For the Oncurating Issue 34, we asked artists, theorists, and researches to send us their proposals for a decolonized art practice, or how to deal with institutions in that regard. The 34 invited artists were given a carte blanche to contribute to the topic decolonising art institutions. The only restriction given was in the format, with artists’ contributions to take the form of either an DIN A4 -sized PDF. The aim: to provide a platform for a multiplicity of voices from the arts. These voices would propose an image of a decolonised art practice, all the while raising questions with regard to how one can engage with pre-existing institutions in a congruent manner. The format of the material was crucial. It too was thoroughly accessible, printable by everyone from readers of the magazine, to the very students and teachers in the postgraduate Curating Programme who had initiated the project. Thus the form mirrored the democratic modes of presenting and distributing art that were being explored in the contents of the issue. This issue contains proposals from 35 artists and an implicit call to action. You can download the material and assemble it in your preferred way: a book, an exhibition, or something else. The curatorial role liberated, it stands open and available to any reader of the issue, mutable between various local contexts.
These local contexts were as apparent in the creating of this issue, as they are in the final product. The diverse group of students in the Postgraduate Programme in Curating – from Brazil, Mexico, the US, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and Australia – incited a multiplicity of approaches to the topic. This, in turn, led to contact with a great assortment of artists. This was an opportunity to take into consideration the myriad of situations within which these practitioners work. Thus we could find not only highly specific solutions that work within their local contexts, but also provide platforms for strategies that might surprise us by extending across different, unexpected networks. They would become newly discovered constellations of decolonising tactics.
And yet, the longer the specifics of these ideas were engaged with, the more fraught it was to grapple with the very idea of decolonisation, as a broader concept. While there was an advantage in the variety of frameworks within which the issue was problematised, this also functioned as a point of friction. It exposed the difficulty of decolonising across such divergent contexts, and rendered it nearly impossible to speak on a common ground. Furthermore doubts were seeded about the efficacy of approaching these concerns from the perspective of the arts. Nabil Ahmed argues, for example, how colonialism, reinforced through capitalism, works in a destructive manner against the environment, with a breadth of reach and depth of effect one can hardly imagine. A malignant force spread far beyond the scope of the arts. “Environmental violence can only be understood via the field of environmental history, which, broadly, gives a dialectic accounting of humanity-in-nature and nature-in-humanity. It incorporates a history of the externalization of nature, from the mineral to the vegetal, silver to sugar, that allowed for the fetishization and commodification of the environment in ways foreign to the peoples that colonialism encountered and whose forms of knowledge it would obliterate.”
“Environmental colonialism” then, along with all its disastrous consequences, is enforced in accelerated capitalism. This naturally has implications for any discussion of decolonisation that takes art institutions as its basis, particularly when the focus inevitably broadens to that which is under a political jurisdiction – land, heritage, appropriation. And yet, as responses to the invitation manifested themselves, they provided further evidence for the ability of art-driven processes to disrupt representational space. The proposals were a microcosm of the broader reality of the art world, which constantly propagates ideas concerning how to live together in new and different ways; how to use representational space in a radical manner; how to disrupt the hegemonic ideas of communality and subjectivity.
What is clear is that how, who, and for whom a representational space is used is of utmost importance. These questions must be brought to the fore in order to effect structural changes, in policy and otherwise. What’s more they apply as much to the museum and the gallery, to these institutions respective collections, and modes of representation, as they do to society at large. Further a re-reading of existing collections through the lens of texts such as Fred Wilson’s “Mining the Museum” can dramatically expose those that have misjudged the parameters of these questions.
It is to that arena of discourse that exposes, enlightens and, proposes that the contributions collected herein may be added. They surprise, with unforeseen approaches, drawing our attention to specific issues, and ultimately, to specific understandings. Not a final word but diverse offerings to a diverse problem.
The material can be used to create an instant exhibition, wherever it can be printed. We are extremely grateful to the artists, who so generously shared their thoughts and images. And to you, the reader, or perhaps better put, the curator of the works collected herein.
1 The Oncurating Issue 34 arose from a shared project with the students of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK in summer 2017. We invited artists related to the symposium “De-Colonizing Art Institutions” at Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland. The material we received was organized to print out and be displayed by us and the audience of the exhibition in the Oncurating Project Space.