Welcome To Art History For Dreamers
< a decolonial art school | www.decolonizetheart.world >
☁️ Decolonize The Art World believes in imagination as Prophecy ☁️
It’s not as simple as bringing more black and brown people into the museum, but asking why we weren’t there in the first place? There could definitely be more but there are no shortage of inventive Black art workers, artists, and community cultural production - We deserve more than assimilating into the current museum-industrial complex. Rather, after decades worth of violence, erasure, and being embedded in colonialism, this future is one where the museum has de-centralized by redistributing funding into those alternatives contextually relevant models - Let’s get into that - the how, why, and what other possibilities exist.
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Unless otherwise stated or sourced, writing by Yaa Addae ([email protected]).
What is the imaginary geography of Africa? What is the actual geography? What would a lived map of African space actually look like? Who defines »African« identity? How? For what purpose? Who is an African? What is an »Africa?« What are the other ways of »Africa
Rotten Roots, New Seeds, Healthy Plant :
“You can’t cure or “revive” a plant if the roots are dead+ rotten. The only solution is to pull out the whole thing, treat the soil, +plant a healthy new seed.”
-Gabby Duran (@GBDRN)
The British Museum, originating in the 18th century came out of Hans Sloane’s private collection- when he died in 1753, “he set up his will to ask the British Parliament to buy his collection for £20,000 and set up a public museum that anybody, whether they were British or from outside Britain, would be able to enter free of charge. Of course, what they had in mind at the time was mainly dignitaries and foreign scholars from other parts of Europe.Curators didn’t like the idea that lower orders of society were going to come in and get their hands on the collections. They had a great deal of class anxiety and believed learning was a genteel privilege. It took a long time into the 19th and even 20th century to accept that.” - James Delbourgo
Narrative rewriting and acknowledging the past alone cannot fix this- you cannot curate or juxtapose your way out of centuries worth of violence.
This morning, New York-based Activation residency exploring healing, justice and reimagining intimate gathering + a year round co-op fund surpassed their goal of 50,000 dollars. Artist @annapakart sold her work in an online auction for $25K, which her gallery, @rosskramergallery matched and donated to resistance as respite.
I cannot fully describe the immense joy I feel to witness the realisation of another black queer dreamer’s vision realised. Congratulations to @activationresidency for raising enough to not only care for 50 frontline responders over 5 consecutive weekends, but move closer towards buying land to sustain this work for years to come.
Imagine if the British Museum and its counterparts redistributed the wealth they built on slavery and colonialism into Black Cultural Organisations+ Community Conservation Programmes? Imagine if profiting off of Black creativity meant actively pouring that back into the respective creative ecosystems. Imagine not having to prove yourself worthy of resources that are yours?
This is the work of restoration- not restitution, not a loan, not annotated labelling and DEFINITELY not slapping us in the face by selling stolen ancestral art on the secondary market(Reference -Image: 4, but let’s get into the auctionhouses + commercial galleries on another day).
You’re just not the it girl you used to be- and denying that instead of more contextual, community specific art engagement -is tired.
A central part of decolonize the art world is demystifying the moving parts of these world(s). The lack of transparency about power in the art world not only reinforces its status quo, but encourages gatekeepers. The shift required is so much more than hiring decisions, institutions as a whole are deeply embedded in recreating the dynamics they were born of, yet try and move like Miley Cyrus ‘transforming’ into Hannah Montana- same thing, and we can tell.
In response to the rising push to address institutional antiblackness, some cultural organizations have began to look at hiring processes to diversify their staff. It is not enough to just hire more Black people without thinking through the role of the institution in the world, and what kind of work environment said employees would be entering into. Quite frankly, museums/galleries/art establishments need to be honest with themselves about what their true values are - not what they need it to look like but the context of their existence.
Here lies the issues of firsts - It is 2020, any FIRST is a failure on the part of an organization shrouded in individual exceptionalism. While the achievements of Black cultural workers should be celebrated, how can we turn the attention to why it is so hard to achieve in the first place?
