Challenging Legacies in Post-Colonial and Post-Socialist Notions of Place

 Karen von Veh, University of Johannesburg, South Africa,

Landi Raubenheimer, University of Johannesburg, South Africa,

Political oppression has been experienced in many parts of the world, notably through colonialism in Africa, India and South America, as well as socialist oppression in Central and Eastern Europe. In the aftermath of regime changes in many of these geographies, there is a shared move towards art practices articulating post-colonial or post-socialist identities. Such identities are in turn often related to notions of place, in culturally informed notions of place existing in the social imaginary, representational discourse, or in lived interactions with places. Using comparable strategies, and often working with intersecting concerns across geographies, artists who work with notions of place might actively counter or interrogate historic understandings of the contexts they engage with. Such artistic practices could also be seen as an attempt to create an ‘authentic’ expression of national belonging, responding to the problematic residue of cultural objects, images and ideologies perpetuated (or retained) in a post-colonial/post-socialist milieu.

This panel reflects research that specifically engages with notions of place, landscape or site, and that critically respond to the visual legacies inherited from oppressive regimes. The panel is divided into two sections: four papers that respond to notions of land in this context, and four papers that respond to notions of nationalisms. Here, presenters engage with public art, performance art, photography and other representations of place in interrogating the effects of oppressive regimes and ideologies in particular geographic contexts including Africa, South America, Europe and the US.

Speakers and Abstracts

Space, Place and Performativity in Marco Cianfanelli’s Shadow Boxing

Brenda Schmahmann (University of Johannesburg)

In 2013, Marco Cianfanelli completed Shadow Boxing, a sculpture that is placed outside the Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg, a building constructed in 1941. This space is also just opposite Chancellor House, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practised law in the 1950s and which had been restored by 2011. The imagery is based on a photograph which showed Mandela sparring on the rooftop of the South African Newspapers office.

In this paper, it will be argued that the shape and form of the work encourages the viewer to recognise the significance of the site and its difficult history. Falling within a contemporary genre of monument-making that is ‘performative’, the sculpture shifts the impact of the work away from the realms of the narrowly didactic to how it is experienced, and it thus enables the importance of the site to be ‘felt’ rather than simply ‘learned’. Developing ideas that Cianfanelli had explored in his rendition of Mandela in Release at the capture site in Howick in KwaZulu-Natal which was completed in 2012, Shadow Boxing provides an example of how a recognisable figure might be represented on a monumental scale but, in contrast to traditionalist monuments celebrating noteworthy individuals which are commonplace in South Africa, in such a way that literalism is avoided in favour of metaphor and association.

A Landscape for War – Depictions of the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, trauma and militarism in the era of post-colonialism

Alex Boyd (Northumbria University)

Scotland, with its historical role within Empire, has a problematic and complex relationship with its legacy as both perpetrator and victim. In the preceding decades, the surge in Scottish Nationalism, and attempts to redress ‘Northern British’ narratives have led to a re-evaluation of many of the facets of the legacy of British militarism both at home and abroad.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Gaelic speaking Scottish Highlands (An Gàidhealtachd), which have seen the most severe effects of both subjugation, control, and incorporation into the state through clearance and military occupation.

This paper will examine the work of artists and photographers who have attempted to depict the cultural and historical trauma that have occurred in the Scottish Highlands within the wider context of Empire. From 19th century landscape and genre painters such as Thomas Faed, to contemporary Royal Scottish Academicians such as Will Maclean RSA and Mhairi Killin RSA, I will discuss how each has responded to the history of this region, and how this in turn has contributed to wider debates in Scottish Society.

The contemporary role of Scotland as a military and chemical weapons testing ground, its ongoing role as the home of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent, and the tensions this has created also form the basis of my ongoing role as a practice-based researcher. This paper will therefore examine the development of a multi-disciplinary methodology for the depiction and interpretation of sites of trauma and militarism within a postcolonial context.

