Global Arts and Cultures

Asset 1
Asset 1

Art History, Postcolonialism, and the Global Turn | Part II

Virtual Symposia

Friday, October 9, 2020

As attention turns increasingly toward the “global” in art history, has postcolonialism fallen into obsolescence? Although touted as liberating, does the new “global” dispensation mark a rupture with history? What shall become of the generative critical theory that emerged in the 1980s and ‘90s, which partly grew out of reflections on anticolonial movements and post-independence nation-building? At best, global art history signals a germane awareness of “post-postcolonial” conditions precipitated by the accelerating globalization of finance capitalism. But would proponents of global contemporary art rather applaud putatively post-national freedoms than reckon with globalization’s deep disadvantages, while jettisoning the postcolonial as an allegedly outmoded product of elite theory?

This symposium asks whether, or to what degree, postcolonial discourses stand to be recuperated and revised in 21st-century art history, architectural history, visual studies, and art criticism. In cases where political alliances have frayed and nascent national governments foundered, radical politics have sometimes given way to disillusionment, while transnationalism, hybridity, and self-fashioning settle in as new norms. For some in the Global South, “postcolonial” may indeed appear misleading as an overall designation. Nevertheless, what could be the implications of moving past postcolonialism as we arguably celebrate a cosmopolitan world that has yet to be fully realized? With neoliberalism giving rise to what art historian Anthony Gardner has called “a resurgent focus on North Atlantic relations,” what would be the cost of letting the postcolonial slip away?

In other words, what does the early 21st-century—so distant from the heyday of anticolonialism associated with Third World independence and liberation movements—hold for the practices and ambitions of artists, scholars, and critics? How have contemporary artists accommodated and/or resisted the demands of the global art world? What have the recent shifts in discourse meant—or what could they mean—for scholarly and curatorial (re)readings of chronologically staggered periods of culture clash and decolonization, including the possibilities, and failures of each moment? How might an ongoing or renewed “postcolonial” artistic output exceed the confines of galleries, biennials, art fairs, and museums? Do new interests in the “global” inevitably come at the expense of the postcolonial? Are the phenomena in question truly taking place on a global scale? Have scholars and artists from the Global South explored different terms and frameworks to structure their pursuits? To what extent are political limitations determined by working relationships with art institutions and their particular forms of patronage?

This conference invites artists, critics, curators, and scholars to query the state of postcolonialism in modern and contemporary art. Does (or should) the postcolonial retain relevance? Or how might it regain relevance? In what ways must new projects challenge the orthodoxies, binaries, and narratives of earlier discourses?


Diana Martinez (Tufts) Architecture in Triple Person: National Character between Humanism and Eth-nology in Pre-Post-Colonial Philippines

In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon describes an event in which he suddenly becomes aware of his body in “triple person”—a realization that he was simultaneously responsible for his body, for his race, and for his ancestors. This paper will use Fanon’s concept of living in triple person to navigate the life and work of the American trained Filipino architect, Juan Arellano, and will focus mainly on the Philippine Legislative Building, a building designed and built just after the United States made its first formal promise to grant the Philippines its independence. Arellano’s most symbolically loaded task was the coordination of the building’s decorative program, which included allegorical sculptures of idealized Filipinos. Arellano’s thematization of the Filipino body took shape at a moment when the humanist canon, or Vitruvian man was being radically challenged by the still new fields of anthropology and ethnology. The resulting hybridization of historical and natural man would become the aesthetic basis of the Philippines’ postcolonial “national character,” and would provide an exemplary image of how postcolonial nations would fit into an imagined new world order, one in which cultural and ethnic identity, the symbolic currency of Wilsonian internationalist politics, fit within a barely diminished Western imperial scaffold.

Jennifer Bajorek (Hampshire College) Mediterraneans on every corner

A key sequence of Sylvain Georges’s magisterial Qu’ils reposent en révolte, shot, between 2007 and 2010, in the “jungle” of Calais, shows several small groups of men removing their fingerprints. Some meticulously slice off their skin with razors; others methodically scorch their fingers on screws, heated to glowing over an open flame. In the sequence, both the filmmaker and his subjects—all of whom are African and black—offer a lucid and wry commentary on the relationships between the camera and the fingerprint, and between imaging technologies and European colonialism, whose unresolved legacies the men understand themselves to be living out. The violence of the men’s self-mutilation is, at the same time, evidence of their creativity and resourcefulness. At one point, as we see in close-up a man removing his prints with glowing metal, we hear voices talking off camera, explaining the challenges presented to their freedom of movement by the centralized European fingerprint database. One voice says, laughingly: “The Europeans have their techniques, but we, we also have our techniques.” The others chime in: “Africa united!” In this moment, the sequence seems less like a document of an ongoing catastrophe than a harbinger of things to come. I will explore Georges’s work and that of other artists making work about refugees and migrants in contemporary Europe, in which, I argue, something like an ex-colonial cartography of blackness emerges. My hope is that in looking at this new cartography—which both differs from “new-world blackness” and, today, rapidly approaches it—we may stage one confrontation between a purported slipping away of the postcolonial and a concomitant rise of globalism. For these new cartographies remain illegible without continual reference to (anti-)colonial histories. At the same time, they offer new utopian possibilities, which are being mapped in and by blackness in Europe.

Anthony Gardner (Oxford University) Doing Art History in the 'New Normal'

Are we still working in the age of “the global”? For the best part of three decades, the notion of globality has suggested the “free” movement (even if it was anything but free) of goods, services, people, and ideas, new modes of uneven development, new possibilities of intercultural exchange. The situation now seems very different. What we might call the nationalist-populist complex that has come to dominate many nations and cultures—in Modi’s India and Bolsanaro’s Brazil, in Trump’s America and Brexit Britain, post-Kaczynski Poland and isolationist Australia—has clearly threatened, if not quite brought to an end, the “global turn” heralded by this conference. The migration of people is, it seems, as terrifying as the migration of viruses, and both spur on an insidious xenophobia toward those scapegoats of yore, the “south” and the “east.” But the pressures that threaten the intercultural or even the global are not just borne by the right; they equally emerge in the conscience towards “flight shaming” or the persistent resistance (even from highly respected critics and curators) toward the surge and significance of biennale cultures beyond the North Atlantic. I am not immune to this conscience, having boycotted travel to the United States following the instigation of the travel ban, normalized by the U.S. Supreme Court and ever extending, that prevents many of our colleagues and friends from being able to engage in the same privilege of entering this country. By exploring what it means to break my boycott for this conference, I want to reflect on some of the challenges and urgencies facing our art-historical methods after the (post)colonial: our methods of writing and developing those histories and, just as importantly, our methods for researching and exchanging them. For if retreat, localization, and isolation are quickly becoming our new normal, then how can we persist in the kinds of art-historical practices—intercultural, translocal, perhaps even global—that promised to dissolve the North Atlantic hegemony and quarantining of the discipline?

For more information and to register, please visit the event's website