Take The Guggenheim for example -
Traditionally, The Guggenheim hires curators of color to collect from non-western world regions, organise an exhibition, and diversify the museums permanent holdings on a temporary short-term contract via the The Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative (MAP) . However, without any real commitment to curators of color - this feels like tokenism at best, and at worst, benefiting from the intellectual labor of said curators without actually changing the core operations of the museum.
On the note of Black curators specifically,
In 1996, Nigerian curator Okwui Ewenzor co-curated the museum’s first African art exhibition ‘In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present’.Ewenzor’s exact contributions are not made clear on the Guggenheim website however his name is listed alongside Octavio Zaya, Olu Oguibe, and Clare Bell.
23 years later, In 2019, Chaedria LaBouvier became the first Black solo curator + exhibition catalogue writer in the museum’s 80 year history with ‘Basquiat's Defacement: The Untold Story”. Steeped in her over a decade-long research of Basquiat, this exhibition covered not only his work, but also the history of police brutality and targeting of Black men in the United States such as Michael Stewart, a Black man who was in a coma for 13 days and eventually passed away from injuries received in police custody (inspired the painting, The Death of Michael Stewart.) What then followed was institutional bullying and a deliberate attempt to erase LaBeouvier from her work. Later, at a panel organised around the Basquiat exhibition that LaBouvier was not invited- she addressed this with Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Guggenheim.
‘This is how institutional racism works, you use the power of the institution to weaponize bodies to exact violence.’
-Chaedria LaBouvier speaking to the Guggenheim’s erasure of a Black woman’s work. Full address posted on our IGTV.
Later that year, Ashley James was the first Black Curator to be hired full time by the institution, but their past violence, unchecked and unacknowledged, still remains.
This is only a summary of the Guggenheim’s treatment of LaBeouvier, for more information, click click click
In recent days, primarily white owned and operated cultural entities have posted performative responses to racism. A graphic without real interrogation of positionality and subsequent restorative action, is just lip service. The issue with the structural makeup of the art world is the lack of sustainable effort towards reinvesting in the minority creative ecosystems while profiting of of this work - simply representing individual Black artists, yet only hiring white curators and staff in positions of power is not what divesting control over Black narratives looks like- especially from the very same actors who have forcefully erased these art histories. How else can these ‘essential’ institutions tangibly support communities that this creativity is born of - donations? mentorship schemes? research grants? restitution of looted art?
The French curator Nicholas Bourriaud published a book called Relational Aesthetics in 1998 in which he defined the term as:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space
He saw artists as facilitators rather than makers and regarded art as information exchanged between the artist and the viewers. The artist, in this sense, gives audiences access to power and the means to change the world.
For example, we can examine how Sexton links the condition of the Afro-American slave, the free black and the African thus: ‘because blackness serves as the basis of enslavement in the logic of a transnational political and legal culture, it permanently destabilises the position of any nominally free black population’. The presumption of a shared (presumably global) legal and political culture within which the assertion that blackness was a basis of enslavement might be made is quite mistaken. Even in the US, the centralisation of the legal and political status of blacks only emerged at the moment of formal abolition following the American Civil War. Prior to this, the internal border system of the US produced divergent rationales and attendant juridical technology for enslavement.
