The assemblage of Brazilian landscapes during the Venice Biennale of Architecture may be more problematic than it seems.
Stuart Hall’s considerable influence in the UK and abroad stems from his cultural, sociological and political trajectories (Back & Moreno Figueroa, 2014; Roman, 2015; Zhang, 2017), as these areas perfectly articulated throughout his life (Solomos, 2014). Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands (Penguin, 2017) is an excellent opportunity to glance over them in both personal and academic terms.
For those who aim to engage with the thought of the famous sociologist, Hall’s memoirs provide available, panoramic guidance. For those, like me, who seek in him the Jamaican immigrant, it is refreshing to see that the man has, in fact, lived in and out the establishment.
In reality, by centring the book’s narrative like that of a “stranger”, an image that Hall kept of himself until later life, editor Bill Schwarz allowed that a stream of conversations could unfold logically. We go through many of the doubts and concerns that spring from Hall’s move from Jamaica and become a witness of his awakening as an immigrant in Britain.
Kind, but mind-blowing, the emotional portraits of Jamaica appear to depict a place stuck in time. Many of these snapshots show how life in the colony is far from an assimilated narrative. Britain continued, by many senses, “present” in modern Jamaica.
The range of everyday situations that derive from Hall’s background is essential reading for anyone interested in seeing how colonialism works. Primarily because it is neither monochrome nor solemn: it was the White British man mocked on the streets of Kingston for its colourful clothes and excessively formal gestures; it was the Jamaicans’ detailed reproduction of the old British class order.
Indeed, Hall refuses to assess colonialism on binary grounds. Instead of “pessimism” (Jhally, 2016), one finds in his accounts a sophisticated dynamic that stirs a set of unrecognised identities. Colonialism is the drainage of other people’s culture and wisdom, as it is a lengthy collection of myths that will serve to probe the invader’s superiority.
The voice of the immigrant that underpins all this is the same of the academic. This is indistinctively a feature of Hall’s work (Ang, 2015). But we cannot stop perceiving how the former overshadows the latter. Tales of his life illustrate much of his theoretical points much more efficiently. For instance, his perception of physical difference, which manifests since his early stages of life (he was “the darkest” of his family). That context can clarify why he struggles in seeing himself as the “bursary-holder, Oxford student”, highlighting the “young colonial” who came to struggle with the vast collection of imperial icons.
This active consciousness of being “the other” while putting his efforts into developing familiarity with the concepts of this adopted nation creates an ambiguous scenario-setting throughout the book. The ability to accept and refuse the status-quo is something recurrent: on one side, Hall contradicts his otherness by engaging with British society at length; on the other, he enlists differences that do not go away.
Questions emerge on the nature of colonial or post-colonial taxonomy, if only for its epistemic view to be challenged. Hall quotes his wife Catherine (Hall) to ask: is Kettering a city in Northamptonshire or the little coast town in Jamaica of his memory? Allegorically, this sort of comparison also serves him to go back and analyse his family’s past behaviour, so black and yet so colonial.
Like many foreigners living in the so-called global cities of our time, Hall stashes away “colonial” moments to disclose them in crucial moments. For him, this continued ambivalence of an immigrant’s consciousness mustn’t reach the level of cynicism but as a by-product of diaspora: “I characterise my particular brand of being ‘out of place’ as the product of a ‘diasporic’ displacement.” Bhabba’s “in-between” or Du Bois’s “double consciousness” are two of the thought-inspiring theories on which he draws during the conversation.
To break away from the early colonial life, to join the ex-Empire, then find himself moving towards a “re-birth” amid post-colonialism are phases of Hall’s life that – amazingly – did not lead to resentment, or at least we don’t know it from the book. Despite the fact that he became the political protagonist and member of the academic elite that we know, his experience seems to have been one of discomfort, mainly when his political life had led him to tacit negotiations that entailed the racial, economic divides in Britain.
