“Within different genealogies of re-existence ‘artists’ have been questioning the role and the name that have been assigned to them. They are aware of the confinement that Euro-centered concepts of arts and aesthetics have imposed on them. They have engaged in transnational identities-in-politics, revamping identities that have been discredited in modern systems of classification and their invention of racial, sexual, national, linguistic, religious and economic hierarchies. They have removed the veil from the hidden histories of colonialism and have rearticulated these narratives in some spaces of modernity such as the white cube and its affiliated branches. They are dwelling in the borders, sensing in the borders, doing in the borders, they have been the propellers of decolonial transmodern thinking and aesthetics.”
– The Center for Global Studies and Humanities

In 2011, The Center for Global Studies and Humanities at Duke University issued the “Decolonial Manifesto” outlining the configuration of a “transmodern world” that attempts to reconfigure the 500-year history of modern coloniality and its aftermaths. A remarkable feature of what we call the “decolonizing turn” in the arts is the creativity emerging from the Global South and the political consequences of “independent thoughts and decolonial freedoms in all spheres of life.” Decoloniality touches not only political spheres but also philosophical and aesthetic dimensions, and as such influence the “re-existence in artistic practices all over the world.” Decolonization engages with imperialism and colonialism at every level. This new political and sensible régime calls for an affirmation of multiple transnational identities in their confrontation with global tendencies to flatten difference and homogenize knowledge. It acknowledges the diversity of human creative potential and “aims at appropriating differences instead of celebrating them.” (Mignolo et. al. 2011)

Art is constantly “discovering” and positioning itself about what is considered not having aesthetic value (Bydler 1999, Lagerqvist 2000, hooks 1995). Knowledge production and knowledge structures follow a Western and Anglo-saxon thinking. As such, the history of Western art is hierarchical: what is approved as good taste is separated from what is considered not good taste (Bourdieu, 2000)

The year 2006 was designated as the year of cultural diversity (Mångkulturåret) in Sweden with directives issued by the government. The guidelines aimed to encourage institutions to change historically homogeneous structures through self-awareness and introducing cultural inclusion in its programs and among its staff (SOU 2005:91). Reports from the Multicultural center, the Swedish Exhibition Agency, the Authority for Cultural Analysis among other publicly funded agencies, show that the year of cultural diversity did not change the representation, nor the so-called “diversity” in cultural life or institutions. A follow-up report published recently points out that the field of culture, and especially the fine arts, is as homogenous as it was one decade ago.

Despite these efforts and despite an increased awareness of issues of diversity in society, social justice for marginalized artists has therefore not yet been achieved. In interviews with persons holding high positions in the art field, one respondent expresses that “immigration” amounts to new influences in the arts. This is contradicted by another interview: “The art world embraces differences and originality but it is sometimes scarily homogenous” (Furumark 2004:120). There is a big difference in being an “international artist” as opposed to an ”immigrant artist” – the former is part of a globalised art scene while the latter means that the “artist has not achieved to cross the national border.” (Narea 2004:141)

Cajsa Lagerkvist, a Swedish museum researcher, suggests that it can be easier to be accepted in some projects if the so-called “immigrant artist” alludes to the notions of exoticism and difference – and this is true of most projects that somehow are about the Other. Lagerkvist calls this “the ethnic pigeon-hole” and states that artists may experience the fact that they must ”explain or motivate their work in a way that signals to special treatment” (Lagerqvist 2000:47). “The ethnic pigeon-hole” in itself can differentiate the artist in a conception of what is different and not seen as good taste. The “racialised” artist is thus trapped twice: s/he should assure his/hers Swedishness as well as avoid becoming “ethnified” or accepted into an exhibition or program as the alibi for “diversity.” To mitigate this, we will use decolonizing strategies that could promote a different view on otherness, one that de-marginalizes the excluded artist by shifting the cultural paradigm under which artists operate.

We believe that the failure of the politics of diversity in Sweden is due to an ontological problem. Since politics of and the words used as diversity, multiculturalism and cultural integration policies are determined by the State or institutions, any attempt to “fix” the diversity problem under this paradigm is bound to fail. Decolonial thinking rather looks at the issue of lack of representation that is generated from the bottom up, modes of coexistence and movements of emancipation within a pluriversal world (as opposed to an imperialistic universalism) as a means to dismantle colonial divides. Faced with a rapidly diversifying population, what is needed in Sweden is an epistemic shift in how aesthetic experiences are felt, talked about, listened to, and opened up to embrace the multiple aesthetic universes already in a state of becoming in the country.

We can clearly see that there is a hierarchy in the art field, a construction by institutions, curators and critics using taste as an alibi. We are interested in mapping how this hierarchy is produced and reproduced. We are interested in artistic strategies and aesthetic expressions that challenge the canon purpose.

The question of knowledge production will also be addressed through looking at how art institutions form their identity in society. What are the concepts used by institutions in exclusion mechanisms? We will let institutions answer our Mono-cultural Survey where we challenge representation within their staff and program as well as the institutions art collection. How can we address the marginalized narrative as central without using and reproducing already existing power structures? How can we transcend notions of center-periphery without having to substitute it with another binary force? How can the language of artistic practice be fragmented? The project’s position is that language permeates power structures in society. Is it possible to begin a process of decolonisation in the arts through a change in language? We are interested in the narratives of the marginalized as central art-historical accounts.

The collective practices we intend to enact with invited artists with transcultural and transnational backgrounds seeks to make these homogenizing tendencies in the arts even more palpable. We are interested in developing creative strategies alongside practitioners who share an affinity with decolonial subjectivities.

Our common challenge is to deconstruct and redefine the very definition of “aesthesis” by a two-pronged approach. First, the re-valuation of that which has been made invisible or denied validity according to a hegemonic order in the arts; and second, a critical intervention in the world of the contemporary arts. These strands run in parallel with philosophical and academic developments in decolonial thinking aiming to open up spaces and discourses within a world view where there should be enough space for everyone to live a full existence within a pluriversal sensible régime. First, we must ask ourselves: how have our minds been colonized by hegemonic thinking? Can we, while working with this issue, decolonize our own minds?

Estella Burga, Macarena Dusant, Isabel Löfgren
March 2016

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