Politics of Visual Arts
Arts have been periodically, but consistently, subjected to political pressures. Generally, opposition comes from the conservative end of the political spectrum, as evidenced in the Culture Wars of the early 1990s in the United States. Now, in many parts of the world, new voices are clamoring to constrain artistic expressions. They range from animal rights activists successfully forcing institutions to remove works seen as being cruel to animals (The Art in China after 1989 show at Guggenheim, a contemporary art exhibition in Lyon, France) to artists or particular ethnic communities insisting on removing works of art from public view or even destroying them for being offensive to their beliefs or histories (African-American artists demanding that a painting of a slain young black man by a white woman artist be destroyed, for example).
Simultaneously, recent successes of populist, politically conservative leaders in many parts of the world are putting new pressures on artists and art institutions. These days, writers, painters, film makers, dancers, and musicians alike are feeling the pressures at both ends: governmental forces pushing for greater control over artistic practice and special interest groups arguing for their particular agendas and constraining freedom of expression in the process.
Politics of Visual Arts in a Changing World aims to study new trends that are affecting the creation, presentation, and preservation of works of art in diverse cultural contexts. From preliminary discussions with colleagues inside and outside the university, a number of potential areas of exploration have emerged:
- What is the role of social media in increased attacks on art by special interest groups?
- Are arts being targeted by new autocratic rulers as part of their efforts to curtail all democratic institutions or are they singled out because of their unique ability to symbolize freedom of expression?
- In the United States, the very idea of the first amendment is now coming under greater threat because of new forms of cultural expression. Does this also change the resources available to artists to defend their freedom of expression?
- How are artists responding to new threats?
- What is the relationship between the movement to take down sculptures reflecting a difficult past and other forms of protests against contemporary art works that are deemed politically insensitive by particular groups?
- Generally, issues surrounding cultural heritage are seen very separately from issues of contemporary art making. How might we explore the possible relationship between them?
Embedded in these questions are issues of cultural appropriation, repatriation, freedom of creative expression, as well as legal frameworks that need to be understood better with the help of diverse groups of scholars and practitioners.
Led by Vishakha N. Desai, Vice Chair of CGT, the project is developed in collaboration with an inter-disciplinary group of CGT members and several of the Columbia Global Centers. It will include closed door workshops and discussions as well as public programs on campus and at Global Centers and conclude with a conference and a publication.
Interviews, Newspaper Articles, & Online Essays