NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 42

Bewaji further reassures us that “ art in nature ” can be revealed “ when animal , tree , river , rock , celestial appearance and behavior become narratives underlining an architectonic of beauty and pleasure , leading to formation of cosmologies , ontologies , metonyms , metaphors and mythologies .”
I can recall my sense of irrepressible awe , when I initially experienced the Grand Canyon , where I discovered the unadorned spectacle of Beauty in the power of God ’ s essence , a spiritual apprehension I ’ m certain was not lost to the Native Americans . Clearly , my response to the phenomenal spirit of Beauty was incompatible with Hegel ’ s desire to require the essence of Beauty to be “ the unity or harmony of different elements in which these elements are not just arranged in a regular , symmetrical pattern , but are unified organically ,” a perfection of Absolute inner-truth that only human beings could imagine . The asymmetry and angularity of the canyon ’ s cavernous rock formation , coupled with a myriad of colors , created a spectral rhythm that captured my imagination without a Hegelian contemplation of it being Nature or Spirit , affirming the presence of God as the “ effective force ” of creativity . The mundane chatter that preceded the approach of visitors to the rim of the canyon came to a precipitous hush .
Nonetheless , Hegel would undoubtedly dismiss my response to the Power of Nature as nothing more than a naïve seduction to the sublime , which , much like aesthetics , is a sensory mediation capable of inducing both an emotional and cognitive impact . In the Oxford English Dictionary , sublime is noted as being applicable to “ things in nature and art ” that affect “ the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur or irresistible power , calculated to inspire awe , deep reverence , or lofty emotion , by reason of its beauty , vastness , or grandeur .” Irrespective of Hegel ’ s objections to irregularities in artistic gestures , Abraham offers an Africana view in his description of the ubiquitous presence of deformity in the “ reproductive verisimilitude ” of sculptural objects in traditional African Art as being “ direct , magical , attempting a sort [ of ] plastic analogue of onomatopoeia , to evince and evoke feelings ” connected to extant attitudes toward both evil and divine released in the sculptural forms . Yet , the “ near-vigour , but not the vigour a la Japan , near-hideousness but not hideousness , near-distortion which is not complete , the complex of attributes does not quite scarify , but leaves a ponderous aura of dark forces , of massive unreleased potency , or the unknown and the indeterminate , almost a hushed version of the ventriloquist ubiquity of the rattle-snake , the sense of mesmerized helplessness , still , cold , silent , enchantedly forlorn , and an aura of the numinous presence of primeval spirit .” In this sense , the deformities in traditional African Art , except when secular , are testamental . ( Chicago University Press , 1962 : 112 ).
For the sake of Art , what , then , is
beauty ? Is it the imperfect symmetrical perfection of a Deep Sea Pearl or the bountiful perfection gleaned in the anatomical asymmetry of the Venus Hottentot ’ s steatopygia ? Alternately , one might ask , can Ugliness cause one to surrender to its power ? The query begs a second question : can the power of beauty in African aesthetics , despite constant reappraisals in deference to the Western gaze , be arrested by the self-conscious cultural bias of Western logic to impose a binary alternative to beauty , that of being ugly .
A recent article in the Guardian reports how passions were inflamed at Zimbabwe ’ s fourth annual Mister Ugly contest , when the crowd favorite , a man with irregular features who had owned the title since 2012 , was dethroned by a contestant with “ missing front teeth and a wide range of grotesque facial expressions .” The crowd protested that the judgment was foul play , that the winner was “ too handsome ,” because his ugliness was not “ natural ,” only based upon his conspicuously abhorrent missing teeth . Unperturbed , the winner insisted : “ They should just accept that I am uglier than them . I hope to get a tv contract . I already moved around schools performing and showcasing my ugliness so this is a chance to make it on tv .” ( Nov 23 , 2015 )