This article proposes a new articulation of the field of global-modernist art history by way of three case studies: The influence of canonical African sculpture on early Cubism, the emergence of modern art in late-colonial South Asia, and Nigerian modernism around the moment of independence in 1960. Drawing on research by Joshua I. Cohen, Suzanne Preston Blier, Partha Mitter, Geeta Kapur, and Chika Okeke-Agulu, I argue that this growing field of inquiry is structured by observed parallelisms between practices that are separated by great geographical and cultural distances—parallelisms that are unavoidable, yet also potentially misleading. Rather than adopt a model either of unidirectional influence or amalgamating hybridity to systematize this field, I instead apply a disjunctive, diagrammatic formalism for which I borrow the notion of “scheme transfer” from Alfred Gell and Pierre Bourdieu. This is a way to articulate the transmission of specific formal and structural traits (for example, from the coast of West Africa to Paris) as being contingent and reversible rather than inevitably hierarchizing. Following suggestions in the work of Leo Bersani and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, I thus recommend the mutability of the diagrammatic—or, to put it differently, a revised, non-totalizing structuralism—as a means of navigating the perils of the comparative enterprise.

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