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“Curating Color”: The Whitewashing of Cultures with Eurocentrism and Art

Only through a massive campaign of “re-education” and the systematic reconstruction of truth can we even hope to stem the rising tide of ‘race and color’ disparities in our American and global societies.

The “Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man” (150 – 170 C) is in short a “Black or Mediterranean man of color.” This Fayum-mummy portrait, natural (Encaustic) painting on wood, is a most highly regarded form of art and traditional panel work in the Classical world. These mummy portraits conveyed an accurate depiction of both Egyptian and Mediterranean skin tone.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never seen this ‘common’ form of Mediterranean art (that would have been typical of high-class Egyptian/Greek citizenry) you’re just beginning to ask the right questions – at least as far as the origins of race and color are concerned.

Do we really know the history of those sources of information and knowledge that would gain ‘certified and official’ status and recognition as classical representations of the ancient world? What are the true stories behind the images of art that would go on to permanently brand our ‘collective consciousness’ with standards and strands of white form and perfection? Images that would secure those sacred spaces as “undisputed icons” — reserved in modern history for centuries and for generations to come, both intentionally and forever.

These are important questions during our racial crossroads because the answers continue to shape the cultural norms, views, and collective experiences of the masses.

Now you may just want to skip the history lesson, but the ‘whitewashing of color’ from antiquity by both art historians and anthropologists was culturally institutionalized by ‘race’ scientists –and then reinforced and sustained by Eurocentric education models (and their economic, social, and political frameworks). Concerted efforts have obfuscated the truth about ‘race and color’ in history from world populations for centuries.

These ‘race designers’ become the historical cohorts and brokers of public knowledge and information about ‘race and color’ that have provided the bedrock and foundation of lies and misinformation we have today. Untruths that must be skillfully chiseled away rather than pummeled into unrecognizable oblivion. We must not use a jackhammer to uncover these truths, but rather those more careful and important tools for “rediscovery” called “research, writing, teaching, and public speaking.” We are not to destroy the ‘historical record’ and avalanche of evidence that exposes the length and extent of ‘whiteness’ propaganda, but should instead explain it.

Yes, we have greatly underestimated our color problem today and the extent of its dendrites within the psychology of mankind.

The Apollo Belvedere was discovered during the Renaissance but dates back to the 2nd century CE. This neon white display of skin tone in ancient statuary is emblematic of Neo-classicist representations.

The devotion to whitewashed Elgin Marbles to project images of the Greek gods is a result of a more concerted effort to hide history’s truest colors. To control the ‘psychology of whiteness’ that is so desperately needed to keep this untempered mortar of racial inequality together.

While Rome may have preferred marble as the material of choice over the use of bronze in their replications of antiquity – they did so with such vibrant hues of yellow, red, black, brown, green, and mahogany just as if they were painting a canvass.

Head Of A Young Man. Centrale Montemartini, Rome, Italy (Color And Gilding Still Visible) Uucovered in the area of piazza Dante.

Do scholars and truth-seekers that are restoring ‘historical truisms’ have a responsibility to disturb the overwhelming public confidence and “cultural security” found in what we clearly know are aesthetic fabrications today?

Should we unveil the massive conspiratorial efforts to conceal the truth about color and race in Antiquity; and by doing so publically bring to light those “not-so-secret-secrets” into the world, panoramic view? The answer is a resounding: “Yes! We absolutely should and we must.”

The ‘curators of color’ and the standards of ‘absolute beauty’ and form are being reckoned with today. While new efforts to better understand ‘race and color’ surge ahead of racism, and ever forward. . . with a new sense of moral and political urgency, and even awe.

The Monochrome Myth

So where does this conundrum to circumvent ‘colorful’ truths really begin? Well, we know conclusively that art and art history plays a leading role in illustrating the variety of racial and social forms, stereotypes, and narratives we’ve inherited today. These presentations (and re-presentations) will go on to work very well for some groups –while working completely against the best interests of others.

