Art and Decolonization is the first seminar of a long-term project in a new partnership with Afterall, a research and publication center of the University of the Arts London dedicated to contemporary art and its histories.
The seminar will be a forum for cultural theorists, curators and artists from South America, Africa, United States and Europe to raise questions about and proposals for the reinterpretation of exhibitions and museum collections in non-canonical and decolonised ways. The seminar's participants will address the emergence of new artistic and curatorial practices, that explicitly question and critique colonial legacies in art, curation and critical art writing. It is intended that this seminar, as well as the subsequent ones to by organised by MASP and Afterall, should stimulate further discussion and research on decolonization, de-colonial and post-colonial studies.
Organization: Adriano Pedrosa, André Mesquita, Caroline Woodley, and Mark Lewis, with collaboration of Ana Bilbao and Yaiza Hernández Velázquez.
FREE INSCRIPTIONS ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT
Tickets will be available two hours before the seminar at the Museum’s box office.
Each ticket is valid for only one (1) day of event, attendees must retrieve their tickets each of the two days.
A registration is required to request the certificates, comprising e-mail address, full name, and presentation of an official document. Certificates will be issued only for those attending the two days of the seminar, and will be sent over e-mail to the addresses previously registered.
Thursday, October 18th
ROLANDO VÁZQUEZ | The end of the contemporary, decoloniality and the task of listening
Museums have played a key role in the articulation of the modern/colonial divide. They have been instrumental in the formation of the dominant canon of aesthetics. We will bring to question the notion of contemporaneity. While contemporaneity appears as the defining term of both contemporary art and museums, it has largely remained under-thematized and assumed to be innocuous and inclusive. Contemporaneity defines one of the key axes of differentiation that constitute the colonial difference. The axis of modern time works alongside other forms of exclusion such as race and gender. The field of contemporaneity gets to establish who belongs to the present while turning novelty into an aesthetic criterion. Decoloniality calls for the end of the contemporary as the condition for the possibility to enable the emergence of alternative genealogies of artistic and curatorial practices that transgress the colonial difference and embody the temporalities that have been negated under the contemporary.
LUCIANA BALLESTRIN | From post-colonialism to post-democracy? The boundaries of liberal democracy in Latin America and the challenge of the decolonial turn.
The aim is to make a post-colonial reading of liberal democracies in the Global South, having in mind three main goals. The first one is that of analyzing the global context of reflow concerning western liberal democracies and the advancement of authoritarian projects by means of elections, observing the participation of Latin America in the current de-democratization wave. The second is to evidence how the trajectory of democracy, comprising both liberalism and neoliberalism, which is marked and crossed by the continuity and resilience of colonial power (coloniality), turned the trajectory of liberal democracy of the continent into something dangerously pendular, provisory, and, to a certain degree, still-born. Ultimately, I would like to suggest that updating the anti-post-decolonial project requires an in-depth dialogue with the democratic project so as to problematize its (neo)liberal content, an ability of responding to the ascending tropical fascism, in addition of binding the decolonization project, taken under the normative horizon of refoundation, to a non-exclusively liberal democratic project.
NELSON MALDONADO-TORRES | Visual coloniality and the crucible of modern/colonial space and time: notes on the coloniality of being and decolonial aesthetics
Modernity/coloniality includes visual regimes that sustain and naturalize modern/colonial conceptions and images of the self, others, and sub-others in reference to spatio-temporal formations within which selves, others, and sub-others are expected to be found. This presentation will explore images of discovery and conquest, on the one hand, and visual art that questions contemporary relations of colonization (particularly Puerto Rican art), on the other, to flesh out the relevance of the coloniality and decoloniality of being to the decolonial aesthetics.
JULIETA GONZÁLEZ | Memories of underdevelopment, art and the decolonial turn in Latin America 1960-1985.
