Decolonise Art/Decolonise Art History

History / Representation / Writing edit

Q: In what ways does Art History participate in erasing histories?

A very Short Introduction to Decolonization, Dane Kennedy

"The collapse of the colonial empires and the rise of new nation-states together comprise one of the great transformations in modern history. The world we inhabit today is profoundly different in its geopolitical character from the one that existed in the mid-twentieth century. At that time, millions of the earth's inhabitants were still governed against their will by foreign imperial powers....The significance of this transformation in the global political order cannot be denied."

"In his 1882 lecture "What is a nation?" the French historian Ernest Renan observed: "Forgetfulness, and I would even say historical error, are essential in the creation of a nation." This was necessary, he argued, because nations are forged through campaigns of "extermination and terror" that must be forgotten or obscured by fictive histories if they are to overcome their bloody origins and endure. Renan was reflecting on the violent birth of the French nation, but his penetrating insights seem even more pertinent to the postcolonial histories of nation-building that have followed."

Remembering Fanon: self, psyche and the colonial condition, (1994) Homi Bhaba,

Remembering, he writes, "is never a quiet act of introspection or retrospection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present."

Orientalism, Edward Said 1978

"I have begun with the assumption that the Orient is not an inert fact of nature. It is not merely there, just as the Occident itself is not just there either. We must take seriously Vico's great observation that men make their own history, that what they can know is what they have made, and extend it to geography: as both geographical and cultural entities - to say nothing of historical entities - such locales, regions, geographical sectors as 'Orient' and 'Occident' are man-made. Therefore as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other."

"The distinction between pure and political knowledge. It is very easy to argue that knowledge about Shakespear or Wordsworth is not political whereas knowledge about contemporary China or the Soviet Union is....One reason for saying that a humanist who writes about Wordsworth, or an editor whose specialty is Keats, is not involved in anything political is that what he does seems to have no direct political effect upon reality in the everyday sense."

Knowledge Production edit


Orientalism and its Problems, Dennis Porter 1983

"....If the first set of propositions, concerning the lack of distinction between pure and political knowledge is true, then Orientalism in one form or another is not only what we have, but all we can ever have. If, on the other hand, as Said sometimes implies, truth in representation may be achieved, how can it be justified on the basis of a radical discourse theory which presupposes the impossibility of stepping outside of a given discursive formation by an act of will or consciousness? "

Orientalism and After, taken from In Theory: Classes, nations, literature, (1992), Aijaz Ahmad

"what Said is actually doing is drawing closer to the Nietzschean idea that no true representation is possible because all human communications always distort the other words is it possible to make true statements?...Said's equivocation on this key question is delivered in what appears to be a precise formulation - namely, that the line between representation and a misrepresentation is always very thin."

On the value of Culture edit

National Liberation and Culture, Amilcar Cabral - an extract from Return to the Source: Selected speeches of Amilcar Cabral, New York 1973 (1924-1973- Guinea-Bissau), assassinated dubring the war of independence

P.53 "When Goebbels, the brain behind Nazi propaganda, heard culture being discussed, he brought out his revolver. That shows that the Nazis - who were and are the most tragic expression of imperialism and of its thirst for domination - even if they were all degenerates like Hitler, had a clear idea of the value of culture as a factor of resistance to forgein domination.

History teaches us that, in certain circumstances, it is very easy for the foreigner to impose his domination on a people. But it also teaches us that , whatever may be the material aspects of this domination, it can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned.

"The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated. Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people's history and a determinant of history, by the positive or negative influence which it exerts on the evolutionary relationships between man and his environment, among men or groups of men within a society, as well as among different societies. Ignorance of this fact may explain the failure of several attempts at forgein domination - as well as the failure of some international liberation movements."

Value and Essentialism edit

Q: How does Art History create hierarchies of value?

Place-Making or in the “Wrong Place”: Contemporary Art and the Post-colonial Condition, in 'The Former West' (2017), Okwui Enwezor

Okwui Enwezor outlines the colonial heritage of modernity and sees the post-modern, present, artworld as dependant on a history of “exclusivist and culturally specific judgments, elevated to universal principles…. Practices that have come out of other traditions have become subordinated…to those judgements.”

The Syncretic Turn: Cross-Cultural Practices in the Age of Multiculturalism, in 'Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985', Jean Fisher (2012)

Jean Fisher also identifies the colonial criteria for artworks developed out of the West’s entitlement “to frame and evaluate all cultural productions through its own criteria and stereotypes of otherness is to reduce them to a spectacle of essentialist racial or ethnic typology and to ignore their individual insights and human values.”

“…for reasons of artistic and economic survival, black and non-European artists have had to acquiesce to promotion through the commodified signs of ethnicity, which renders them complicit with the Western desire for the exotic other, against it can measure its own superiority.”

