Saturday, 26 July 2008

Farewell to Post-Colonialism. Guangzhou Triennal, Uli and Aresuva

For the first time I am posting an internal discussion on my blog. Let’s see what that gives. This was a comment that i had posted in my internal mail circulation in contribution to a 'raging' debate about a journal to be launched by the University of Nigeria, Nsukka's Department of Fine and Applied Arts. The journal will be called Ulli:Journal of Art and Design. Actually I caused the debate by inadvertently questioning the use of the name Ulli after so much ink had been split on ulli in the 70s, 80s, 90s. Whilst we continually revisit it in the 21st century - it remains an important part of our culture - I am also interested in they way in which it is revisited. I guess that was the thrust of my mail which I also post here. The responses of all others will be posted once i have all the permissions or at least no objections to posting.

Here is my first post in response to call for papers by artist, lecturer, writer Ozioma Onuzulike from UNN.

16th June

Congratulations, Sounds good. However won't calling it ULI make it seem like a parochial journal. I was thinking of a name that opened up the discourse nationally and international. Also you have to remember that the word Uli is very loaded and specific and comes with so much historical baggage.

And I have a big problem with the term 'so called third world' because as you rightly put it 'so called' is suspicious and i feel that it is derogatory. Do we want to start a new project, develop a new discourse and articulate a new language for contemporary art in africa and from africa carrying so much baggage. I think we need to break free from the shackles of being defined and find a vocabulary that suits and represents our current reality. That is the challenge. It is like the word post - colonial almost 50 or so years after independence we need to ask some serious questions about the validity of the post in the postcolonial.


Here is my last post - to which i have yet to receive any feedback hence the posting to a wider audience. Hope it generates some interesting perspectives.

13th July

Hey All
I enjoyed reading the curatorial framework for the Tiennal below. (on the spot)

I also reprint here from their website (see below in purple) because as I read it, I thought about some of the ongoing email discussions about the Uli journal and also Aresuva brought on by the lack of specifics.

I think misunderstandings and apprehensions arise when what one is doing is not properly articulated or fully elaborated. I reprint here appropriate paragraphs which hardly go beyond the general so as to provide an intellectual and theoretical framework or direction for the journal or for possible contributors. I think the discussion so far on why it is titled Uli or not has been useful and we can go beyond semantics and to tell you the truth if you had called it Shit, Dot, Spit, Beyond or whatever I would have still asked the context for the name and the baggage some of the words connotate because Shit may be good to you (as it is to the DMT mobile toilets guy in lagos - I digress) but to somebody else it would be something else. SHIT is loaded too and interestingly the other day i came across an art project called SHIT can't remember the subtitle and a short description on the curatorial framework for the project and why the name Shit. I didn't agree and I didn't disagree but just thought it was a starting point for a discussion in which everybody's opinion opens up a space discourse and negotiation and the way artists approached the subject matter from their individual perspectives. And you know artists!!!!!

However the next important aspect relates to the 2nd part of the call for papers which I highlight in blue. I think we run the risk of descending into armchair academicism and navel gazing by not elaborating further in a few paragraphs or sentences some of the important or pressing issues affecting Nigerian and international art production and discourse and which the journal would like to use as an introductory framework for developing a re-newed form of art scholarship and professionalism. I appreciate in the 3rd paragraph and the addition of modern and postmodern tendencies very 20th century but of course very important in developing 21st century discourse naturally. ( but remember thy have been accused as smacking of tendencies promulgated from 'outside' from so called derided locations) I think the editors of the Uli journal need to elaborate on the meaning of those 'seriously' loaded or more appropriately 'contested' terms so as to give the journal a critical point of departure.

Basically what I am saying Dear Krydz, Dear Ozioma - or whoever the editors are - is take an intellectual and philosophical position/standpoint with the journal (and I don't mean the name). Write a full one page, paragraph - whatever - that clearly and concisely indicates the line of discourse you think is appropriate for the journal. Bring us into or inform us of the argument, position, discussion whatever and let us begin a proper debate on art and visual culture in Nigeria, Africa and internationally. The Editorial committee should have done that before sending out a call for papers. At such an academic level this should have been a foregone conclusion and I am sure it will be a prerequisite for any serious local or international academic to respond to the call. I am no academic but logic dictates that should be part of the procedure if I am not mistaken. And I have been to the website to find more information about the theoretical framework. What i got is that 'The first issue, to be published in June 2008, will focus on postmodernist tendencies in the recent visual arts and culture of Africa. Historical, critical, art educational, and other scholarly articles, as well as reviews, interviews and portfolios addressing the above theme are welcome.'