Familiar Stranger covers, for instance, the strategic ‘forgetfulness’ of the ex-Empire when new generations of Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean immigrants arrived in the 1950s. For Hall, nobody could have possibly revived the memory of the British hosts, as they seemed to ask: “Who are these people? Where are they from?” The “disavowal of a collective force” has clashed with the long-dreamed expectation of millions who saw the British land as the promise, as in reality, it was the big “illusion” (a feeling also carried by Hall’s? it does not become not clear).
That the settlement of the colonial experience fails, Hall is aware, but where he dwells more often is on the link with the following decades of hardship, racism. Quoting the late 1950s’ riots as a response, Hall remembers how the “Windrush” generation would find itself continuously reacting to the most blatant racism in the media as a result. Readers might wonder what Hall would have made of 2017’s Grenfell Tower in flames.
Furthermore, the last two chapters of the book try to harmonise this back-and-forth journey from colonial to postcolonial, finding a possible projection of England as “home”. Hall lays out the case of Henry James, the White American author. James is one of the few literary names to grasp a broader diasporic side of living in Europe. James’ loyalty to his origins appears in his sense of impersonating a kind of immigrant that fearlessness assesses his position at the heart of the colonial heritage.
Again, we are back to discuss taxonomic choices. Hall’s prefers “British” over “English”, as he sees the latter term being “denied” for someone of his skin colour. By making these exercises of meaning, Halls settles his condition in British society, perhaps as a neutral element. Partner to a white woman; member of UK’s “radical” New Left; a protagonist in academia, these were his safe ports, as he categorically asserts: “I wanted to change British society not to adopt it”.
Nonetheless, some questions remain: Is complete integration, as we know, as Hall knows it, still a viable or replicable experience? How do we remember a younger generation of colonial or post-colonial taxonomies and repertoires in the age of identity-based positions? What place has the immigrant’s truth amid the ever-reproducing colonial myths? Is Hall’s genuine independence of mind still available for us, 21st -century immigrants in the UK and elsewhere?
Living the adopted reality without “giving himself away” is Hall’s inspiring tale of his life as an immigrant, from which we learn his unique mode of diasporic thinking (Rizvi, 2015).
In times of turbulence for immigrants around the world, and migratory journeys to Britain made increasingly harder (to be worsened after Brexit), Familiar Stranger enlightens on the impossibility of integration. As Eric Hobsbawm also mentions: A Polish man migrating into the UK will be a Polish man in the UK, not a new arrival to the “community”.
In the face of a wide range of limits imposed to any idea of one’s insertion in contemporary, cosmopolitan society, within and outside cultural borders, Hall’s reassessments can inspire a broader reflection on the everlasting effects of colonial taxonomies. This is seen to this date: the detachment (or forgetfulness) of the British locals on crucial aspects of their legacy around the world, as well as the detachment of the new immigrants of their adopted nations’ past.
In both cases, Hall’s voice still tells us that settling down in a foreign land should not drive one’s acceptance of inherited meanings as a given, but an invitation to adequately and moderately challenge them as they manifest in the everyday routine.
Ang, I. (2016). Stuart Hall and the tension between academic and intellectual work. International journal of cultural studies, 19(1), 29-41.
Bhabha, H. K. (1996). Culture’s in-between. Questions of cultural identity, 1, 53-60.
Back, L., & Moreno Figueroa, M. (2014). Following Stuart Hall. City, 18(3), 353-355.
Hall, S. (1993). Culture, community, nation. Cultural studies, 7(3), 349-363.
Hall, S.; Schwarz, B. (ed.) (2017) Familiar Stranger: A life between two islands. London: Penguin.
Roman, L. G. (2015). ‘Keywords’: Stuart Hall, an extraordinary educator, cultural politics and public pedagogies. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 36 (2), 161-170
Rizvi, F. (2015). Stuart Hall on racism and the importance of diasporic thinking. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(2), 264-274.
Solomos, J. (2014). Stuart Hall: articulations of race, class and identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(10), 1667-1675.
Zhang, L. (2017). How to understand Stuart Hall’s “identity” properly?. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 18(2), 188-196.
