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African Beauty Standards

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Immanuel Kant is known for releasing art from fulfilling any purpose other than sheer aesthetic pleasure. He defined fine art as the 'art of genius' and beauty as that which brings forth an experience of pleasure. His concepts were incredibly influential he was likely the most revered philosopher on the topic of aesthetics. What is less celebrated and frankly ignored is Kant's assertions on African philosophy. He claimed that Africans are so intellectually inept that they are incapable of any reasoning, let alone achievements in beauty.

It is for the African artist then to pay close attention to the mechanisms of an art world founded on these principles. Racist ideologies aside, it is imperative to attempt to forge our own definitions of beauty in a way that does not exclude or demean us. As an amateur student of philosophy, I am by no means suggesting that we disregard all of Kant's musings, but instead assert new foundations for the representations and experiences of beauty and pleasure.

While terms like transformation and decolonization have been circulating for some time, very little structural change is apparent in keeping with these conversations. Art collectors, patrons, galleries, and curators select African artists on the basis of their proximity to Western beauty standards. But the thoughtful African artist seeks to escape the snug positioning of African creative practices in the inhospitable crevices of colonial industry.

The categorization of creative practices in South Africa is deeply rooted in the apartheid system which serves white supremacist and capitalist agendas. The very categories of fine art and traditional crafts are placed in such a rigid hierarchy that it is hard to imagine otherwise. Kant established definitions of beauty and fine art, but we too are at liberty to write how beauty is defined by us and what purposes we would want our art to serve if not as fetishized objects for ethnological or tourists consumption.


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