Accessibility statement

De-…..Di-… Mounting the challenges to systematic structures of difference in and from histories of art and cultural theory.

Wednesday 18 November 2020, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Griselda Pollock

Decolonizing the curricula of our arts and humanities has become a ‘hot topic’ in academic, and even journalistic,  conversation, made urgent by  the real outbreak of anger and protest, targeting the objects in our everyday cities that are seen to sustain and symbolize racist colonialism and its economic base in enslaved labour. Art History, the journal just published its collective contribution to this decolonizing project. Yet de-phallicizing, de-constructing, de-gendering, de-normalizing, de-classing, de-nationalizing, de-abilizing, to name a few possible and equally urgent tasks are not hot news (or, should that be, anymore?). 

Decolonizing as a project is, we have to admit, rather belated. The decolonizing wars and their violence art part of 20th century history. Im terms of cultural theory of challenging the colony, it is almost 70 years  since Fanon wrote Black Skins, White Masks and almost 40 since Gayatri Spivak wrote about the Rani of Sirmur in her article against imperial thinking, ‘Reading the Archives’. 

How does the recent, but very late-coming political-intellectual challenge, decolonizing the academy and its material culture, relate to what I have been calling feminism as a bad memory? This title refers to the troubled memory work that (mis)represents the overlapping of the late-20th century’s political-intellectual revolutions in which each mounted a challenge to a hegemonic system of social organization and its imaginary and, to do so,  each borrowed concepts and slogans from the others. Packaged separately in historical retrospect as the political movements focussed on class, race, gender, or sexuality, the complex interactions and entwining of social, psychic and geopolitical locatedness of embodiments, labour and desire were carved into competing fields of academic practices and political interests. A s a feminist, I a presumed not to a social historian, a scholar of racism, and theorist of sexuality and probably not really a theorist of gender, which has disowned the inconvenience of sexual difference, the feminine and women.

As an art historian, I regularly confront complex artistic projects and dense single works that cannot be grasped through such fragments and isolated theoretical encampments. The complexity is already there, woven into the pattern. When working primarily as an art historian, I name my self someone making feminist, postcolonial, queer and international interventions in art’s histories. The qualifiers qualify each other, allowing none to escape the interrogation of their neighbouring terms, and none to stand alone as emptied of the other’s imperative to de-somethimg.

In this lecture, I shall present several case studies from the contemporary art writing/ art historical projects I have been working on during the pandemic months in response to solicitations and commissions. I shall make the case against hierarchy, fashion and selective forgetting, and for a working practice that shows how the works of art and artists I have been invited to consider always-already perform entwining (Glissant) and demand the work I am terming de-  as a method for grasping instead the systemic problematic of difference (differentializing, differencing, being other).