Avant-garde is originally a French term, meaning in English vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest). It first appeared with reference to art in France in the first half of the nineteenth century, and is usually credited to the influential thinker Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the forerunners of socialism. He believed in the social power of the arts and saw artists, alongside scientists and industrialists, as the leaders of a new society. In 1825 he wrote: “What a magnificent destiny for the arts is that of exercising a positive power over society, a true priestly function and of marching in the van [i.e. vanguard] of all the intellectual faculties!”
Although the term avant-garde was originally applied to innovative approaches to art making in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it is applicable to all art that pushes the boundaries of ideas and creativity, and is still used today to describe art that is radical or reflects originality of vision.
Avant-garde in the periphery- what does it mean?
In the early decades of the XX century, a reassessment of the aesthetic and cultural meaning of the objects from the periphery/“South” had begun. There was a need and a desire of going beyond the borders of Europe in the quest of other aesthetics and sources of inspiration.
However it was a reevaluation of non- Western cultures and non-Western conception of arts that was still reproducing a clear unequal power dynamics. This reevaluation often implied assumptions about the primitive, exotic, authentic of the non-European arts. Thus, reproducing a self-created notion of the evolutionism in the arts. This Eurocentric standpoint didn’t allow a dialogue between cultures but instead dynamics of appropriation.
The avant-garde has been successfully re-think all over the world as a transnational cultural phenomenon. Outside of Europe has developed a larger significance that is polyphonic and varies from each country: from afrofuturism in Africa to Magic Realism in Latin America. For example, the anti-colonial revolutions and uprisings swept across the non-Western world in the early twentieth century, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, have been and each adapted avant-gardist techniques to its specific circumstances.
Nowadays, avant-garde allows a transnational approach that foreground the conflictual interplay of cultural communities and identities within and across borders.
Avant-garde at Oslo World
The avant-garde is a transformative power. Avant-garde implies going beyond the borders, being outside the mainstream, thinking outside the box, and breaking the limits: all of that implies that the artistic creation is always in relation with its own particular context. The age of populism, revolutionary nationalism, imperialism, decolonization, modernization, community, ethnic identity, censorship, etc, will compose the political field in which these avant-gardes respond.
Radical politics with alternative aesthetics. The avant-garde is an innovative process of struggle that will always be changing and undermining the political and cultural status quo. The art opposed to mainstream cultural values and often has a trenchant social or political edge.