(P075)
Art and Autonomy Across the Global South
Location SOAS Senate House - S211
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 13:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi (NYU) email
  • Olga Sooudi (University of Amsterdam) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

Autonomy remains a powerful notion in contemporary art world activities. With the growth of art world infrastructures in the Global South, the notion of art's autonomy persists, enacted via similar institutions, professional habitus, norms of display, exchange, and production as exist in the West.

Long abstract

Anthropological scholarship on non-Western art worlds tends to examine social institutions and historical processes unfolding within unequal relations of power, undercutting the art historical view that art is an autonomous domain, separate from everyday life. Yet autonomy remains a powerful notion in contemporary art world activities, as artists, curators and dealers uphold the idea that art is something whose production and evaluation should be free from economic or political interests. Even with the growth of art world infrastructures in countries such as India, South Africa, Brazil, and the UAE over the past two decades art worlds are still defined as having centres and peripheries where autonomy is enacted differently. Despite having varying (often postcolonial) histories and conditions from Euro-American contexts, the notion of art's autonomy persists, enabled via many similar institutions, forms of professional habitus, norms of art display, exchange, and production as exist in the West. Accordingly, this panel will explore how the autonomy of art is differently enacted and articulated in art world contexts across the Global South.

We seek papers engaging the relationship between autonomy and art making, art marketing and the circulation of art between art worlds. How is autonomy maintained despite complex relationships between public funding, collectors and patronage? Contributions could focus on all actors, institutions and networks involved in the making and maintenance of art worlds in the Global South, including their relationship with cosmopolitan, nationalist and local discourses. We are also interested in papers that revise established theories of art worlds.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Artists and autonomy in Indian contemporary art

Author: Olga Sooudi (University of Amsterdam) email

Short abstract

This paper examines how Indian contemporary artists articulate and uphold artistic autonomy as an ideal, and how they do so in relation to two domains commonly understood to undermine artistic autonomy in the Indian context: the art market and public institutions.

Long abstract

This paper explores how contemporary artists based in Mumbai, India, understand and articulate autonomy in relation to their artistic practice and professional identities. In India, the production of contemporary art is commonly understood as being heavily market-driven, and primarily unfolding within the private sector, among private commercial galleries, collectors, and privately-run art initiatives. This trend has grown since the 1990s, and expanded rapidly in the 2000s, during a period of accelerated art market growth, and a parallel rise in international and national attention given to Indian art. While these shifts are often described by artists (and dealers, curators, and other art professionals) as bringing new and long-awaited visibility to Indian art, they are simultaneously articulated as perennial challenges that undermine artistic autonomy. This paper will consider how artists articulate artistic autonomy in relation to both the art market and public institutions and state support. Many artists uphold ideals of artistic autonomy, where they imagine art as a domain that should be free of external political, economic, or material intervention or pressure, where one might engage, for instance, in social and political critique. They posit the market and public institutions as alternately undercutting this autonomy and as relatively insignificant for artists' production of cutting-edge Indian contemporary art. Nevertheless, this belies the reliance of artists on both of these domains from which they often discursively distance themselves.

Auctions and Autonomy in the Iranian art market

Author: Leili Sreberny-Mohammadi (NYU) email

Short abstract

This paper explores auction participation as a process of legitimation for artistic careers and professional development of Iranian artists.

Long abstract

Since the mid-2000s, the British auction houses Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams have developed bi-annual auctions focused on Middle Eastern art. The move of these auction houses into this market has had an unprecedented effect on not only the price of art works but the development of arts infrastructure and institutions in the region. In this paper I explore how the category of Middle Eastern art has been developed within this auctions houses through an analysis of auction catalogs and changing nomenclature. I then explore the particular ways participation within these auctions both enhances the careers of Iranian artists while at the same time exposing them to potential market bubbles. I ask how the auctions are seen as a marker of success beyond the commercial and in what ways these British institutions trade on their histories and expertise in an emerging market. Furthermore, how do artists and galleries mitigate against the potential pitfalls of auction participation and protect artistic autonomy from market interests?

Curatorship, authentication and authorization in China

Author: Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen) email

Short abstract

Distinguishing between Chinese-style 'accumulatory curatorship' and Western-style autonomous curatorship, I explore different constructions of curatorial authority for validating and authenticating art in Chinese and non-Chinese settings.

Long abstract

In the Chinese artworld an inordinate amount of importance is attached to the curator - in museums but also in commercial settings like art fairs and galleries. Sometimes the name of the curator seems more important than the artist's. Interviewees stressed that it was important for artists to have a 'big name' curator associated with their work, and often asked their gallerist to have a well-known curator curate their exhibition. Curators thus occupied an important position as gatekeepers and, at the same time, validators of the artist(s) and art works.

