Decolonizing Art History: A Questionnaire

Grant, Catherine and Price, Dorothy, eds. 2020. Decolonizing Art History: A Questionnaire, Art History, 43(1). [Edited Journal]

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Abstract or Description

When, in 2015, students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa demanded the removal of a statue of British colonial and diamond merchant Cecil Rhodes from their campus, they initiated what was to become a global call to ‘decolonize the university’. In the same year, students at University College London began to ask the question: why is my curriculum white? Other public sector cultural institutions soon joined the chorus in an overdue acknowledgement that unspoken colonial legacies had for too long upheld and promulgated white privilege. The role of public sculpture as a catalyst for political debate and change has a long tradition within art's histories. It serves to remind us of the centrality of the discipline in promoting and maintaining dominant cultural values; and yet it also enables us to interrogate them as historically located and subject to inevitable temporal mutation. Whilst postcolonial studies and critical race studies have been informing and challenging the shape of art history for several decades, new generations of students, scholars, critics, curators, collectors, artists and audiences are seeking radical re‐evaluations of the academy and those cultural institutions who hold themselves up as standard‐bearers of our collective cultural heritage. But, what, if anything, is specific about the current moment's demands to reassess how universities, museums, and galleries teach, research, collect and exhibit? How can art historians, curators, collectors, museum directors, artists and writers respond to the call to decolonize art history? How can we draw from the rich legacy of postcolonial, feminist, queer and Marxist perspectives within art history, and what are the new theoretical perspectives that are needed?

Writing these questions within the context of the UK, the backdrop of Brexit cannot be ignored, along with the impact of austerity and precarity in the university and museum sectors, and the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in response to both economic and political migration. There is a sense of instability in the political landscape, and conversations are often harder to hear than accusations, condemnation or dismissal. This is coupled with an increasing sense of art history being an embattled discipline, an unnecessary luxury for many students faced with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt. Yet conversely some of the loudest voices in the conversations around decolonizing art and its histories have been from young artists, scholars, curators and students, demanding that the institutions from which they feel excluded start to listen. For many of us working within (and alongside) the discipline of art history, these calls have asked us to reckon with what we do as teachers, scholars and curators. In order to continue this conversation, we have asked a range of art historians, curators and artists to respond to a series of questions that consider some of the recent calls to ‘decolonize art history’. The responses vary in format, length and focus. We offered some guidelines regarding length but otherwise were open to the ways in which the questions were addressed. Continuing the vision for Art History set out by Price in her inaugural editorial in February 2018, the following seeks to give space to some of the conversations that many of us are having within and between our institutions. The questionnaire format indicates that there is not one way to ‘decolonize art history’, but rather it is a debate that the editorial board of Art History, alongside many of our colleagues in the discipline, feels needs public discussion. We publish the questions and a selection of the responses below.

What is the historical specificity of current calls to decolonize art history? How are they different from previous challenges to the discipline (such as postcolonialism, feminism, queer studies, Marxism)?

What is your understanding of decolonizing art history now? What does a decolonized art history look like? How should it be written/practised?

How might the decolonization of art history impact upon your own area of research/practice? What would be produced from it? Might anything have to be jettisoned?

Where should decolonization in relation to art history happen? What strategies might different spaces for decolonization demand?

Item Type:

Edited Journal

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8365.12490

Keywords:

Decolonising Art History Art

Related URLs:

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Art
Visual Cultures

Date:

22 January 2020

Item ID:

28345

Date Deposited:

17 Apr 2020 13:43

Last Modified:

17 Apr 2020 13:43

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/28345

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