Charting a course roughly post WW1 through to the mid-to-late 1930’s, The Harlem Renaissance was a movement which, above all else, demonstrated the stunning creativity of African-Americans despite the plethora of injustices and prejudices they faced, and in spite of a systemic racism – political, social and structural – that seemed committed to establishing a narrative of inherent racial inferiority/superiority. Indeed the literature, music, paintings, sculptures and photography that emerged from Harlem in these decades are a bold affirmation of life, a resounding challenge to the status quo and a showcase of the spirit, talent and artistry of Black America.
Generally regarded as being one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e art – “pictures of the floating world” captured in hanging scrolls, woodblock prints and paintings- Tsukioka Yoshitoshi is one of the boldest and most celebrated Japanese artists of the last 200 years. In a tumultuous career in which the artist was well-acquainted with both relative fame as well as crushing obscurity, Yoshitoshi navigated loss, mental illness, and poverty in order to produce works that preserved the rich and vivid tradition of woodblock printing against the encroaching western techniques of ‘modernity’. Prolific, yet met with just as much ambivalence as acclaim, Yoshitoshi’s work has slowly but surely established itself as canonical in the ukiyo-e genre; indeed many modern critics claim that his vision and creativity was instrumental in imparting ukiyo-e with “one last burst of glory”.
Time and time again, Adam Curtis has demonstrated an inimitable ability to delve into the heart of an issue – be it the manufactured and simplified story of militant islam as espoused by western powers in Bitter Lake, or the failure to harness the utopian potential of early technology in All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – and sketch out the complex histories, mechanisms and important figures that underpin these particularly postmodern narratives. HyperNormalisation, which was released on BBC iPlayer on Sunday night, is Curtis’ latest attempt to trace the multifaceted malaise that seems to pervade overstimulated life in the 21st century.