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Reviewed by:
  • Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics
  • Nina Berman
Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics BY Akin Adesokan Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2011. xix + 230 pp. ISBN 978-0-253-22345-6 paper.

Akin Adesokan's important study evaluates intellectual positions and aesthetic choices advocated by an early generation of postcolonial artists and activists and also by their more contemporary counterparts. This comparative and historical approach allows Adesokan to highlight a shift in focus away from a critique of imperialism and colonialism to a critique of globalization and global capital. The author also comments on the idea of Pan-Africanism and (comparable perhaps to the rethinking of négritude by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Thiam) reenvisions it as a truly global movement that is concerned with "questions of social justice across the world" (30). One of his main concerns is the relationship between content and aesthetic choice in artistic production, and his study thus contributes to the recent scholarly interest—observable across disciplines and fields—in aesthetic questions. Adesokan sets out to pursue three main lines of thought, identified as: (1) "the fitful character of artistic representation within decolonization"; (2) "the aesthetic dimension of uneven geographical development; and (3) "the way metropolitan location and the commodity form function to shape genres" (xii). He builds his argument carefully, and the full depth of his central theses unfolds with each chapter.

After an engaging introduction that lays out the theoretical framework and goals for his study, Adesokan begins his discussion with the work of two key postcolonial intellectuals and artists. The chapter on C.L.R. James centers on the essay "Toward the Seventh: The Pan-African Congress—Past, Present and Future" (1976), and brings to the fore the global trajectory of Pan-Africanism, which, as Adesokan insists, was "more than a racial-cultural movement" (41). He argues that James's Pan-Africanism needs to be seen in its relation to other anti-imperialist movements of the founding period, such as socialist internationalism. The chapter on Ousmane Sembene's Xala (1974) highlights the aesthetics of decolonization that define Sembene's film but also unearths its (and the eponymous novel's) local dimensions, in that it foregrounds the melodrama of the polygamous family. In Adesokan's interpretation, Xala points to the double fetishism of Senegalese society at the time, one concerning the French/capitalist commodity culture, the other the traditional fetishism of the marabouts.

The chapter on Tunde Kelani, one of the key figures of Nollywood, shows that the structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also have consequences for artistic production. For instance, video emerges over film, as it allows for low-budget filmmaking, and [End Page 129] with economic and technical factors determining aesthetic choices, aesthetic playfulness and didacticism become principal features of Kelani's work, exemplified here through Thunderbolt: Magun (2001). Adesokan argues that Kelani's "aesthetics of exhortation" conveys a morality that is "universal, a conception of morality that can be generalized" (99). The next chapter focuses on the Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo whose work, according to Adesokan, is distinguished by an aesthetics of transnationalism. Adesokan finds some of Bekolo's propositions in his film Aristotle's Plot (1996) incoherent, but the discussion demonstrates that engaging with Bekolo's film, especially with the ways in which critique is voiced through humor and satire, proves to be worthwhile. Adesokan acknowledges that Bekolo is on the forefront of filmmakers that deal with globalization through conceptual film.

The chapter on Caryl Phillips's nonfiction essays, especially The Atlantic Sound (2000), takes on Phillips's verdict that "race matters . . . but not that much" (155) in the context of the global deracination of writers. He shows how Phillips's approach is intersectional, in that questions of race are brought together with class, gender, and sexuality, and themes of transnational social justice are crucial. The last chapter on the writer-activist Arundhati Roy's political writings pursues these issues further, and also considers the question of genre. Adesokan argues that Roy turns the weapons of neoliberal commodification upon themselves by using her status as international celebrity to disseminate the ideas expressed in her political nonfiction writings. The sarcasm she deploys in...


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pp. 129-130
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