While Paul Klee’s revelatory voyage to Tunisia on the eve of WWI is paradigmatic of modernist Orientalism, the 1905 travels there of Wassily Kandinsky and his partner Gabriele Münter are little known. Münter’s Kodak snapshots and Kandinsky’s vivid ethnographic gouaches furnished the painter’s imagination in his move towards abstraction post-1909. For Klee in 1914, the exhilaration of ancient Moorish architecture, intense colour and Indigenous art helped him perfect the cubistic pictorial architecture that became his trademark from that germinal moment.
Roger Benjamin is an art historian and curator who has written extensively on the art of Henri Matisse, Indigenous Australian art, and European artist-travellers to North Africa. His recent work on Orientalism attempts to refigure ideas of the aesthetics of place through historical enquiry into the specifics of tourism and local culture in the colonial milieux of the Maghreb.
A professor of art history at the University of Sydney, Benjamin’s most recent books, Kandinsky and Klee in Tunisia (Berkeley 2015) and Biskra, sortilèges d’une oasis (Paris and Algiers 2016) are outcomes of an Australian Research Council fellowship.
Roger Benjamin is currently a Visiting Scholar at the ANU Humanities Research Centre.
Image: (detail) Kandinsky, Arabs I (cemetery), 1909, oil on paper, 71.5 x 98cm, Hamburger Kunsthalle copy