Increasingly artists and writers from different parts of the world have been examining their own local histories, cultural and artistic, as well as personal and political. They have been employing subjective testimonies, expanding the possibilities of an aesthetics of evidence to question hegemonic narratives that have historically been one-sided and exclusionary. In this issue of Afterall we have taken our cue from this vital contemporary condition and through our selection of artists and writers have tried to foreground how geopolitical realities impact artistic production differently. If the journal’s initial point of departure twenty years ago was Euro-America, it has long since acknowledged that sociopolitical conditions at each place constitute divergent historical experiences and understandings of the work of art, its medium, materiality and meaning, all of which might shift once presented elsewhere. During Afterall’s two-decade history, the journal has reached out further, encouraging writers and scholars to research artistic positions in situ and to think about these within and beyond the context of the world of art. In editorial meetings over the past year held in Istanbul and Singapore, our discussions drew on recent approaches of ‘worlding’ that reposition one’s being ‘in’ this world. We believe that the artistic and critical inquiries featured in this issue are inseparable. They are intertwined in the intellectual trajectories formed and informed by the political realities of each place. 01
Consideration is given to how life experience affects artistic production of different generations, those who stay where they are born and those who move elsewhere – willingly or unwillingly. Juxtaposing artists and their particular circumstances at one locale and moment in time with those of another expands the method of how (art) history is written. This might encourage future inquiries across regions and continents shifting current modalities of exchange. ‘Global Modernity’ is understood to have unfolded at different times at different locations, yet the acceptance of multiple modernities means also to accept that it might arrive in one place at the expense of others. Such processes of recognition require delving deep into various national and regional politics as explored in this issue.
Turkey saw several coups from the 1960s to the 1980s; intellectuals and artists critical of the military junta were put into jail, among them family members of artist Gülsün Karamustafa. Later the artist herself and her husband Sadık, a graphic designer, were imprisoned and after their release were stripped of their passports for fifteen years. To this day she stays alert to political repression and violence against humankind. Vasif Kortun, a long-time friend of the artist, situates her practice within this period of violent oppression in their native country. He traces how her work evolved and chronicled the political and social changes over time. Ana Longoni, who has dealt in-depth with the cruel history of dictatorships across South America, draws parallels between the political struggle, the trauma of incarceration and tactics of survival of the artist in Turkey and that of cultural producers in her own country, Argentina.
Recent years have seen an increasing number of exhibitions addressing the wider impact of the Non-Aligned Movement. But how do post-World War II geopolitics, the liberation struggles and colonial legacies of the Cold War period speak to contemporary realities? Artist and film-maker Naeem Mohaiemen encounters these unfinished histories, the rise of liberation movements and their aftermath, through the voices of elders close to him, as beautifully described by Vijay Prashad, a historian who is depicted in Mohaiemen’s film Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017). Kaelen Wilson-Goldie situates the artist’s archival impetus and his advancement from writer to film-maker – linking him to the annals of ‘missing films’ that serve as productive point of departure in search of a truth, while never arriving at a moment of release.
Connecting Vietnam’s earliest encounters with the West to contemporary post-colonial, post-war memory, Nora A. Taylor reviews Tha’o Nguyên Phan’s artist book Voyage de Rhodes (2014–17). Watercolours of fictional allegories of colonial education drawn over the Alexandre de Rhodes travel description points to colonial blind spots and where the Jesuit missionary may have misunderstood or made assumptions about the Vietnamese language. Focusing on Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s early work, Clare Veal examines how the Chiang Mai-based artist unravels some of contemporary art’s more formalised languages through an ‘intermedial’ approach – blurring categories of mediation as well as cultural and phenomenological binaries. Critic and writer Filipa Ramos points to how Araya’s work operates outside of conventional ethical schemes, ‘embracing cruelty as the necessity for compassion, violence as the partner of care and treachery as a system of truth’.
Taking on ‘truth’ as a material and constructive practice, Charles Stankievech unpacks the ‘forensic turn’ in contemporary art, highlighting the potential for one-dimensionality or instrumentalisation for political agendas. His text analyses how forensic practice upsets political and aesthetic categories while the poetic abstracts into the violence of politics. Along the lines of politicisation and image-making, Daria Ghiu poses a challenge to the historical construction of the image of Constantin Brâncuși in his home country through the perspective of reconstruction practices in exhibition-making. Instead of instrumentalising the artist’s production, she advocates for a curatorial sensitivity that avoids mobilising art to serve yet again as festive propaganda.
This issue also pays attention to how spaces and frameworks shape the formation of art scenes and practices. Carlos Garrido Castellano and Jerssi Esperança Restino Paulo investigate if and how a vital bottom-up Afro-Portuguese creative community overlaps with Lisbon’s existing art scenes, as well as how these initiatives are successfully integrating communities previously excluded from visual arts. Another diverse interplay within the spaces for art is present in Reiko Tomii’s account of ‘new art’ of the 1960s and 1970s in Japan and the role that rental galleries played for the development of Japanese avant-garde movements. An art institutional self-reflexion is also seen in Michael A. Mel’s return to his native Papua New Guinea, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. In light of decolonising attempts in the Australian Museum, he analyses the inclusion of indigenous interlocutors and the participation of various societies and communities in order to respect the richness of their objects and the diversity of their practices when these are presented abroad. Collective efforts opened up different curatorial methods and possibilities of contact, which are similarly visible in Serubiri Moses’ reading of the critical-historical neglect of artworks and exhibitions of African women artists despite the visibility of African art in biennials across the continent and in large-scale thematic exhibitions presented in Europe and the United States. His text features exhibitions in Kampala, Cape Town and Lagos with a focus on the production of female artists, African feminist art history and the historisation of African women, all curated by female curators.
Through the lens of the practices discussed in this issue, we encounter fragments and facets of histories otherwise not seen or told, complicating the understanding of everchanging alliances of powers and world orders.
While this issue was being finalised the sad news of Okwui Enwezor’s untimely passing reached us, leaving so many with a sense of immense loss – personal, professional and political. His Documenta11 transformed discourse, institutional and (art) historical content and methods. But what might be the biggest loss, as well as what gives us a sense of hope and duty, is Okwui’s generously collaborative way of working. He urged all of us to challenge the political status quo, to do the unthinkable and to reflect throughout our day-to-day work on how this world is unjust, and one in which racism, xeno- and homophobia continue to exist.
Although the term ‘worlding’ is widely used in philosophy and literature, in this context I borrow it from anthropology and cultural geography where it refers to processes of formation and creation of dispositions of identities, or cities as described by AbdouMaliq Simone. See A. Simone, ‘On the Worlding of African Cities’, African Studies Review, vol.44, no.2, September 2001, pp.15–41. More recently, the term is increasingly used by young scholars working on decolonisation in the Asia-Pacific context.