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?