colonial extensions, they birth a shared impulse to abstract the political, social, economic and material footprint of empire to clean (sanitising) diagrams, evocative manifestos and hierarchically reductive plans. As its go-to tool, 'abstraction may be Modernism’s greatest innovation’.14

While Modernism’s abstractions erase modernity’s colonial footprints, the role of emancipatory practices consists in bringing the legacy of modernity’s systematic, global-scale subjugation and spoliation back into resolution. For Glissant’s opacity to be possible, modernity cannot remain an abstraction of Modernism.

Abstraction and Resolution 1: Declaration and Transaction

Among romantic brushstrokes, powerful waves of an angry sea saturated with marine beasts take away the bodies – arms and legs in chains – of moribund enslaved Africans thrown overboard by orders of the captain, Luke Collingwood, so that the ship’s owners, Messrs Gregson, could ‘make a claim under maritime insurance law for the destroyed cargo.15 After a fateful trip that took much longer than expected, the captain decided against having to bear the cost of the lost cargo by letting the kidnapped and enslaved Africans die out of hunger or thirst, and instead threw them alive into the sea so that it would ‘be the loss of the underwriter’.16 J.M.W. Turner first exhibited Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) at the Royal Academy, London, in 1840 with an ‘abolitionist’ poem titled 'Fallacies of Hope' (1812) in which he asked, 'Where is thy market now?'17

In 1899 a Boston banker named William Sturgis Hooper Lothrop sold the painting to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for $65,000 (equivalent to $2,200,000 today).18 That same year, Lothrop, together with other bankers and capitalists, invested the money of that transaction in a corporation named DeFord & Co., which, through family connections, had intervened with United States president William McKinley to be fiscal agent of the United States military in the newly occupied territory of Puerto Rico. DeFord & Co. purchased Hacienda Aguirre along with several neighbouring sugar plantations, expanding operations by grinding the sugar cane harvested in other plantations on the island, and acquiring several kilometres of railway to facilitate its transportation to Aguirre.

Like Slave Ship, Turner’s seascapes have been thought by historians to be a key step in the development of modern painting towards abstraction.19 What makes Modernism abstract cannot be understood only in terms of what is presented in the framework of the work of art, but, rather, of what is left outside its picture. Modernist abstraction consists of obscuring, behind ideas of enlightenment, development and progress, the brutal violence of colonialism – the engine of European economies, and as a result, the maker of Europe.20

While his commentary had nothing at play (Great Britain had abolished slavery years earlier), Turner turned his proto-modernist (or primitive modernism, to playfully borrow Marx’s term) work into an accidental proto-postcolonial declaration. What type of critique of Slave Ship would also account for the ensuing transactions and for the colonial footprint of the artwork in the markets of capitalism?

Abstraction 2: Modernism

In 1936 Alfred H Barr Jr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, published on the cover of the exhibition catalogue Cubism and Abstract Art an eponymous diagram outlining an evolutionary map of how Modernist abstraction evolved.21 In the drawing, Barr charts in two principal axes (time and styles or movements) both European and non-Western influences, from Machine Aesthetic and Modern Architecture to Near-Eastern Art and Negro Sculpture.

The vectors in the drawing suggest how modern movements shift from one style to another in a sequential, evolutionary and almost scientific progression.22 But, like modern narratives in other sciences of the time, the diagram masks as much as it reveals, moving the forces that Turner denounced in his painting almost a century earlier outside the narrative picture. By stripping European movements from the geopolitical conditions that enabled them, Cubism and Abstract Art performed Modernism’s desired break with the subject matter of colonialism. In that sense, Barr’s diagram is as much about Modernist abstractions as it is a Modernist abstraction.

