Author: Russell Coon

Socialism in Contemporary African Art: Butchering the End of Time

This introductory essay and accompanying special issue of ARTMargins explore the role of African socialisms in contemporary art. Artists looking at Africa’s radical history face the challenge of responding to a generalized amnesia about the continent’s protagonism on intellectual and political radicalism after 1945. Working with under-researched themes, scarce historical records, and apprehensive oral sources, these artists are often tasked to amplify forgotten pasts while simultaneously critiquing the political contingency of historical investigation in global contemporary art. Global contemporary art—largely shaped by the neoliberal transition that followed the very histories explored by these artists—is often shown in its limitation to … Read more

“We Need a Lighthouse Philosopher”: Filipa César and Louis Henderson’s Sunstone (2018) and the Portuguese Genealogy of Lens-Based Media

This article discusses Filipa César’s and Louis Henderson’s digital film Sunstone (2018), situating it within a history of lenses and lighthouses in Portuguese conquest. It argues that Portugal has been overlooked as playing a key role in shaping the use and conceptual function of lenses in maritime conquest. In particular, the beaming of light from lenses has been overshadowed by the function of light collection in histories written about lens-based media.

ARTMargins, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp. 18-39.

doi:10.1162/artm_a_00371

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/13/1/18/120554/We-Need-a-Lighthouse-Philosopher-Filipa-Cesar-and

Make Me a Picture of the Future: Massinissa Selmani’s 1000 Socialist Villages (2015)

Contemporary artist Massinissa Selmani’s installation 1000 Socialist Villages (2015) explores how a rural land distribution and urban planning initiative in Algeria known as “1000 Socialist Villages” dissipated into rumor. The analysis relies on Djaffar Lesbet’s first-hand accounts of and extensive research on the 1000 Socialist Villages, as his archives and his testimony were crucial to Selmani’s artistic research process. Through close reading of Selmani’s aesthetic references to the classic school notebook used during the socialist period in Algeria (1965–1979) and by drawing on Karima Lazali and Daho Djerbal’s work on literature and history Algeria, the paper argues that Selmani’s installation
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The Mythography of Socialism in Contemporary Angolan Art

The period of political socialism (1975–1991) in Angola was relatively short but has left remnants – both as physical and ideological manifestations. These have been also increasingly addressed by artists who revisit and reinvent this political and aesthetic period. This paper looks at contemporary Angolan art’s engagement with the ideological power represented by socialism and at the same time analyzes the mystification and “iconization” of its political leaders. Working with the analytical concept of “mythography” introduced by Boris Groys and based on a number of artworks as examples it argues that artists can be considered as mythographers of socialist history … Read more

The Politics and Aesthetics of Liberation: Revolution and Its Aftermath in Contemporary Artistic Practice from and about Lusophone Africa 1

This essay explores the ways in which artistic practices have revisited histories and memories of anti-colonial struggle, socialist revolution, and decolonization in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Portugal, while also addressing apartheid South Africa and the global Cold War. The cartography drawn here follows the histories and geographies of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid friendship without losing sight of several forms of imperialism, old and new. This essay examines the archival and historiographical potential of contemporary art in remembering histories of revolution and decolonization, notably those pertaining to cultural production and especially film, in the globalized, neoliberal present. My case studies are distinct … Read more

Abstract States: Modernism in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey

A decade after modernist art history’s tentative embrace of postcolonial modernisms, a new crop of books are leveraging this disciplinary acceptance to examine hitherto shrouded aspects of the field. Anneka Lenssen’s, Beautiful Agitation: Modern Painting and Politics in Syria (2020), Zeina Maasri’s, Cosmopolitan Radicalism: The Visual Politics of Beirut’s Global Sixties (2020) and Sarah-Neel Smith’s, Metrics of Modernity: Art and Development in Postwar Turkey, (2022) offer candid appraisals of postcolonial modernism’s exposure to colonial and nationalist institutions, Cold War cultural networks, and the hierarchical effects of canonical modernism. Reviewed together in this article, these books reveal the distinctive orientations … Read more

As the Nile Flows or the Camel Walks

Between 1884–1885, Britain requested a contingent of boatmen – “voyageurs” – from Canada to assist transport troops and supplies through the Nile’s system of cataracts (rapids). The expedition’s cross section of participants included Egyptians, Sudanese, roughly one hundred indigenous subjects from Canada and subjects from across Britain’s empire. Primary sources authored by four participants are central to understanding how the role of travelogues and their accompanying illustrations and photographs combine with discourses of imperialism to establish a foundational framework for the discursive practice of colonialism. Two authors – Louis Jackson’s Our Gaughnawagas in Egypt (1885) and James D. Deer’s The Read more

Introduction to “Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes”

In April 1977, after almost two years in power, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) announced their plans for the culture of the new nation. Pitched in military terms, and announced in the document translated for the first time here, the “Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes” drew on Marxist theory to define a revolutionary new culture, and to deploy this culture as a weapon in the ongoing struggle to build a postcolonial, postcapitalist society.