Two fresh publications feature the life and work of academic and postcolonial thinker Stuart Hall: Familiar Stranger (Allen Lane) and Selected Writings (Duke University Press). Both were reviewed by Tony Jefferson for a recent edition of Theory, Culture, and Society. On Familiar Stranger we find:
“Originally conceived more than 20 years ago as a short dialogue outlining Hall’s intellectual trajectory, it grew to a manuscript of ‘over 300,000 words’(xiv) at the time of Hall’s death in 2014. Schwarz was then faced with a massive editing job and then, after discussing with the publishers, recasting everything ‘as a first-person narrative’(xv). The fact that it reads so smoothly is a testimony to Schwarz’s labour and his ability to ventriloquize Hall: ‘Some parts are verbatim, while many others have been constructed from fragments’(xv).”
Indeed, after reading this first book, it is evident that Hall’s depth and originality feels much untouched, even though Schwarz, the editor, admits in the preface to have worked hard to glue what were actually multiple excerpts. In fact, some parts were actually collected by email or during conversations, as Stuart Hall’s health deteriorated, delaying the book’s launch. The editor’s strategy has made the whole thing make sense as the book reads according to the sequence of Hall’s life in the UK. On Selected Political Writings, it is said:
There are seven essays on ‘The New Left and after’, eleven on ‘Thatcherism’ and three on ‘NeoLiberalism’, which are book ended by a concise contextualising ‘Introduction’ by the editors and an unfussily succinct ‘Afterword’ overviewing ‘Stuart Hall as a political intellectual’ by Michael Rustin. 54 years separate the first and last essay; but you would hardly know it. The themes are those thrown up by the changing political scene: changes in political parties (like post-war changes in the Conservative party, the birth of Thatcherism, the crisis of Labourism, the formation of a new social democratic bloc, New Labour); broader shifts (e.g. in class relations, political commitment, the New Left, racism, the growth of authoritarianism, new times, neoliberalism); and dramatic events (like the Cuban crisis). But the continuity in approach is remarkable.
This remarkable political trajectory is another chapter of the complex genius of Hall’s. In the end of the books, the reader will have witnessed a kind, but profoundly aware individual on the limitations of life in the so-imagined metropolis. At the same time these limitations aren’t enough to stop what turned out to be a strong engagement and frenetic militancy, to the extent that it often overshadowed that of the native inhabitants of the ex-Empire. As Jefferson asserts on Hall’s multiple lives:
Add to this the ‘double consciousness’ of a diasporic intellectual and one can begin to see the origins of an expanded view of the political and impatience with reductive thought of any kind.
The full review can be accessed here. To complete Hall’s deserved revival in Brexit Britain of 2017, a podcast presented by Ben Carrington fleshes out the multiple impressions Hall has caused during his academic life. Here, there are debates on immigration, racism, colonialism, and conscious Marxism that emerge in the voice of his ex-work partners, colleagues, and admirers. It is really worth listening, delivered in a fine-cut radio show in accessible and didactic format for non-UK spectators.
It sits on a medium-size, industrial city at the heart of Germany’s Hesse State. The city of Kassel receives once again the Documenta 14. Although the art show has had an earlier edition in Athens, Greece, it is here that we better acknowledge its spread, disarticulated, and site-specific project. Without wrapping itself in only one sign, as the Venice Biennale does to Venice, or the São Paulo Bienal dwells on a big modernist building, the Documenta is distributed in multiple sites; it is impersonal, and does not have a big crowd, though it still conserves a certain charm.
From the short visit I paid recently, I attempted to summarise the key trends, as curators seemed particularly anxious to talk colonialism, globalization, and democracy.
1. Parthenon of books, Marta Minujín
As one of Kassel’s big feats of this year, the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín has recreated that old Greek Parthenon by attaching books to large, real-sized structure. Appropriately, Minujín has chosen titles that were banned during the Argentinian dictatorship. As an archetype of democracy, and culture as social justice, the construction sounds like a cliché. However, it ends up complying with Documenta’s ambition to discuss it as an ideal. First, curators seemed much influenced by the Athens’ edition. Second, as found elsewhere in the Documenta, Minujín mimics in her construction not the whole democratic project in the shape of a building, but seems to agree that “democracy” has to be re-enacted as utopia, as no building is sustained only by books. In fact, by underlining her work with bloody, and, somehow, unresolved legacy of the Argentinian dictatorship, the artist rightly recovers some degree of originality by also highlighting the slow reconstruction of democracy in her home country, since the early 1980s. The monumentality of the work at Kassel’s main square eventually helps us to forget the common place in which the artist operates.