This Place is Sacred: Ntaba kaNdoda Mountain

Thando Mama (University of Fort Hare)

My presentation engages in the critical theory of the photography-exploring notion of place, picturing the archive, the limits of allegory, landscape and trauma, and the viewer as witness to history. I use aspects of my ongoing visual and theoretical research on Ntaba kaNdoda Mountain and the National Monument of the former Ciskei Republic, which investigates notions of place, memory and memorialisation in post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa. Taking the works of Cedric Nunn and David Goldberg who in two different periods have made photographs of this place, I urge for a visual narrative which negotiates historic trauma associated with Ntaba kaNdoda. Their photographs seek to find a place in our history of an absent memory or forgotten archive. As passive participants in their photographs, we have missed the commemorative events of the former Ciskei, but are transported back to this site decades later where no physical evidence of either atrocities or the past exists. We are made to reconcile with our past in the present.

Furthermore, I link a sense of place with placelessness to analyse the trauma that is associated with ‘place’ memory. My inquisition regarding this post-colonial question is whether we can truly confront our past, whose framing relies on colonial historical context to find placeness. In this way, my presentation touches on the ‘historicising theory’ – that is, to look at already occurred events of colonialism and apartheid, but with the overarching question, can we always historicise?

Occupying Space: Land art and the Red Power movement, c. 1965–78

Scout Hutchinson (Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, OK/Institute of Fine Arts, NYU)

Scholars of Land art have long acknowledged the influence of pre-Columbian Indigenous art on earthworks made in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, identifying this appropriation as an extension of modernism’s preoccupation with ‘primitivism’. This paper, however, examines the temporal and ideological parallels between Land art and the contemporaneous Red Power movement – a historic moment in Indigenous rights activism that comprised a series of highly publicised protests and land occupations at sites like Alcatraz Island and Mount Rushmore. As this wave of Native American activism increased and issues of land ownership and the legacy of American settler colonialism came freshly under interrogation, non-Native artists such as Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Dennis Oppenheim and Michelle Stuart began working with land as their primary material. The issues of displacement, territorial borders and trespassing that emerge in their earthworks take on new meaning when considered in relation to Red Power activists’ interrogation of broken historic treaties and demands for the return of stolen lands.

By situating certain earthworks within this historical framework – including media representations of Indigenous activists and countercultural groups’ appropriation of Native American traditions – this paper presents another social lens through which to see these iconic works of art. It takes into consideration the acquisition of land for earthworks, the lingering mythology of the Western frontier in the 1960s, and the artists’ own relationships to Native American culture in an effort to enrich and complexify our understanding of Land art and the motivations behind its appropriation of Indigenous art and architecture.

From Louverture to Lenin: Haiti, Russia and the dilemma of post-coloniality

Yulia Tikhonova (Eastern Connecticut State University Art Gallery)

My paper From Louverture to Lenin: Haiti, Russia and the dilemma of post-coloniality invokes two revolutionary icons, Toussaint Louverture and Vladimir Lenin, as benevolent guides to a symbiotic encounter of Haitian and Russian artists. I propose an urgent ‘dialogue’ between the profound revolutionary traditions inherited by Haitian and Russian artists to serve as a discursive tool for the exploration of the landscape of their respective de-colonial futures.

Russia is a newcomer to the post-colonial stage. In the early 2000s, post-colonial theory began to be applied to post-Soviet Russia. Post-colonial theorists affirmed the imperial continuity between Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and the current Russian Federation. Although Haiti rejects and Russia envies the Western enlightenment project, both nurtured their non-Western inspiration – Haiti’s embrace of Vodou spirituality and Russia’s Revolutionary millenarianism. Today, as my paper argues, indigenous energies and cosmologies continue to inform their creative spaces. The gallery setting initiates a symbiotic exchange that blends Russia’s formidable theoretical tradition with Haiti’s profoundly spiritual energy – a compelling curatorial fiction narrated by Louverture and Lenin, facilitated by myself.