No narrative, however, will turn out to be more consequential and transformational to modern thought and aesthetic values than the ‘monochromatic application’ of whiteness to pivotal representations of art in world history. ‘Color’ was not simply “subtracted” from its forms in history, but added to them. “White color.” Applied most privily to those “iconic gods and hallmarks” of the revered Hellenistic and Western civilizations.

“If we know that the ancient world of antiquity was interpreted in a full-scale range of living and vibrant color, and form, why are the conceptualizations and presentations found in historic museums and educational platforms today still presented in only ‘white’ (marble) forms ?”

What the ‘curators of color’ and history have taught us is that:

“If beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder then the eye must be carefully trained and acculturated to hold the dominant cultural views.”

To understand this all a little better, we must look to the historical architects of these false renditions as the pioneers of racial steering and ‘ethnic and social casting.’ Those that would have the greatest influence on our modern and post-modern narratives are those who were in positions to exemplify the racist agendas of the Renaissance and the 18th century.

Here entering stage left is someone named Johann Joachim Winckelmann. The great, great, great grandpappy of the European art hegemony and the most notable purveyor of falsehood.

German archaeologist and art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) whose writings directed popular taste toward classical art, particularly that of ancient Greece, and influenced not only Western painting and sculpture but also literature and even philosophy. (Britannica)

“The whiter the body is, the more beautiful it is as well. Color contributes to beauty, but it is not beauty. Color should have a minor part in the consideration of beauty, because it is not (color) but structure that constitutes its essence,” he wrote.

However, his defenders forget that Winkckelmann’s color versus form, which was also thematic Classicist rhetoric, does not meet the exact same objectives as ‘color vs whiteness.’ This is an inescapable reality for any honest intellectual critique of Wicklemann and his contemporaries. Nor can one escape his overt knowledge of color over antiquity, as many would argue, with evidence that he and others not only suppressed the truth but in many cases destroyed it’s archeological evidence.

The whitewashing imperatives stripped its viewer of the color palette because ‘color variety’ and variation of form –leads to other inquiry and discovery (that comes quite naturally and logically) about the very nature of those subjects and their representations. Colorful figures wouldn’t fit into the new social construction of an Aryan model of ‘whiteness’ –still plaguing humanity to this very day or of ‘the perfect man’ creating the horrors of the Eugenics movement, the current Genetics movement, and the foundations of Fascism that would go on to dominate so much of the 20th century.

“The blatant lie is simply that antiquity was white; when we know it was filled with vibrant color.”

Garner (2020)

Discovering A World in Color

“Scholars making color corrections.” Prof. Dr. Vinzenz Brinkmann
Head of the Collections of Antiquities and Asia

While we can attribute some of the early losses of knowledge to ‘buried and hidden legacies yet to be discovered’ that would not be enough to explain away Eurocentric historical intent to hide a polychromatic world history. To be both accurate and fair to these discoveries, “Burial, early modern restoration practices, and historic cleaning methods have all reduced the polychromy on Roman marble sculptures” according to Art historian and polychromy expert, Mark Abbe (2000)

He was himself inundated with color while on an archeological dig in the ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, in present-day Turkey. However, he would not actually discover something that unknown to history’s ‘curators of color.’ The Victorian Era is replete with proof that white statues that we see hallmarked all over the world were painted with color.

While the ancient world was being uncloaked and revealed rapidly as classical antiquities began emerging from the earth (and many with multicolored surfaces) – “White marble” would become the neo-classicism creating the lily-white narrative of Greece we have today.

Reconstruction processes: Memos and a color study of the so-called Treu Head from the British Museum in London (2019)

An excavation of the Acropolis in the 18th century would leave no doubt and further upset “colorless myths” when Pompei was ‘preserved in full color’ thanks to the lava poured over the city. Many of these ‘color’ discoveries of antiquity continue to this very day and we should be thankful, as David Batchelor points out in his book “Chromophobia (2000),” that there is enough evidence to override the ‘wilful ignorance’ and ‘negative hallucination’ that still persists today.

