Few manifestos remain in the public consciousness for long. Fewer still have defined entire eras of art, and all of those were eventually challenged by later treatises. This cycle is one way to understand the history of art.
A manifesto is a desperate thing. Thats what Mierle Laderman Ukeles said of her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!, which she wrote in a single sitting, under the duress of motherhood.
Sixty years have passed since Uche Okeke wrote Natural Synthesis. Debates surrounding the manifestos influencewho is right to be named a member of the group, which younger artists are favored descendants, etc.eclipse, to my mind, a greater dilemma. That is, are the opportunities for synthesis as available to artists today as they were to their forebears? What can be said of the resources available right now for those who wish to model their practice after the idea of a natural synthesis?
In Waiting for Tear Gas, I recognize the faces and scenes from last summers protests against the systematic murder of Black people by the police, and feel the catharsis of standing alongside the community in solidarity. I recall the tear gas, the chants, the police car set aflameall of these instances while we waited to see what change would come. With empathy and grief, were still waiting.
So here we are, misled by false notions: petty legal wrangling, diversionary demands, political posturing. And all within our usual terrain, set out by the returning old guard. Such is the natural dominion of habit that we regard the most arbitrary conventions, sometimes indeed the most defective institutions, as absolute measures of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice, Robespierre warned. Thus begins Bidens hollow restoration.
Manifestos, as I understand them, share the characteristics of maps that I propose here. They reflect the political contexts in which they are produced. And their raison dêtre is to declare a movements intentions, aims, and proposals. They display their geography explicitly. At the same time, a manifesto can be devised as a tool to present escape routes from the system in which it was produced. Such is the case of Manifesto Antropófago by Oswald de Andrade, published in Portuguese in the 1928 inaugural issue of Revista de Antropofagia.
The distillation of ideas necessary for an impactful manifesto feels far too reductive in a world whose complexities, contradictions, and crises have exploded into our lives as though someone dropped a match into a bag of fireworks.
Art manifestos often propose themselves as solutions to aesthetic problemsaping philosophical or religious tracts, mathematical proofs. But the resulting language is typically merely fatuous and should be set as far aside from art as possible, relevant only for the purpose of scholarship.
When Walter Gropius published the Bauhaus manifesto in 1919, his ambition was to level the enervated hierarchies of Western art.