ARTMargins, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp. 139-142.

doi:10.1162/artm_a_00377

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/13/1/139/120553/Introduction-to-Cultural-Offensive-of-the-Working

Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes

In April 1977, after almost two years in power, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) announced their plans for the culture of the new nation. Pitched in military terms, and announced in the document translated for the first time here, the “Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes” drew on Marxist theory to define a revolutionary new culture, and to deploy this culture as a weapon in the ongoing struggle to build a postcolonial, postcapitalist society.

ARTMargins, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp. 143-148.

doi:10.1162/artm_a_00378

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/13/1/143/120551/Cultural-Offensive-of-the-Working-Classes

ARTMargins Print 12:3 Editorial Statement

The writings in this issue all share a preoccupation with the silences, disappearances, and contradictions within historical archives. Across national, regional, and diasporic spaces, they attend to the deliberate acts of remembering and forgetting that accompanied the political, economic, and technological shifts of the postwar era. Often violent, sometimes incomplete, these shifts required and begat different roles for artistic practice. The turbulence and legacies of 1968, the collective traumas of ethno-nationalist wars, or the ongoing struggles of liberation and neocolonialism have led artists in Mexico, Britain, the Balkans, and Palestine to revalue materials, approaches, and commitments to community.

ARTMargins, … Read more

“To Make Books Is to Multiply”: Artists’ Books and Feminist Expression in Mexico

In the late 1970s and early 80s, artist’s books exploded in Mexico City. The impetus for this explosion has often been located in the artistic practice of the experimental artist Felipe Ehrenberg and the bookmaking workshops he offered beginning in 1976. While Ehrenberg was undoubtedly influential, this essay reexamines the history of this period—a so-called Golden Epoch of independent publishing in Mexico––in order to recuperate the significant role that feminist-aligned artists played in advancing the medium of the artist’s book. In particular, I examine early editions produced by the artists Magali Lara and Yani Pecanins. Both prolific producers and staunch … Read more

Revisiting Rasheed Araeen’s Structures: 8bS at Manufactured Art, 1970

In May 1970, Rasheed Araeen’s work “8bS” appeared in Manufactured Art, a group exhibition dedicated to artistic engagements with industrial processes and advanced technology. Araeen’s contribution, like many of his 1960–70s works, comprised lattice-like structures that engaged forms and techniques common to his professional training as a civil engineer. Like the Minimalist object, “8bS” deployed the grammar of productive techniques to structure artistic form, breaking with the compositional principles of formalist modernism and moving towards art beyond objecthood. Yet Araeen’s contribution to Manufactured Art suggests that Araeen’s structures also avoided the limitations of the Minimalist object’s negative mimesis of technological … Read more

Emergency Aesthetics: The Case of the Four Faces of Omarska

This article examines how contemporary artists from the Western Balkans have sought to engage with the legacy of ethnonationalist violence. While attempts to examine and openly discuss war crimes that occurred in this region during the 1990s have largely been undermined by populist politics in successor states, the domain of art has provided a critical platform for disrupting the official erasure of these atrocities. This investigation focuses on the Four Faces of Omarska art collective, whose members examine the war crimes that occurred following the break-up of socialist Yugoslavia by studying the transformation of the Omarska site in north-western Bosnia … Read more

Bags of Stories: Thinking with Household Casebearers in the Anthropocene

Household casebearers are a genus of moths primarily distinguished by the spindle-shaped cases they carry and live in throughout their larval life. The cases, woven from household dust, typically comprise an array of materials from textile fibers to dead insect parts. As they thrive in domestic spaces in tropical climates, they are commonly viewed as a domestic pest. Anthropocentrism as such has led to a fundamental imbalance of knowledge concerning these creatures: we are more knowledgeable in their capacity for damage than we are in understanding how they live, even as we cohabit with them very closely, at home. In … Read more

Complicating Narratives of Contemporary Chinese Art as Global Art through the Lens of Exhibition Histories

This essay reviews two publications on Chinese contemporary art and its relation to the global through the lens of exhibition histories. The monograph Die chinesische Avantgarde und das Dispositiv der Ausstellung. Konstruktionen chinesischer Gegenwartskunst im Spannungsfeld der Globalisierung (The ‘Chinese avant-garde’ and the exhibition as dispositive. Constructing contemporary Chinese art in the global context) authored by Franziska Koch (2016), and the edited volume Uncooperative Contemporaries: Art Exhibitions in Shanghai in 2000, (2020) published in the Exhibition Histories series by Afterall Books. The former seeks to re-write the history of contemporary Chinese art exhibitions from a transcultural perspective with … Read more