Resolution 2: Colonialism

In 2019 the US American conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas reimagined Cubism and Abstract Art as Colonialism and Abstract Art. Reworking Barr’s diagram, Thomas reinserts some of the significant cultural and geopolitical circumstances that made European Modernism possible. Beginning with the European colonisation of the Congo and ending with the decade of its independence, as well as including the United States- and Belgium-backed assassination of its pan-Africanist president Patrice Lumumba a century later, Colonialism and Abstract Art is an exercise of resolution that addresses the problem of Modernist historical abstraction.23 Where Barr’s diagram attempted to 'break away from the subject matter' of colonialism, Thomas makes evident that the colonial project is the celestial body that pulls with its violent gravity the planetary orbit of Modernism. With Colonialism and Abstract Art, the artist shows how, even with its flaws and limitations, the diagram – tool for opportunistic abstraction, and quintessential tool of Modernist ideology – can be instrumentalised as a tool for critique. For every abstract diagram, there is a diagram as a form of resolution.

Abstraction 3: Post-Modernism

By the time Charles Jencks started publishing his Evolutionary Tree series in the 1970s, diagrams were a common sighting in Modernist circles.24 Barr’s diagram, together with Walter Gropius's lithograph of the Bauhaus Curriculum (1922) and the CIAM Grille, presented in the CIAM 7 in Bergamo (1949), displayed some of Modernism’s predilection for clear graphics that avoided questioning the legitimacy of Modernist ways. While Barr’s diagrams obscured the colonial expeditions and occupations of the period, Gropius’s diagram was the scaffolding for a sexist curriculum of an institution that enforced gender separation by academic disciplines.25 By focusing on work, dwelling, transportation and circulation, the Grille avoids addressing the politics of Modernist urbanism, abstracting discussions about capitalism and colonialism that would question the role of European planners, including its own proponent in Le Corbusier who proposed – among many of his urban plans – Plan Obus in colonial Algeria just a decade earlier.

Although Jencks turns the evolutionary tree horizontally to question clearly defined evolutionary streams and ideas of stylistic hierarchy, such as the Modernist schemes that preceded them, these diagrams remain unable or uninterested in addressing questions of colonialism, imperialism or apartheid. Where Modernism disguises behind the Euro-supremacist smokescreens of universalism the many anticolonial struggles unfolding in Africa, Latin America and Asia, Post-Modernism (or Post-Modernisms as Jencks later argued), with its Western-centric focus on styles and aesthetics, continues a process of abstraction that overlooks ongoing struggles for human emancipation.26 Despite the attempt to critically distance Post-Modernism from the capitalist 'ideology of economic rationalism and constant high growth' that gave life to Modernism, the ‘new paradigm’ further overlooks how the legacies and practices of colonialism continue to shape urban policy and architecture even in its different, ‘double-coding’ and ‘cosmopolitan outlooks’.27

The beginnings of Post-Modernism take place as Jim Crow (United States), apartheid (South Africa) and the White Australia policy are consolidated as part of the legal system across three different continents, making white supremacy officially a planetary law. To write about the failure of Pruitt–Igoe while ignoring segregation laws and the history of white supremacy in the United States is as problematic as publishing Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas while completely overlooking the Civil Rights Movement and its multiple aesthetic, political and spatial manifestations. Post-Modernism puts all its attention on neon signs and commercial billboards, on 'concrete slabs and repetitive clichès' and, later, on the so-called 'pervasive style' product of the 'hybridisation of national cultures into ones that are thoroughly mixed and in constant communication' at the time that Black people, after more than 400 brutal years of dehumanising modernity are collectively marching with signs that call for 'Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice and Peace', and publicly stating the fact that Black lives do matter.28

Resolution 3: Post-colonial Critique

In the great picture of world events, Post-Modernism, in its refusal to question and sever its ties to the capitalist–colonial project, remains nothing more than a continuation of the Modernist project of Eurocentric abstraction. As Dussel affirms, ‘Postmodernism is a final stage in modern European/North American culture, the ―core of Modernity.29 A method that combines life sciences, complexity and contradictions, the growth of complex, fractal cities resulted in what Jencks called a new paradigm aided by computer design and production by means of'computer modelling, automated-production, and the sophisticated techniques of market research and prediction that allow us to mass-produce a variety of styles and almost personalized products.30 A post-colonial critique would see that, rather than a new paradigm about recent architectural history, these are self-aggrandised opaque styles, manifestos and diagrams that conveniently omit the material, colonial and capitalist history of architecture. In this new (but old) paradigm, architecture continues to disengage with the engine (of modernity) and fuel (of colonialism) that makes it possible, thereby perpetuating beyond what Jencks called the 'era of stupid and inarticulate slabs' the vertiginous assembly that Mbembe describes as being at the centre of the Western project of modernity.