This presentation will address some of the theoretical concerns that informed the research for the exhibition Memories of Underdevelopment. The exhibition aimed to identify early instances of “decolonial” strategies in the visual arts, film and architecture in Latin America during the sixties and seventies as a form of resistance to the rhetoric of developmentalism that prevailed in the region at the time. These artistic strategies preceded by decades the articulation of theories around the notion of coloniality and decoloniality that originated with Aníbal Quijano’s writings on the subject in the early 1990s, and were aligned with the type of critique articulated in the fields of sociology and political economy by dependency theory in the 1960s. The research was also motivated by the need to undertake a critical revision of these practices that goes beyond the category of “Latin American conceptualism.”
YAIZA HERNÁNDEZ VELÁZQUEZ | Can the museum liberate us?
During the early 1970s calls to revise, resist or transform the nineteenth century European model of the museum as it expanded itself throughout the world gathered significant momentum. The 1972 International Council of Museums (ICOM) roundtable in Santiago de Chile, inspired by the Latin American political project of “liberation” called for a museum that was integral to the communities it served. The legacy of these debates, now gathered under the label of “New Museology”, has expanded at the same rate as it has been depoliticised. This presentation attempts to distil a different legacy out of the writings of Brazilian museologist Odalice Priosti and her elaboration of a “Museology of Liberation”. Drawing from her insights, the presentation asks what resources such an understanding of what a museum should do could offer to contemporary attempts to “decolonize” art institutions.
SHEENA WAGSTAFF | Encyclopedic varia
Following the dominant European model, those encyclopedic museums that aspire to universalist ambitions of comprehensiveness have come to be contested through some exhibitions and collection-building campaigns that reappraise seriously the primacy of the accepted canon, even as they are enacted from a privileged and incontrovertibly problematic position. The subject of this presentation is the programme at The Met Breuer, a satellite of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that, for strategic reasons, since its opening in 2016, has functioned primarily as a kunsthalle. Several program strands have been consciously devised, each posed as a proposition (either via a thematic or monographic approach) that seeks to broaden the understanding of received authoritative knowledge by digging deep into the history of artifacts and modes of interpretation, including the often vexed circumstances and context of an object’s acquisition. The Met Breuer programme aims to include a questioning of the traditional work of the museum in aspiring towards a “total” inclusive collection in order to achieve as holistic an historical narrative as is possible.
LEWIS R. GORDON | Decolonizing black aesthetics
This talk offers a critique of the tendency to de-aestheticize Black aesthetics through collapsing the study of Black aesthetic production into ethnography or instrumental politics. I will respond through first offering a summary of what an aesthetic approach would be and also offer a model of political aesthetics that could address the significance of the Black in Euromodernity as a political idea while remaining attuned to Black lived-reality as an experience that transcends being reduced only to moral and political categories. Given the constraints of time, I will use recent cinema as the audio-visual exemplar.
Friday, October 19th
SHELA SHEIKH | “That which we cannot not want:” environmental racism, more-than-human witnessing and the paradoxes of representation
According to classical theories of testimony, the one who bears witness is a sovereign subject who speaks in their own name and stands before the law and/or the other to promise a truth. Taking leave from the poststructuralist and posthumanist deconstruction of the human subject, this presentation argues for the necessity of an expanded notion of witnessing — one that is comprised of more-than-human collectivities. This is all the more urgent in the context of global environmental violence in which, through the legacies of imperial science and taxonomy and modernity/coloniality, what is threatened and violated is both “nature” and racialized populations. Guided by a selection of contemporary artistic and speculative practices, I ask what such more-than-human witness collectivities might look like. To what degree might such forms of witnessing function not only metaphorically or poetically, but also in the realms of law and evidence? In situations in which the rights of humans and nonhumans alike must be defended, how might artistic practices help us to navigate the age-old conundrums of political and aesthetic representation, in which ‘speaking for’ or ‘giving voice’ to both the dispossessed and nature runs the risk of further replicating the original colonial matrix of being and power that it seeks to contest and overturn?