Introduction to “Revolutionary Painting and the Palestinian Revolution,” by Mohammed Chabâa, and “Palestinian Artists and the Biennial,” from Toni Maraini’s “Baghdad 1974: A Summary of the First Arab Biennial of Fine Arts” (Both 1974)

In 1974, Moroccan cultural journal Intégral published a special edition on the first Arab biennial of visual arts, which had just taken place in Baghdad. The two documents translated here come from this special edition, and both of them deal with the Palestinian presence at the landmark exhibition. Moroccan artist Mohamad Chebaa and Italian-Moroccan art historian Toni Maraini each consider Palestine an ideal arena for the development of decolonial “combat art,” but express disappointment with its pavilion’s emphasis on folk idioms over images of armed struggle. The introduction to these documents situates them in relation to Moroccan and Palestinian discourses … Read more

Revolutionary Painting and the Palestinian Revolution

In 1974, Moroccan cultural journal Intégral published a special edition on the first Arab biennial of visual arts, which had just taken place in Baghdad. The two documents translated here come from this special edition, and both of them deal with the Palestinian presence at the landmark exhibition. Moroccan artist Mohamad Chebaa and Italian-Moroccan art historian Toni Maraini each consider Palestine an ideal arena for the development of decolonial “combat art,” but express disappointment with its pavilion’s emphasis on folk idioms over images of armed struggle. The introduction to these documents situates them in relation to Moroccan and Palestinian discourses … Read more

Palestinian Artists and the Biennial, from “Baghdad 1974: A Summary of the First Arab Biennial of Fine Arts”

In 1974, Moroccan cultural journal Intégral published a special edition on the first Arab biennial of visual arts, which had just taken place in Baghdad. The two documents translated here come from this special edition, and both of them deal with the Palestinian presence at the landmark exhibition. Moroccan artist Mohamad Chebaa and Italian-Moroccan art historian Toni Maraini each consider Palestine an ideal arena for the development of decolonial “combat art,” but express disappointment with its pavilion’s emphasis on folk idioms over images of armed struggle. The introduction to these documents situates them in relation to Moroccan and Palestinian discourses … Read more

Art History, Postcolonialism, and the Global Turn

When taken as a conglomerate, the postcolonial, the global, and the decolonial might signal a coordinated “decolonizing” action—one of breaking with the Eurocentric, patriarchal, and nationalist foundations of art history. Yet from a disaggregating perspective, these three terms and their respective domains cannot be seen as synonymous or entirely harmonious. What particularly demands scrutiny is the tendency to dismiss the postcolonial, or announce its demise, by claiming it has been superseded by other paradigms, namely the global and the decolonial. This introductory essay, and its accompanying special issue of ARTMargins, seeks to trace the postcolonial, global, and decolonial as … Read more

Color Charts

In the days before the arrival of the internet, Western art history education in Pakistan was mostly disseminated through black and white photocopies of original publications. The glossy pages of art books were transformed into rough copies in varying shades of gray. Rather than understanding this as a disadvantage, I propose, conversely, that this practice constituted a form of radical piracy—the blurred, partial and often completely indecipherable nature of this material proved to be, in fact, a kind of liberation.

ARTMargins, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp. 95-105.

doi:10.1162/artm_a_00353

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/12/2/95/116483/Color-Charts

Counting Quality, Seeing Patterns

What does it mean to see Third World “development” as a problem of untapped creativity? This paper argues that quick celebrations of ingenuity across the world has been part of a new mode securing expertise and legitimizing intervention that emerges after the Second World War. Propelled by architects and planners, this mode bypasses the quantitative and historical questions of colonial drain and global financial regimes to project qualitative “patterns” across the Third World as a source of immanent and self-generative change.

ARTMargins, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp. 43-57.

doi:10.1162/artm_a_00351

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/12/2/43/116482/Counting-Quality-Seeing-Patterns

This Past Must Address Its Future: Uses of African Noncontemporaneity in Contemporary Art from the French Borderscape

In the last two decades, key sites in the European borderscape—the “jungle” of Calais, the dense patchwork of settlements around Melilla and Ceuta, myriad migrant or refugee camps along Europe’s Mediterranean coastline and in the major train stations of its capital cities—have become art factories. In these spaces, artists from a range of backgrounds are making new work, much of which seeks to challenge the exoticist and primitivizing tropes that, in Europe, have characterized the representation of im/migrant presences at least since the official colonial period. Among the most conspicuous and intractable of these tropes have been those connected with … Read more

What Does Art History Have to Say About a Lebanese Sasquatch? The Body of Decolonial Struggle in Amanda Boulos’s Art

