“The effect of the cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other peoples’ languages rather than their own. It makes them identify with that which is decadent and reactionary, all those forces that would stop their own springs of life. It even plants serious doubts about the moral righteousness of struggle. Possibilities of triumph or victory are seen as remote, ridiculous dreams. The intended results are despair, despondency and a collective death-wish.”—Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind (via daughterofzami)
I’ve wanted to write about this scene for years without knowing how to—just watching it and holding it close, then holding it further from me until I can bear to hold it close again. And still now, I don’t know how to write my way into this scene, into this film. Into the look on Yu’s…
Piet Mondrian used reds, yellows, blues, and blacks. Donald Judd’s palette has included green, pink, and orange. Carl Andre relied on the colors of specific materials like wood and metals. And yet somehow, the term “minimalism” today calls to mind an image of a pure, clean, and orderly space with white as the dominant color. Why, despite seeing color everywhere, do we still tend to associate the minimal and the modern with whiteness?
David Batchelor has argued that “in the West, since Antiquity, colour has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished, and degraded.” This chromophobia, or fear of color, manifests as the valorization of white as the color of rational, clean, controlled spaces, while color is seen as dangerous, superficial, and potentially contaminating.
Obviously, white is a color, so the opposition of these terms might, at first, seem a bit simplistic. But what Batchelor and other scholars like him are interested in is the idea of “generalized white,” or what Batchelor has called the “negative hallucination” of white— the fact that even when color is present, as in the minimalist works above, we still tend to be blind to that color, thinking only of the white space, tending to privilege form over color.
Your initial objection might be that it’s quite simple to look around us and see plenty of color: green trees, blue sky, vibrant flowers. But consider this: in the things that we make or buy, color tends to be reined in. While there are some rule-breakers out there, generally speaking, we think that bright colors are acceptable in limited doses, but too much vivid color can seem like an assault on the senses, or we just dismiss it as tacky. For instance, it would be considered fashionable to wear a bright pink tie, so long as the suit is gray, but in general, we would find it eccentric or odd to wear a bright pink suit with a gray tie. And in terms of home decor, we’ve had plenty of heated debates about how tacky orinconsiderate it is to paint one’s home in a “loud” color, and it’s been reported that the most popular color for home exteriors is white.
Chromophobia is marked, not just by the desire to eradicate color, but also to control and to master its forces. When we do use color, there’s some sense that it needs to be controlled; that there are rules to its use, either in terms of its quantity or its symbolic applications (e.g., don’t paint your dining room blue because it suppresses appetite). Please note that I’m not arguing against color psychology; it’s undeniable that certain colors carry certain cultural assumptions and associations, a fact that has led anthropologist Michael Taussig to argue that color should be considered a manifestation of the sacred. But what I am arguing is that there is a pervasive idea that color gets us in the gut: it’s seductive, emotional, compelling. Color, in the words of nineteenth-century art theorist Charles Blanc, often “turns the mind from its course, changes the sentiment, swallows the thought.”