Negro Sculpture by Carl Einstein
Translated by Patrick Healy
There is hardly any other art which Europeans approach with so much mistrust as African art. The first move is to even deny that there is such a thing as ‘art’, and then to emphasise the distance which separates such products from the creations of the Europeans, with a contempt that leads to demeaning terminology […] In his judgements on the Negroes the European retains one major postulate: his invincible, however exaggerated, superiority. Such disrespect for the Negro is de facto born of our ignorance and the source of the unjust harm done to him.
Carl Einstein (1885-1940) was a pivotal figure in the development of European modernism that occurred during the years leading up to World War I. With the short, dense and revolutionary text of Negerplastik (“Negro Sculpture”), Einstein undertook the first (European) critical response to African sculpture, challenging various prejudices and misconceptions around this subject. The work would quickly become a crucial text for the European avant-garde and today remains indispensable to understand the shift in discussion towards non-European art taking place at the time.
The main aim in Negerplastik is to establish that African sculpture is art and that it cannot be understood by the system of sculptural production developed by Europeans who had constructed a master narrative of the development of art that was exclusionary of other cultures and productions.
Originally published in 1915, the complete text of Negro Sculpture is presented here in a bilingual edition (English-German) for the first time, including all 108 original plates.
Patrick Healy, writer and philosopher, currently works as a senior researcher at the Technical University Delft. He lives in Amsterdam. For an overview of his publications and related activities, visit his website: www.patrick-healy.com.