“Much art of the late 1970s and 80s with a deliberate gender, sex, or racial political agenda coming from within the Western system focused on visibility in the form of autobiography: a “bearing witness” to an individual experience of the world to point out that the official version of reality was not universal. At the time this strategy had legitimacy, since, within the master narratives of Western art, other realities were excluded, and this needed to be debated. However, the autobiographical in itself no guarantee of an “authentic voice” much less a critique of the determinations of the symbolic order, since the self in inescapably social in its formation. However, if there was no essential, “authentic” self , then, as has often been said what as already a construct could be reconstructed to self-determinable ends.”

“The problem of identity debated through the conventionally circulating signs of “otherness” creates a visibility that is measurable therefore foreclosing that enigmatic space in which the coherence of my self-hood could be challenged, or different and common realities imagined” Diaspora Art - Zareena, White Pube.

"I spoke about this with Imran Perretta, who said, ‘the critical moment, for me, is in taking something recognisably South Asian, something recognisably British, and creating a binary juxtaposition between the two...pointing at two or more things with a seemingly dissonant cultural context, including people and objects, and uncritically repurposing them as artworks in and of themselves.’ In the binary of juxtaposition, it’s implied that the correlation (or the rift between them) acts as a metaphor or a vehicle to talk about the duality of identity within diaspora. I have a problem with that. Firstly, the juxtaposition feels tired and worn; though I am not really an advocate of reading theory, i feel that there are times when it is useful (like right now) esp since this is something Homi Bhabha covered in The Location of Culture, where he wrote about the third space and hybridity. Diaspora Art feels tied to a cycle of dealing with the condition of duality that the diasporic body rests in. I will go on to talk about why that is, bUT... Secondly, and i think this is the kicker, that this metaphor/vehicle operates on a level that is purely AESTHETIC. it’s something underneath the skin of all of the examples, above ^^, the reconditioning they go thru is one that prepares them aesthetically."

"Earlier when I mentioned that Diaspora Art feels like it’s still stuck on dealing with the condition of duality in which the Diasporic body rests; i think this explains it, qualifies it as a threat to progression/action because of the way this vacuum of external perspective (beyond praise!) works. It is fundamentally a shallow replicative representation, because while it claims to engage with a baseline fundamental of the South Asian experience (in its instrumentalisation of visual signifiers) and the subsequent politic that unfolds from that; the fact that it’s purely an aesthetic engagement reduces this interaction to vague universality that skims over sticky intersections (like that of caste, perhaps sexuality?, definitely class is never spoken of critically, despite it being a conversation a lot of ppl are desperate to have!, region is a big blind spot, and religious specificity"

The Location of Culture edit

(Hombi Bhaba)

“the question of identification is never the affirmation of a pre-given identity, never a self-fulfilling prophecy – it is always the production of an image of identity and the transformation of the subject in assuming that image”.

‘Existing in the World: Blackness at the edge of trans visibility. Che Gossett and Juliana Huxtable in Conversation’, Trap Door: Transcultural Production and the Politics of Visibility ed. Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, And Johanna Burton

In an interview with Che Gossette, trans* artist Juliana Huxtable explains “how visibility still doesn’t challenge the hierarchical and racialized distribution of resources and/or criminalization within the regime of racial capitalism

Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses, (1988) Chandra Talpade Mohanty,

"I argue that assumptions of privilege and ethnocentric universality on the one hand, and inadequate self-consciousness about the effect of western scholarship on the 'third world' in the context of a world system dominated by the west on the other, characterize a sizable extent of western feminist work on women in the third world."

Derrida, 1978, pp123 Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. “Is not ethnocentrism always betrayed by the haste with which it is satisfied by certain translations or certain domestic equivalents? To say that a people do not know how to write because one can translate the word which they use to designate the act of inscribing as ‘drawing lines’, is that not as if one should refuse them ‘speech’ by translating the equivalent word by ‘to cry’, ‘to sing’, ‘to sigh’? Indeed to ‘stammer’ . . . And ought one to conclude that the Chinese are a people without writing because the word wen designates many things besides writing in the narrow sense?”

Arjun Appadurai, Disjuncture and Difference in the Global cultral economy Public Culture 1990, Theory Culture and Society

P.295 "The central problem of today's global interactions is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization...for polities of smaller scale, there is always a fear of cultural absorption by polities of larger scale."

P.299 Mediascapes refer to the "capabilities to produce and disseminate information...and to the images of the world created by these media." "'Mediascapes', whether produced by private or state interests, tend to be image-centred, narrative-based accounts of strips of reality and what they offer to those who experience and transform them in a series of elements out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives, their own as well as those of others living in other places. These to constitute narratives of the 'other'. "