Queering the Soil: Reclaiming landscape, place and identity in queer artistic practices in Cyprus

Elena Parpa (University of Nicosia, Cyprus)

This paper examines the way artists in Cyprus, who identify themselves as queer, turn to the notion of landscape in their claim for visibility and in seeking to subvert dominant, non-inclusive conceptions of Cypriotness. In so doing, they critically expose the sociopolitical context they operate in, where gender and sexual subjectivities are locked in a problematic relationship with perceptions of national identity and the dominant discourses that generate them. Modern and contemporary history in Cyprus is defined by colonialism, post-colonialism, and the discourses of rival Greek and Turkish nationalisms that have fuelled ethnic antagonism between Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cypriots, obstructing the cultivation of an inclusive national identity. Currently, the island is divided into the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In an effort to ensure survival, each community has conceptualised heteronormative family ties and conceptions of feminine and masculine sexuality as the backbone of national coherence with alternatives being condemned as unpatriotic and/or as divergent from accepted conceptions of Cypriotness. In seeking to challenge such perceptions, queer artists reclaim the Cypriot landscape, pictorially negotiated in the past as unspoilt and as reflecting notions of a pure, authentic self, using art interventions, music, sound, performance, dance and the spoken word. As it is argued, the result disrupts hegemonic perceptions of Cypriotness and its links with colonialism, patriarchy and nationalism at the same time that it creates transgressive spaces with the intention of community-building through collaboration.

Closing and Reopening of Memory and Identity in O Brasil, from Jaime Lauriano

Fernanda Bernardes Albertoni (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

This paper examines how Jaime Lauriano’s video O Brasil (2014) uses archival material from the military government that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 to critically investigate and expose the construction of a discourse on national identity in the country. The video is a montage of extracts of national propaganda made from 1969 to the mid-1970s, a period of increased censorship and state violence, but also of an alleged economic growth, which is the focus of the propaganda. Putting together several government pieces of propaganda made for television that claimed that the whole population should work together for the growth of Brazil, Lauriano’s work demonstrates how nationalism was connected to a persisting myth of racial democracy. According to this logic, racial and social differences did not matter as long as they were serving the one purpose of national economic growth and being integrated into one identity of the Brazilian people. Conversely, Lauriano’s montage, O Brasil, also brings forward contradictions in the discourse, stressing the repressed violence in the attempt to either erase or forcibly pacify racial and social differences and conflicts. Examining Lauriano’s work, this paper draws connections between O Brasil and debates on the country’s structural amnesia, analysing how unilateral memories can be traced and reopened from images that reflect historical erasures and the closing of identities which, moreover, are still transmitted and shape ideas about Brazil’s national memories and identities until now.

The ‘In-between Space’ in the Europa and the Bull Myth through its Visual Representation: Constructing cultural narratives within and throughout Europe

Themis Veleni (Granada University, Spain; Hellenic Open University, Greece; International University of Greece; Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)

This paper will examine the concept and role of ‘in-between space’, as discussed by G. Deleuze and E. Grosz, in the visual representation and rhetoric of Greek myths, and particularly in the Europa and the Bull myth, in terms of its geopolitical use in the 20th and 21st century during the formation and transformation of the European Union. It will be argued that this underlying ‘in-between’ concept of this particular myth is instrumental in shaping its political dynamic. The paper will discuss how the metaphorical use of symbolic space contributes to the actual construction of notions of places, such as Europe, as a continent and entity, and Greece, as a nation and state. It will analyse how the transitional element of the ‘in-between space’ unfolds in two fundamental ideas of the discussed myth: metamorphosis and travel, and then extends to their political connotations as manifested in the European Union’s cultural rhetoric, nurturing a fluid transitional scheme from the actual place to the idea of the place, and vice versa. It will particularly focus on how this ‘in-between space’ in the Europa and the Bull myth has been used to signify the passage from one place/state of being to another, on a symbolical and political level, in post-colonial narratives. The paper will explore the political use of such narratives in the formation of the identity of the European Union and the dynamic developed between the latter and certain European countries, such as Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine and others, especially within the post-colonial Eastern–Western Europe dialectic. It will specifically study the way this conceptual and symbolic ‘in-between space’ has been visually represented and, in some cases, accentuated or criticised in certain paintings, public monuments, street art pieces and political sketches, within their historical context, in the process of shaping and converging national, regional and local memory and identity within and throughout Europe.




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