2. Fluchtzieleuropahavarieschallkörper – Guillermo Galindo
By appropriating remains or reliquiae left behind by those rushing to cross the US/Mexico border, Guillermo Galindo gives us a powerful image of an important issue of our time. If migration is rather abstract and ephemeron, the artist gives to it an image of a hanging boat wreckage. If the news media exploits the portrait of migrants arriving in Greece from the East; or lining up to crosses fences in Calais, swimming to escape drowning in the Mediterranean, Galindo reverses this repertoire by promoting absence and nostalgia. Emptied bottles, a weathered plastic comb, animal bones are other parts of his imagery, as if they were monuments in praise of those who are neither there, nor here; they are gone. Such enormous drama echoes O’Keeffe with her carcasses, which also runs in risk of commoditising hardship, and the run of those souls through the desert, and yet, what happens is the opposite: the artist sensitizing us about the questions that stem from these hanging remains. The calm that arises from the still life does not explain the whole story, nor it should.
3. Proud and Well – Ali Farka Touré
It is easy to say that de-colonial art is something about identity and that’s it. In fact, many contemporary artists have embarked into the train of the so-called ‘identity politics’. Different from that expectation, part of the first floor of the Documenta Halle building featured the interesting work of Ali Farka (1939-2006). We find his records, posters, clothes, guitars as his resumé, which are testimonials of the exuberant career of the Malian artist. We see that part of the effort of privileging non-mainstream starts cannot escape from the mission of documenting it. It is not only about discussing it, or making it controversial, but gently memorializing it as part of collecting the relevant and the admired far from the heyday, as it happens with Touré.
4. Democracy and its Greekness
Apart from the main sites, there is much more to be seen and critiqued at Documenta 14. I tried to group some of the main works that are highly representative of other smaller initiatives. For instance, Ibrahim Mahama’s great installation that covered a pair of old buildings in central Kassel with jute sacks to remind of colonialism. Oliver Tessler’s videos on democracy, featuring commentators from different countries giving their views; Moreover, one sees the Parliament of Bodies (picture above), an interactive installation where visitors are invited to sit on military-dressed cushions and debate, as in the old Greek agora.
These works dialogue with the crisis of democracy of our time. If on the one hand, the guest artists are well positioned to draw a consensus on what are the authoritarian forces we should fear; on the other, we are still dwelling on one kind of democracy, the Western-centric myth that has in Greece its epicenter, which is a rather restricted thesis about it. The universality which Documenta has over the years called to itself, firstly by Arnold Bode in 1968, does not appear to subside new visions. It is all about contemporary Europe and viewing the world from here. As far as this view still invites key issues to other non-European societies, in next editions the show must dare to break with its Eurocentrism in benefit of other kinds of realities, elevating them to the status of documents, as it has done it, over the years, with the so-called Western heritage.
While not officially part of the British Empire, interactions between Britain and Latin America have existed in reports, literary accounts, and detail-rich descriptions. Reading a variety of 19th century British writers, we find similarities in reports from many distinct countries that constitute what we call by Latin America; countries as distinct from each other as Mexico and Uruguay, Argentina and Panama, Brazil and Colombia. In British Representations of Latin America (University of Florida Press), we find an interesting model of sociological analysis of these accounts, without resorting to the traditional post-colonial, capitalist imperialism seen when looking at transatlantic relations.
Ramirez starts by reviewing many of the shortcomings of these postcolonial, imperialism theories to explain why British interpretations of Latin America seem so unusual. On the one hand, capitalism theories have focused on trade in colonial times, much embedded in Marxism values, which fail to see implications that lie beyond the much quoted “dependence” theory. For example, these theories would forget the role of British commerce had for the struggle for the region’s independence, which comes down as a relatively positive outcome, let alone all the collaborations that foreign traders received from natives, and local elites.
