Paper short abstract:
Unhappy relations between artworks and their various publics raise questions about the political desire for authenticity in the context of the historical remembrance of slavery, pointing to the especially material limitations that surround art when it is made into a client for memorialisation.
Paper long abstract:
Issues of authenticity and power have long featured as analytical terms in critical art historical discourse, and may be brought into a fruitful two-way exchange with anthropology following its turn to the study of materiality. This presentation will explore why and how authenticity during the twentieth century came to be a fraught area of struggle in the field of representing anti-colonial struggles and commemorating acts of rebellion, with particular attention to resistance to Caribbean slavery. Two artists, Aubrey Williams and Philip Moore, both born in the colony of British Guiana (subsequently independent Guyana) would employ painting and sculpture to visualise and materialise the failed yet heroic rebellion by enslaved Africans against Dutch planters that took place in 1763. Their two artworks - one produced before and the other after the watershed of independence for Guyana - bear fruitful comparison as equally failed gestures. Despite their strident, anti-colonial attempts to disturb the present day political circumstances by way of attention to the historical past, Williams's painting was withheld from public view for much of the 1960s, while Moore's monumental public sculpture met with wide disdain. Such unhappy relations between artworks and their various publics raise questions about the frictions and power struggles surrounding the political desire for authenticity in the context of historical remembrance, pointing to the especially material limitations that surround art when it is made into a client for memorialisation.
Art, Authenticity and Authority: Traversing the Power Struggles