Abbe also goes on to point out that “much of the Roman elite came from diverse-looking stock –Berber, Arab, Transylvanian, Danubian, Spanish, etc.” It can also be noted that the ancient Greeks did recognize that their “barbaric” northern neighbors had lighter skin than what they considered to be ‘normal,’ but still cited differences in more cultural and not physical terms.

A Polychromatic Historicity

Middle Period Greek settlements in Egypt become central repositories of important historical data and information. They also plainly provide the explanation for the variety of ‘polychromatic forms’ that would go on to later define ‘true’ Hellenistic and classical representations still largely missing from public view today.

Why have we been given a historic world view that is still devoid and absent of color? Art is not just a world of magic markers, stencils, and digital print designs, but it is a central deportment and delivery system for our frames of human reference, identifications, and acculturations. It would seem that we have been naively untrained with misinformation and the lack of cited historical sources and records.

The Egyptian and West Semitic origins of Greek and Greco-Roman civilization are both inescapable and undeniable. Therefore it is impossible for us to continue to conversations about the ‘origins of race and color’ without at least taking a first glance, and then long pause at the origins of the lies: the fabrication of Ancient Greece, and why it has been and continues to be perpetuated in mainstream media outlets and educational curriculums today.

It has long been established that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but when doing so we must pay attention to who’s imitating who.

While it is true that the African and Greco-Roman worlds can and must be distinguished, they can never be completely separated.

“By the Roman period, much of the “Greek” population of Faiyum was made-up of either Hellenized Egyptians or people of mixed Egyptian-Greek origins.”

Bagnall, R.S. (2000). Susan Walker (ed.). Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits in Roman Egypt. Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications. New York: Routledge. p. 27.

The “whitewashing” occurring most prominently from this Middle Egyptian period forward can largely be attributed to the fact that it is so well known for its wealth in literature, art, and philosophy – all “borrowed” by Greece and Roman culture and civilization. Simply put, “The lies concealed become the truth revealed” in history, and time always goes on to “prove all things.”

We find that even in the height of the Roman Empire, it is a given that it was ethnically diverse, stretching from North Africa to as far as Scotland. Romans generally differentiated people based on cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and not the color of their skin. Though they made a point of occasionally mentioning skin tone and artists actually tried to depict the color of their flesh as seen on the ancient vase, terra cotta, and of course the Fayum portraits we have already illustrated here.

If we are to continue to search for answers in the present, we will most readily find them hidden in the doldrums of the past. Although these so-called mysteries are all very “well known” to the many in the know –the ancient origins of our “race and color scandals” –and “politics” are so carefully and systematically whitewashed in modern history as to ensure that it doesn’t even matter.

The Legacy of Color Conscious vs. Color Blind

How do we juxtapose the willful blindness with regard to color usage that began during the Renaissance… with the “I don’t see color” rhetoric of race politics today. This is a racist diatribe that has no place in successful and meaningful efforts and discussions to heal past injuries and right historical inaccuracies and wrongs caused by ‘race and color.’

The most sterling examples of Eurocentric valuation and White supremacist methods creating “myths of colorlessness” in the Greco-Roman world are now available for all to review today. What are its implications for current usage? For science, history, art, and other social science and humanities curriculums? You decide.

The use of color, or the lack thereof, continues to be used to justify cultural oppression, the inhumanities of slavery, and the economic systems needed to sustain them. These are just the beginnings of our lesson.

One that completely violates a ‘polychromatic world’ where all forms, shapes, sizes, and colors are horizontally related and equally valued on the human spectrum.

Deborah Garner is the President of the Make it Different Foundation, “What is Color? What is Race? -A Presentation Black” Project in Southington, CT.

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