To understand the potential and possibilities of critical forms of resolution in this context, it becomes imperative to recognise the relationship between colonial erasures as the product of Modernist abstraction and the potential role played by post-colonial critique.31

At the time of the sale of Turner’s Slave Ship, which partially funded the purchase of the Central Aguirre sugar mill, Puerto Rico went from being a Spanish colony to a United States-seized territory. A post-colonial critique would track the colonial footprint of the painting, following the transactions that connect paintings as commodities to the architectures of oppression, centring the colonial violence of the sugar mill and plantation and decentring the abstract allegory or its relationship to other works of art.

The post-colonial here doesn’t imagine what happens 'after' the colony, particularly since Puerto Rico has been one for more than five hundred years. Instead, it adjusts the picture to the high resolution of the colonial condition and makes it impossible to imagine modernity (and by default, post-modernity) without the regimes of brutality, capture and predation at the centre of the plantation economy that makes it possible and maintains it.32

Post-colonial critique, its methods of subversion and resolution, and its ensuing emancipatory imaginaries don’t replace or erase the destruction, spoliation and displacement of colonialism; they trace and visualise its ubiquitous effects.33 This critique reclaims the pseudoscientific and once depoliticised evolutionary diagrams of exposed concrete, playful forms and structural games, and renders them full of blood, barbed wire, apartheid walls and spilled organic matter. The logic that tried to explain styles and movements in a logical order is interrupted by the visceral brutality of the Eurocentric machine of extraction and death.

Post-colonial diagrams and other conclusions

A post-colonial critique that reinserts the colonial project as an integral part of the scaffolding that keeps the ideological edifice of Modernism standing can potentially expose the fallacies of Post-Modernism. Turned into a graphic method, a Post-Colonial Oriented Ontology Diagram outlines how, in the greater picture of Western modernity, Post-Modernism in its relationship with Modernism is part of an uninterrupted circle that ties the Eurocentric universalism to the Enlightenment, extraction, colonialism, and the construction of Blackness and race. Post-Modernism continues Modernism’s practice of abstraction that aims to explicate by means of overlooking and ignoring the white supremacist and colonising violence of Western modernity. By rendering visible the tools of abstraction inside an area of post-colonial resolution, post-colonialism can do to colonialism what Post-Modernism wishes to do to Modernism: critically expose the problematic infrastructures that hold the entire predecessor’s project together.

Whereas in Jencks’ account of Post-Modernism, the reasons for the demolition of Pruitt–Igoe are presented as primarily aesthetic (namely that the Modernist style of the building was not adequately suited to its inhabitants), a post-colonial critique would highlight racist planning and housing policies and accounts of tenants that had organised to demand control over the administration of the buildings at the centre of the discussion.34 Modern architecture didn’t die in St Louis, Missouri, on 15 July 1972 at 3:32p.m., less than three years after a nine-month rent strike that resulted in a new management coalition that included tenants. At that same time, Brasilia, a Modernist diagram of hierarchical centralisation, operated as a colonial platform from which the United States-backed military dictatorship launched 'a new occupation and integration front' that 'had ethnocidal and genocidal effects for the Indigenous populations of Brazil'.35 While one white supremacist project of segregation in building form was brought to pieces by the forces of dynamite, another one (simultaneously at the scale of the city and the nation state) of 'occupation and integration' over the Amazon rainforest was enforced by means of tanks.36

When Jencks proposes Post-Modernist evolutionary trees that, like the Modernist ones, conveniently forget about the role of colonialism as the engine of modernity, or just fleetingly mention racism in connection with the despicable practices of Nazis and Fascists (while ignoring other blatant historical racist practices or how white supremacy underlines many movements), a post-colonial critique presents the Chronocartographic Map of anti-Black Regimes. Reappropriating and adapting Jencks’ diagram, the map ties movements, events, institutions, policies and acts of resistance to a viscous network of white supremacist, anti-Indigenous policies, and anti-Black legal systems that make architecture inherently an instrument of segregation policies and genocide.

