From the Past to the Present: How Yesterday's Art Continues to Thrive as Contemporary Art

  • Posted by: Rupashree Ravi

Undoubtedly, art has the ability to transcend linguistic, cultural, and temporal boundaries. Various artworks from the past retain their significance and relevance as they connect with younger generations. The modern-day art scene, shaped by living artists in a global context, is characterized by its cultural diversity and attention to complex societal issues. Although the contemporary era emerged following the conclusion of modernism in the 1960s, the themes explored by many contemporary artists - such as identity, war, and race - are timeless. Artistic spaces like galleries, museums, and the internet, including social media, play a crucial role in the transformation of older art into contemporary works.

"To me, art is life and life is art." - Frog King Kwok

Contemporary art places less emphasis on the visual appeal of the final product and instead draws attention to the creative process itself, sparking a thought-provoking and open-ended dialogue. This is precisely why certain artists who have passed away, such as Sir Wilfred Thesiger and Lord Patrick Lichfield, continue to remain relevant in contemporary times.

Sir Wilfred Thesiger, a globally renowned photographer and author, is recognized for his photographs of Arabia during the 1940s. During his travels to regions across the Middle East, including Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kurdistan, he captured images of local communities and addressed themes such as migration and displacement.

Image Source: Thesiger's Photo Albums, Volume 17, Pitt Rivers Museum.

Lord Patrick Lichfield's photograph of an Afghan carpet seller has gained significant prominence in today's context of the Afghanistan crisis. Similarly, Steve McCurry's portrait of the Afghan Girl, which was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, continues to draw attention to the ongoing refugee crisis. The striking gaze of the girl serves as a testament to the Taliban's ongoing violence against women and children in the country. When such poignant images are shared, they can alter the course of history by initiating galvanizing conversations about current events.

Image Source: Lord Patrick Lichfield's Afghan carpet seller

Image Source: Steve McCurry, The Afghan Girl, Nat Geo Image Collection

Even Leonardo da Vinci's iconic painting, the Mona Lisa, which is the most widely recognized and reproduced artwork in history, has become a contemporary piece. Although many female artists such as Hannah Hoch and Marisa Merz have employed a feminist perspective in their art to explore themes of gender and identity, they have also inspired women to pursue art in a typically male-dominated field. Consequently, they have succeeded in breaking down the barriers between high and low art, producing remarkable works that are relevant to the present moment.

Image Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, Louvre, 1517

Image Source: Hannah Hoch, Indian Dancer: From an Ethnographic Museum, Museum of Modern Art, 1930.

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Feature image: Sir Wilfred Thesiger