This paper focuses on several works by the Palestinian-Canadian painter Amanda Boulos that communicate the shared desire of both Palestinians in the diaspora and Indigenous peoples of Canada to move beyond the normative identities of settler colonialism. Through co-ordinated social historical, formalist and iconographical readings of Boulos’s work, I propose a shift in the discourse on global contemporary art, from postcolonial figures of the oriental, the subaltern and the hybrid to strategies of representation such as transformation, ambiguity and queering – a shift intended to foster alliances amongst members of BIPOC communities, against the divisive politics of settler … Read more

Southern Lights: Octavio Paz’s “Glimpses of India” and the Art of Relation

This article analyzes the articulation of south-south relation in Octavio Paz’s In Light of India (1995) and A Tale of Two Gardens: Poems from India, 1952-1995 (1997), works of prose and poetry that traverse the antipodes of Mexico and India. These works emphasize partial viewing, repeated comparison, and cultivated sense-perception. They model a poetics of the glimpse, an effect of the play of light and shadow and a privileged mode of seeing for Paz. To glimpse is to see without clarity, control, or complete knowledge. It is to find oneself in the other. Paz’s writing anticipates twenty-first-century projects that relate … Read more

Introduction to “Art, Signs, and Cultures” (1977)

This document, translated from the original French, is an edited transcript of a conversation between the Senegalese painter Iba Ndiaye, the French art historian Jean Laude, and a moderator, Roger Pillaudin. It took place on the occasion of the Festival des arts et cultures africaines in Royan, France (March 1977), and was later broadcast on the radio channel France Culture. What stands out in the conversation is the way Laude seeks to negate Ndiaye’s cross-cultural experience and background, and arguably his very legitimacy as a contemporary artist. Laude’s insistence on adhering to neat categories (linguistic, national, artistic) in engaging with … Read more

Art, Signs, and Cultures: Iba Ndiaye and Jean Laude in Conversation with Roger Pillaudin

This document, translated from the original French, is an edited transcript of a conversation between the Senegalese painter Iba Ndiaye, the French art historian Jean Laude, and a moderator, Roger Pillaudin. It took place on the occasion of the Festival des arts et cultures africaines in Royan, France (March 1977), and was later broadcast on the radio channel France Culture. What stands out in the conversation is the way Laude seeks to negate Ndiaye’s cross-cultural experience and background, and arguably his very legitimacy as a contemporary artist. Laude’s insistence on adhering to neat categories (linguistic, national, artistic) in engaging with … Read more

Ch’ixi Epistemology and The Potosí Principle in the 21st Century

The author focuses on the project exhibition, “The Potosí Principle,” curated by Alice Creischer, Max Hinderer, and Andreas Siekmann Initially installed in Madrid in 2010 and then traveling to Berlin and La Paz, the show cut across the institutionally defined and often rigorously guarded boundaries between curatorial practice, aesthetic expression, and scholarly research to explore global capitalism’s dynamics from the perspective of the Spanish colonial empire and its distinctive imagery. However, despite the exhibition’s creative installation techniques and revisionist history, it generated a considerable scandal when a self-organized group of La Paz-based artists and scholars committed to anticolonial practices accused … Read more

On the Aspirations of Architecture and Design in 20th-Century South Asia

This review compares The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947-1985” (2022) to Farhan Karim’s Of Greater Dignity Than Riches: Austerity and Housing Design in India (2019). These two examples’ distinct approaches to architecture and design in twentieth-century South Asia are conditioned by their respective formats and scopes. Both the exhibition and the book draw attention to the ideas, ambitions, and aspirations undergirding architecture and design in the region, and as expressed by agents including architects, designers, bureaucrats, construction workers, intellectuals, and critics. They do so, however, towards variant critical ends … Read more

Erratum: The Persistence of Primitivism and The Debt Collectors

Elizabeth Harney’s “The Persistence of Primitivism and the Debt Collectors” (ARTM 11:3), p. 105-125 (https://doi.org/10.1162/artm_r_00327) contains an error. Joshua I. Cohen’s The “Black Art” Renaissance: African Sculpture and Modernism across Continents (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020) is incorrectly titled The Black Renaissance: African Sculpture and Modernism across Continents. We regret the mistake.

ARTMargins, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp. 124-124.

doi:10.1162/artm_x_00358

https://direct.mit.edu/artm/article/12/2/124/116472/Erratum-The-Persistence-of-Primitivism-and-The

From The Editors

Several of the texts and projects in this new issue of ARTMargins underscore the role of photography and performance in rendering visible our “ways of seeing” and what they occlude: forms of imagining and inhabiting urban space that are suppressed by official discourse, clandestine archives that simultaneously register and obfuscate the humanitarian crimes of the last Brazilian dictatorship, and deaths forgotten or naturalized as part of the AIDS epidemic, among others. The insistence of that which is alternately invisible and reified—illegible and overcoded— runs like a thread through this issue, raising questions about the nature and stakes of the interpretations Read more