Both, Modernist and Post-Modernist diagrams alike, hide behind the beautiful abstraction of vector lines and formal associations: the relentless forces of extraction, displacement, ecocide and genocide that made their globalising project a 'successful' one. When Jencks affirms that 'relevant diagrams can save lives', he forgets to add that irrelevant diagrams can hide death.37 Like Turner’s painting, or like any colonial map, while remaining at a safe distance from the 'subject matter' of colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy, these opaque diagrams aesthetically distil and keep out of the picture the forces that have irreversibly shaped and spoliated the planet and all forms of life in it.

As until recently architectural history concerned itself with the study of classical orders and globalised Eurocentric styles, the role of the post-colonial critique addresses labour practices and anti-imperialist fights. When new paradigms in architecture promise 'new ways of constructing architecture and conceiving cities', the post-colonial critique reminds us that the plantation economy that fuelled Modernism is not a problem of the past, that to understand our current questions and challenges we must address questions of reparations, repatriations, decolonisation and emancipation38.39

When opportunistic versions of 'history' omit the asymmetrical effects of power and wealth accumulation, the post-colonial critique declares that history doesn’t exist; that all we have are historical narratives controlled by the powerful and empire.40 French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard defined the post-modern as the condition of knowledge in the ‘most highly developed societies’, or as an incredulity towards meta or grand narratives of speculation or even emancipation, because they have ‘lost their credibility’.41 The post-colonial targets the elitist concept of ‘developed societies’, focuses on the mechanisms of great narratives such as white supremacy, modernity, capitalism and empire, and their material and ideological effects, and proposes other grand narratives (planetary solidarity, anti-racism, anti-imperialism, ecological justice) as models of resistance.42 When the post-modern diagram hidesthese narratives behind convoluted schemes and theories, the post-colonial critique diagrams the specificities of their inner workings, footprint and violence.

In the face of anti-emancipatory abstractions of historical events, the post-colonial offers forms of historical narrative resolution. When proto-modernists, modernists, or post-modernists ask, 'Where is thy market now?', the post-colonial replies, ‘Wherever the plantation is: everywhere.’

  1. Édouard Glissant, 'For Opacity', Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1997).

  2. Ibid.

  3. Dussel writes: ‘Thus, the strict concept of the trans-modern attempts to indicate the radical novelty of the irruption – as if from nothing – from the transformative exteriority of that which is always Distinct, those universal cultures in the process of development which assume the challenges of Modernity, and even European/North American Post-modernity, but which respond from another place, another location.’ Enrique Dussel, Transmodernity and Interculturality: An Interpretation from the Perspective of Philosophy of Liberation, (2008) Association for Philosophy and Liberation. Arturo Escobar writes about modernities that, ‘The modern, in this way, is an always ongoing struggle to define the real in terms of articulations of time and space, presence and change, lasting structures and the experience of the everyday. In other words, not every modernity is Euro-modernity, and multiple modernities can thus be reclaimed as an ontological and political project.’ Arturo Escobar, ‘Development, trans/modernities, and the politics of theory’, Focaal – European Journal of Anthropology, 52 (2008), 127–35.

    For more on the role of Europe in the underdevelopment of Africa read Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Verso Books, 2018).

  4. Institutionally and academically established texts on Modernism, ranging from Siegfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition to Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History and Alan Colquhoun, Modern Architecture, have continuously overlooked the colonial footprint that made Modernism possible. This practice has been interrupted with recent publications that articulate historical narratives centred on race, including Irene Cheng (ed.), Race and Modern Architecture, Samia Henni (ed.), Deserts Are Not Empty and Adrienne Brown, The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race. Editorial projects such as the 'Reparations!' issue of the Journal of Architectural Education, which we co-edited with Mitch McEwen, and WAI Architecture Think Tank’s A Manual of Anti-Racist Architecture Education have helped to expand knowledge in this field.