But curatorship is a recent profession in China, and its professional credentials seem predicated on an accumulation of artistic positions, i.e. curators often combined a variety of different professional/occupational positions (such as artist, art professor, art researcher, art critic/writer, festival organizer, museum director), and the more positions they accumulated, the more prestigious their verdict. Such construction of validating authority through accumulation of institutional positions in the artworld seems to contrast with the Western ideal (but not necessarily reality) of asserting validating authority through autonomy, that is the seeming avoidance of conflict of interest.

In this paper I explore when Chinese-style 'accumulatory curatorship' suffices for artists who wish to partake in the global art scene, and when they feel forced to be validated by international (Western) curators for shows abroad. In other words, in this paper I explore different avenues of authentication and authorization through different constructions of curatorial authority, i.e. accumulation and separation of functions.

Silences and outbursts: mechanisms of a South African art world

Author: Sarita Jarmack (University of Amsterdam) email

Short abstract

Silence may be a common practice in the tradition of the white cube, but becomes interesting when explored as a social mechanism of power in the gallery. This paper examines how social practices of silencing during gallery events can point to the working of power structures in the art world.

Long abstract

Rosebank is a suburb of Johannesburg that prides itself on high-end shopping and a European flare, hosting some of the most developed and longest standing galleries in South African's contemporary art world. Art openings and gallery walkabouts undoubtedly encourage specific gallery etiquette and social engagement with an audience made up of primarily middleclass Joburgers. In this paper I draw on ethnographic material collected in 2017 to read the silences of Rosebank to bring forth a better understanding of how they work to reinforce specific power structures and accessibility to this art world. Moreover I examine how silences and outbursts work as mechanisms in a broader apparatus of privilege in this particular art world, questioning whether an apparatus of such can incorporate notions of autonomy. I focus on two gallery events which evoked public outbursts by audience members in order to make visible the social boundaries of an art world located within Rosebank but also linked to larger international structures.

Sincerely Cynical: Post-Authentic Palestinian Art, Post-Oslo

Author: Kirsten Scheid (American University of Beirut) email

Short abstract

Invocations of cynicism and sincerity in Palestinian artmaking reveal how artists and audiences negotiate an autonomous national self in the context of postponed statehood. This paper combines analysis of art objects and emotion-practices to bridge maker and reception based ethnographies of art.

Long abstract

Invocations of cynicism and sincerity in Palestinian artmaking reveal how an autonomous national self is negotiated in the context of postponed statehood. For many Palestinians, art has long been authentic evidence of their collective cultural merit and state-worthiness. At base is the idea that art ex-presses an interiority and can prove and represent this otherwise invisible entity. While this conception corresponded closely to the structure of art production and circulation prior to 1993, it weakened with the addition of international funders, curators, and audiences into the formula. Some worry Palestinian art has been highjacked to promote "exterior" political agendas, such as continued colonialism. Debates riddle the connections Palestinian art has to Palestine as a territorial, national, and cultural entity today. Cynicism dominates these debates, and it manifests in art that mocks or muddies the sense of a sovereign interiority. Yet, cynical artists also voice significant concern for sincerity—of personal vision or expert execution, for example. Requiring neither concrete space nor collective belonging to motivate laudable action, sincerity is well-suited to imagining future publics in precarious political realms. Its co-presence with cynicism suggests that Palestinian artists do not disavow the possibility of a collective national self but, rather, willfully disbelieve and aesthetically undermine its current formulation. Examining artist-audience encounters (exhibitions, funding applications, and sales schemes) in the West Bank from 2010-12, the paper shows that art which is cynical and sincere may reinforce belief in a sentimentally, aesthetically, and politically coherent interiority and help shape it.

The Weibde Bubble: Spatial Constructions of Autonomy in an Artistic Neighborhood of Amman, Jordan

Author: Colin McLaughlin-Alcock (University of California, Irvine) email

Short abstract

This paper examines how social constructions of artistic autonomy scale up to define an artistic neighborhood of Amman

Long abstract

As the Amman neighborhood of Jabal al Luweibde became an "artistic neighborhood," residents began to speak of a "Weibde Bubble," describing the neighborhood as separate from the rest of the city. This condition of separateness, tied closely to the neighborhood's artistic character, opened the neighborhood as a space for artistic, social, and political experimentation. At the same time, the spatial separateness structured a geographical imaginary around the art scene which helped to shape artistic ideologies and action. In this paper, I analyze this separateness as a spatial manifestation of artistic autonomy. While autonomy is a property typically attributed to artworks (Kant, Schiller) or artists/art-worlds (Bourdieu), here, we see autonomy as a social construct which has been scaled up from artists and artworks to apply to an entire neighborhood. Such a spatial autonomy is not only an important development for the art scene, but is socially generative in ways that stretch into society at large.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.