"Cybernetics comes from the Greek root kubernetes, meaning pilot or helmsman, and was first used by Plato in his dialogues on Laws and The Republic to denote a governor of a country. In the 1940s, cybernetics was given its current meaning by Norbert Wiener in his 1948 book Cybernetics, Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. According to Weiner, at a basic level, cybernetics refers to “the set of problems centred about communication, control and statistical mechanics, whether in the machine or in living tissue”. Wiener’s concept was that the behaviour of all organisms, machines and other physical systems is controlled by their communication structures, both within themselves and with their environment. The result of this book was that the notion of feedback penetrated almost every aspect of technical culture. Early influential cyberneticians working in Britain include W Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer, W Grey Walter, Frank H George and Gordon Pask. Pask’s interactive cybernetic work Colloquy of Mobiles was exhibited at CS. This large-scale reactive and educable sculptural installation is now seen as a precursor to human-machine interaction. Cybernetics, the study of how machine, social and biological systems behave, offered a means of constructing a framework for art production in which artists could consider new technologies and their impact on life." - Catherine Mason
Museology is rooted in othering non-western cultures, a cultural vehicle for validating the work of colonialists at the time.This led to museums being involved in creating and maintaining an image of Western Europe juxtaposed against the “uncivilised and uncultured”. This history is important in considering the ways in which the Art world still embodies these structures today and consequently, influences the way people move through it. For centuries, Black creativity has been resisted, co-opted, commodified and erased, all at the same time....
Decolonize the art world believes in the power of critical imagining.
What world do we want to see emerge? How can we transition from the exclusivity of colonial museum and gallery structures into more well-researched contextual forms of engagement?
Going forward, we will be sharing resources and highlighting anticolonial+antiracist approaches to cultural narrative building.
The Wakandafication of the continent and Black diasporic identities is entirely uninspired. The repeated tropes/symbolic gestures that homogenise & essentialise thousands of African cultures in service of securing the terrain for Black capitalist possibilities & futures is tired.
I was and still am interested in the specific representational mythos of Africa that is mobilised to legitimise empires and Black capitalist aspirations. It is about Africa as a quantifiable product, which is also reliant on collapsing entanglements within the Black diaspora.
I’m interested in how Hollywood, celebrity, capital & different forms of historical reimagination are entangled in this project that is invested in restoring an Africa that never was. Monarchies that are unimplicated in violence and an uninterrupted sense of historical continuity.
This totalising imagery of Africa is mobilised both within the continent and the diaspora.
Focusing on the continent specifically, Wakandafication has been used to supply a fantasy of nation, precoloniality & lack of historical rupture that is then exported globally as a product. “Wakandafication” is not about reducing the entangled and complex histories so many Black people in diaspora have with Africa.
It is specifically about the process through which Africa as a product is reimagined to serve the interests of representation, nation and capital.It’s also not a personal slight against any Black/African artists who’ve contributed to these projects, many of which I’ve enjoyed and are cinematically breathtaking. It’s a larger cultural criticism of an investment in a specific representational economy under racial capitalism.This has been said so many times but I’m going to say it again anyway.
A critique doesn’t remove the ability to enjoy, take pleasure in or celebrate art. No one is saying that art that has engaged these representational economies cannot be consumed and enjoyed.Finally, the term “Wakandafication”, which has received rigourous engagement & derision in equal measure, is not solely based on a 1:30 trailer. I was seeking to name a very old & historically entrenched phenomenon, as many Black feminist scholars do. It’s naming a specific thing.As ever, I appreciate so many of the perspectives that have expanded on my original thinking, engaged and critiqued in good faith and added new dimensions. The opportunity to think with so many Black people collectively is a privilege.
-Jade Bentil, Black Feminist Historian
everyday loading for a gazillion hours, upload failed, weak connection, glitch, call dropped. I feel like majority of my time on the internet is spent waiting. Usually I feel like slowness, fighting that sense of urgency and instant gratification, is anticolonial - but this feels more like stalling, like a barrier. It's also very agitating - like I get mad/disheartened. Especially with the word 'connect', then what does that mean for how systemically slow internet connection is. And electricity/ 'power'? Oof, remember when there was light off every day? That was during Mahama's time. I remember we would study in the dark bc it was my final year of high school. I once didn't have power for almost a week and this is in the city in an affluent neighbourhood so.....yikes....i don't really know as much about the physical nature/infrastucture of the internet but I'm studying it bc im trying to make sense of this
slave: a sentient body made available to gratuitous violence, through natal alienation + general dishonor, rendering them fleshly commodity and ontologically plastic.
human: a self-possessed, self-sovereign, auto-poetic ethnoclass of species w/ immanent ethical-global concern.