  5. Sylvia Wynter explains how the discussions that challenged the struggles of a global design that occurred during the 1960s were soon to be 'sanitised' to the point where they kept responding to the global hegemonic ethno-class of the Western European 'Man'. ‘The further proposal here is that, although the brief hiatus during which the sixties’ large-scale challenge based on multiple issues, multiple local terrains of struggles (local struggles against, to use Mignolo’s felicitous phrase, a “global design”) erupted was soon to be erased, several of the issues raised then would continue to be articulated, some in sanitised forms (those pertaining to the category defined by Bauman as “the seduced”), others in more harshly intensified forms (those pertaining to Bauman’s category of the “repressed”). Both forms of “sanitisation” would, however, function in the same manner as the law-like effects of the post-sixties’ vigorous discursive and institutional re-elaboration of the central overrepresentation, which enables the interests, reality, and well-being of the empirical human world to continue to be imperatively subordinated to those of the now globally hegemonic ethnoclass world of “Man”.’Sylvia Wynter, 'Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument, The New Centennial Review, 3/3 (Fall 2003), 257–337.

  6. Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, trans. Laurent Dubois (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid. In other essays, we have called this condition the 'becoming Puerto Rico of the world', since Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world. Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, 'Loudreading in Post-colonial Landscapes (to the beat of Reggaeton)', The Avery Review, 48 (June 2020), averyreview.com/issues/48/ loudreading.

  9. Mbembe expands on the concept of necropolitics in his eponymous book. Mbembe, Necropolitics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

  10. Sylvia Wynter, 'Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument', CR: The New Centennial Review, 3/3 (2003), 257–337, muse.jhu.edu/article/51630. ‘The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement, and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation.’ Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1, ‘Chapter Thirty-One: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist.’

  11. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Verso Books, 2018). See also Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1959).

  12. Throughout the text, Modernism would be used to encapsulate a broad range of practices in art and architecture, as they both employ similar strategies of abstraction, and in many settings are presented as part of the same aesthetic–political project. The coexistence of architecture and art in Modernist collections in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, reinforce this argument.

  13. If (Euroamerican) modernity is a process of the subjugation, instrumentalisation and accumulation that occurs via the very material and physical forces of colonialism, Modernism (used here interchangeably in art and architecture) is the stylistic distilling of these brutalising forces into the non-liberating opacity of abstraction.

  14. Glenn D Lowry, in Inventing Abstraction 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012).

  15. A detailed account of the ship’s owners’ legal action and the historical trial that ensued is documented in M NourbeSe Philip, Zong! (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), 189–207.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), Collections MFA, collections.mfa.org/objects/31102. Turner wrote his poem more than three decades after the Foreign Slave Trade Act (1806), which prohibited British slave traders from operating in territories belonging to foreign powers, and was followed up by the Slave Trade Abolition Act of March (1807).

  18. See Marta Aponte Alsina, PR 3 Aguirre (Puerto Rico: Sopa de Letras, 2018). Luis Othoniel Rosa reseña ‘PR3 Aguirre’ (Marta Aponte Alsina file),

  19. Leah Dickerman, Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013).

  20. It must be noted that abstraction is granted to those who consider themselves modern, but never conceded to the rest of the world. In this context, Glissant’s opacity can be seen as an alternative to modernising abstraction.

  21. Alfred H Barr Jr, Cubism and Abstract Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936).

  22. Glenn D Lowry, 'Abstraction in 1936: Barr’s Diagrams', in Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013).

  23. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, 'Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century', Guardian, Mon 17 Jan 2011.

  24. Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1977), 9.

  25. The sexist practices of the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius in particular have been documented in Carmen Espegel, Women Architects in the Modern Movement (London: Routledge, 2018).