ESTEFANÍA PEÑAFIEL LOAIZA | Dialogues: from appropriation to regurgitation
I will be presenting a series of art projects dealing with mental spaces and actual territories, in which fiction is appealed as an attempt to decenter the gaze and subvert the established coordinates of time and space. Some of these works propose a revision of my country’s history and its foundational texts (i.e. “cuenta regresiva”, “a certain idea of paradise”), while others establish a utopic and plastic dialogue with literature and poetry (the “cartographies” series). In each of these practices, the body is strongly implied in the act of reading and writing, and the ideas of the Self and the Other are closely intertwined. These works deal with notions such as ingestion, mastication, digestion, and more precisely, regurgitation.
ELIZABETH A. POVINELLI | Mangled surfaces, insistent images
The Karrabing Film Collective (KFC) is a group of family and friends, most of whom come from the northwestern coast of the Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia. It emerged in 2009 in the disastrous intersection of the late liberal politics of cultural recognition and of neoliberal extractive capitalism that left many of the families who would become the KFC homeless. Film and art installations are a means of representing their precarious position, creating a context around a future that could be practiced, and enticing younger members to learn about their ancestral lands by enacting them in new narrative forms. This presentation discusses the relationship between the social and financial making of our films and art installations. Rather than flawed, how can we see this surface as the truth of the contemporary refusal of the KFC to be captured by the recognition machinery of the state and arts industry even as we welcome both to rethink themselves in light of our worlds and work.
CANDICE HOPKINS | Towards a decolonial practice of listening
“We have no ear lids. We are condemned to listen.” These are the opening lines of composer R. Murray Schafer’s essay “Open Ears”. While we can’t close our ears, it doesn’t mean that we listen to everything that is being said, something particularly true for those whose ears seem closed more often than they are open. How can we attune ourselves to pick up different frequencies, to feel what reverberates, to hear what sounds at the margins? Hopkins looks at the intersections between sound and protest in Indigenous art and activism towards what might be considered a decolonial practice of listening.
ESTHER GABARA | Art as fiction: Amerindian concepts for visual theory
This presentation introduces the methodology of a book in progress, for which research into dominant lineages in contemporary art of the Americas led me to Amerindian thought as a source of answers to theoretical questions that the art critical bibliography could not resolve. In this project, I seek to articulate a theory of fiction proper to contemporary visual art, during the period that neoliberal economic, political, and social experiments were enacted across the American continent (1960s-2000s). If fiction is a word often used to describe the diverse practices of contemporary visual art, it has not yet received an extended articulation of its distinction from narrative fiction. Indigenous thought from the Andes, Mesoamerica, and the Amazon provides key concepts to understand these forms of what I call “non-literary fiction.” This methodology of articulating art theory takes up the challenge that Eduardo Viveiros de Castro posed to anthropology, that of “taking indigenous ideas as concepts, and following through on the consequences of such a decision.”
SUELY ROLNIK | Decolonizing the creative drive
The micropolitical basis of the colonial-capitalistic regime is an abuse of the vital forces of the biosphere. For the humans, this abuse currently reaches such drive in its very birth, thus deviating from its ethical fate: a power of creation of other modes of existence and their senses each time life becomes smothered by the forms of present. In such a deviation, the exercise of “creating” new worlds (something life requires for persevering) becomes sterile, then reducing itself to the exercise of “creativity” (detached from life) that draws new scenarios for the accumulation of capital and a stimulus to the voracity of consumption. Faced with this context, it is not enough to intervene in the macropolitical sphere of sharing rights and goods, one must equally intervene in the micropolitical sphere: to decolonize the unconscious structured by the abuse, so as to take back in hand the fate of life in its essence of transfiguring force. In this sphere, the boundaries between art, clinic, and politics become indiscernible.
BAMBI CEUPPENS | Decolonizing a colonial monument
The Royal Museum for Central Africa was created by King Leopold II with the money he made in Congo. It was inaugurated in 1910. Its last major renovation took place in 1958, two years before the Congolese independence. The museum was often called the last colonial museum in the world. Although it is not true that no changes were made since 1958, it is true that until its closure for a major renovation in 2013, the permanent exhibition retained a colonial perspective on Africa and Africans and largely ignored the colonial past that had shaped and created it. This presentation will deal with the major challenges involved in decolonizing this colonial monument with particular reference to collaboration with members of “host communities” who are the moral, if not legal owners of the collections.