What are some of the pertinent and critical issues that need to be discussed and for which you are providing a much needed platform. Is it to challenge the discourse of modernism and postmodernism, is it to create new vocabularies of visual and artistic production that take into consideration the diversity of our experiences, cultures and locations and identities?? If so how and why, if not why not? What are some of the examples of these modern and postmodern tendencies you imply? On a individual professional basis, I am concerned about/interested curatorial practice in Nigeria (or the lack of it) and its role in the development of artistic presentation. I am interested in exploring what kind of curatorial practice or framework is possible within a non-western context in which little or no infrastructure - conceptual and physical - exists. I am interested in a curatorial practice that bridges the local and the global, I am interested in the way in which curatorial practice contributes to new posibilities in artistic discourse etc etc. Outline your position and then open it out for debate, contributions and evolution.

And just a quick reminder that some of the interesting discourse is not necessarily (depending on what you are reading) coming out of the 'tired' West but actually from the dynamic East. There is a tremendous shift in contemporary art and cultural discourse from the west to the non-western, we- Africans - have an opportunity to carve our own discourse and critiques, develop our positions locally and locate ourselves globally if and as we wish. Uli:Journal of Visual Arts and Culture provides this opportunity.

'ULI: Journal of Visual Arts and Culture is a referred academic bi-annual publication of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (visit It is to be published in June and December each year electronically and, occasionally, in hard copies. The publication aims to critique and document contemporary developments in the visual arts and culture of Nigeria, Africa and the world. It shall open up and sustain debate on issues in Nigerian and international art as a way of contributing to art scholarship and professionalism in the so-called Third World. Well-researched papers are invited for the first issue to be published in December 2008. Historical, critical, art educational, and other scholarly articles on modern and postmodern tendencies in the art and visual culture of Africa are welcome, as well as reviews, interviews and portfolios.'

The Guangzhou Triennal

Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj and Johnson Chang Tsong-zung (all non-westerners)

For the curatorial discourse of this Triennial, we propose to say 'Farewell to Post-Colonialism'. This represents the theoretical basis from which we hope to explore our critical vision. 'Farewell to Post-colonialism' is not a denial of the importance and rewards of this intellectual tradition; in the real world, the political conditions criticised by post-colonialism have not receded, but in many ways are even further entrenched under the machinery of globalisation. However, as a leading discourse for art curatorial practice and criticism, post-colonialism is showing its limitations in being increasingly institutionalised as an ideological concept. Not only is it losing its edge as a critical tool, it has generated its own restrictions that hinder the emergence of artistic creativity and fresh theoretical interface. To say 'Farewell to Post-Colonialism' is not simply a departure, but a re-visit and a re-start. 2008 will be exactly 40 years since the heady days of 1968. In fifty years, waves of new social movement and multi-cultural theories have woven a tapestry of rich and clashing colours out of the world's changing social realities. International contemporary art has also benefited from the attention to socio-political issues surrounding identity, race, gender and class. But in fifty years, revolutionary concepts have also transformed into leading discourses safely guarded by 'political correctness'. Post-colonial discourse's analysis of the power structure within cultural expressions has triggered a series of cultural resistance, as well as the construction of the self as the Subject in relation to the Other. However, this kind of analysis and construction has also adversely developed an institutionalised pluralistic landscape (a multi-cultural 'managerialism') that has today turned into a new form of stereotyping. In this Triennial we wish to draw attention to the 'political correctness at large' that is the result of the power play of multi-culturalism, identity politics and post-colonial discourse. Urgent issues facing curatorial practice today are: How do we establish an 'ethics of difference' within the framework of difference in cultural production? How do we prevent a 'tyranny of the Other' without sacrificing the grounds already gained against the power status quo? For some years major international contemporary exhibitions around the world have worked towards building up 'discursive sites for a cacophony of voices' and 'negotiated spaces of diverse values', emphasising 'correctness' in cultural politics; these have inadvertently succeeded to the neglect of independent pursuit of artistic creativity and alternative imaginative worlds. Concepts of identity, multiplicity and difference are now slowly losing their edge to become new restrictions for artistic practice. In response to this, the curatorial team of The Third Guangzhou Triennial wants to bring attention to the 'limits of multi-culturalism', and say 'Farewell to Post-Colonialism'. By saying 'Farewell to Post-Colonialism' we call for the renovation of the theoretical interface of contemporary art, to depart from its all pervasive socio-political discourse, and work together with artists and critics to discover new modes of thinking and develop new analytical tools for dealing with today's world. The curators hope this Triennial will be a process of discovery for ourselves; not just the fulfilling of preconceived ideas. Instead of claiming what this Triennial 'is', we wish to find out what it should not be. This Triennial may be understood as a locus of questions for the international art world, starting with an Exercise in Negation and a Questionnaire about art. We hope artists and critics will work with us to discover what new modes and imaginative worlds are possible for art beyond the boundaries of socio-political discourses.

Culled from the triennal website.


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