  26. Charles Jencks, 'Preface: A Revolution in Five Phases', Critical Modernism: Where is Post-Modernism Going?

  27. Ibid.

  28. See The Black Panther Party, ‘The Ten-Point Program’ (1966).

  29. Dussel, ‘Transmodernity and Interculturality’.

  30. Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture.

  31. As explained in 'Loudreading in Post-colonial Landscapes (to the beat of Reggaeton)', while Achille Mbembe, among many other scholars, describes the condition of the 'postcolony' when referring to African former colonies, our use of a hyphenated version, post-colonial, implies a form of critique generated by and anchored in fabricated fictional narratives and ideas about the future state of a current colony, while referring to a series of identifiable traits on former (or current) colonial territories. For more on our definition of the post-colonial in the context of critique see Garcia and Frankowski, 'Loudreading in Post-colonial Landscapes’.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Throughout the text we write about post-colonial imaginaries, methods and critiques. The post-colonial here refers to what happens when the regimes of brutality that characterised the plantation become the norm everywhere else. Imaginaries points to alternative visions of the world, while methods and critiques point to the processes and models of enquiry that reveal and subvert forms of hegemonic architectural ideology. For more on post-colonial methods and critiques see Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, ‘A Great Loudreading Is in the Making: A Guide to the Post-Colonial Method’, Trigger: Care, no. 3 (2021), and Garcia and Frankowski, ‘Loudreading in Post-colonial Landscapes’.

  34. As seen in the document by the Comptroller General of the United States, 'Department of Housing and Urban Development, Selected Aspects of The Operation of The St Louis Housing Authority: Department of Housing and Urban Development B-118718', 21 April 1971, tenants were pressuring the St Louis Housing Authority and were on the way to gaining power over the control of the housing units. From the report: ‘In October 1969, the tenants of low-rent public housing in St Louis, Missouri, ended a 9-month rent strike against the St Louis Housing Authority (hereinafter referred to as the Authority). The strike settlement agreement provided for management of the projects by a newly formed coalition including tenants, community leaders, and Teamsters Union officials, known as the St Louis Civic Alliance for Housing (hereinafter referred to as the Alliance), and for the appointment of a new board of commissioners of the Authority. Two members of the board were to be tenants of low-rent public housing.’ This overlooked but important event stands in stark contrast with the accounts of historians and theorists, including Charles Jencks, whose quote about the death of Modernism has become emblematic of epistemologies that overlook the nefarious role played by apartheid and segregation laws and practices. Thanks to V Mitch McEwen for sharing these findings.

  35. See Paulo Tavares, 'Brasilia: Colonial Capital', e-flux Architecture (October 2020).

  36. 'General Golbery do Couto e Silva, the military regime’s great geopolitical strategist, interpreted Brasília as a “platform” from which to launch a new “occupation and integration front” over the Amazon Rainforest. Translated into numerous plans, projects and architectures, this policy of militarised colonisation, as reported by the Brazilian National Truth Commission, was responsible for the forced removal and killing of thousands of Indigenous people.' Ibid.

  37. Jencks, 'Preface: A Revolution in Five Parts'.

  38. Tavares, 'Brasilia: Colonial Capital'.

  39. We recently co-edited an issue of the Journal of Architectural Education on the question of reparations. See, V Mitch McEwen, Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia, ‘Reparations!’, Journal of Architectural Education, 77/1 (2023).

  40. In 'History Doesn’t Exist', we argue that, as the chronocartographic map of anti-Black regimes shows, history is a construction by those in power. For the full text see Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, 'History Doesn’t Exist', The Funambulist: They Have Clocks, We Have Time, issue 36 (21 June 2021).

  41. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), and Lyotard, ‘1995’, in Education and the Postmodern Condition, ed. Michael Peters Bergin & Garvey.

  42. ‘In contemporary society and culture – postindustrial society, postmodern culture – the question of the legitimation of knowledge is formulated in different terms. The grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation.’ Ibid.

WAI Architecture Think Tank, Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia
Notes on (Post-)Modernist Abstractions and (Post-)Colonial Resolutions
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