On the postcolonial side, Ramirez sees writers such as Césaire as “romanticizing” Latin America, as much as the “dependence” theory did. Yet, here authors have oversimplified the local context, where “no conflict” existed before the European conquest. Said’s Orientalism is reviewed more positively in that sense, particularly because it fits in very well to understand British colonial narratives. Despite British presence in Latin America appears as less aggressive than in India, for example, though “more risk-sensitive”, Said’s inclination to portray power lays a good foundation for this study, especially in what touches the Foucauldian articulations of power through the discourse.
We are introduced to what Ramirez calls as the Americanist discourse, the colonial view developed by the British on Latin America. Following the next chapters, we find key case studies. Ralegh’s Discovery of Guiana, Conrad’s Nostromo, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Lowrey’s Under the Volcano, and Greene’s work on Mexico, Argentina and Panama. They will subside a discussion that brings about more than “cultural bearing”, that is, despite being novels, some of them ficcional reports, they are also embedded in the complexity of commercial relations between Britain and Latin America of the time. It is not about escaping the image of the “barbarian vs the civilized”, but these texts will reveal much of the post-imperial mood in Britain as the Empire starts its decline at the late 19th century.
We see, for instance, the extent to which Ralegh’s and Schomburgk’s travels across Guiana have brought much of its enthusiasm from the Armada victory against the Spanish. Yet, how Schomburgk’s search for the place of British Empire amid the “savages” of the Amazon. Both are accounts that end up being more about Britain than about Latin America. Not much distant from this, Conrad’s characters have mirrored the late development of the Andean region, but also invites the inevitable “cynicism” with which he sees the dubious role of foreigners in the country’s stabilization. Doyle’s regard to Brazil and the Amazon bears ties with Darwin’s evolution theory and its naturalization of colonizing practices (“beating the natives”, p. 109), but witnesses much of the problematic adaptation of foreigners to the new tropical reality.
The most interesting part of Ramirez’s detailed exploration dwells on the links with metropolitan publications, namely The Review of Reviews, the London-based tabloid. Plenty of satirical views of Britons in the region came out in the tabloid, some of which mirroring prejudice and humor. Not less sensationalist, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Doyle’s The Lost Word stressed the consequences of the British man’s expeditions around the world; in Latin America this gets supernatural tones of shock with nature, the dangers of bureaucracy and corruption among the barbarians. Greene’s The Lawless Roads adds “irritation and boredom” to it, as it quotes the “mañana, mañana” jargon (tomorrow things will be ready) (p. 151).
The merit in critically engaging with such Americanist narratives is that of recognizing what lies behind the literary interpretations from the Empire, whether on Asia and Africa, but which, on Latin America, assume features of its own. It is a “literary conversation” on key themes such as development and trade (p. 169), but which imports folklore and mysticism, unveiling insecurity of Britain’s attempts to engage with the wider world on a non-extractive, classic colonial basis (at least directly). There was a need for the country to launch such expeditions, and much of the disillusion appears in the way Latin America is portrayed as the “disappointing” endeavor, the failing region in the extent of risky commercial partner, which is an impression that stretches over other subjects.
At one level, it is a discourse that fits well in a context of Britain intellectual expansionism to readers back home, partly based on academic interest, as seen in the example in Darwin’s goals of collecting species from around the world, but partly mundane as a pub chat. At another level, that effort is articulated within a new modernist look to the outside, as writers do not get rid of old “civilizing” ideas, which results in their own detachment and poor self-assessment of what “being foreigner” means, a dismay to the outer world that may last to this day.
At the end, Ramirez aims to continue the conversation by citing films that follow this Americanist orientation in contemporary times. And yet, there lies a missed opportunity in this book. Ramirez falls short of developing about Americanism in the aftermath of the British Empire, which could appear interesting to discuss in a time of declining British presence in Latin America.
To what extent could the Americanist discourse reside in Britain’s loss of influence, if not, isolation, in contemporary affairs? How could this framework serve a more ambitious narrative that leads, if not only to indifference, to a certain ignorance? The look at the Americanist narratives as a framework on its own versus its post-colonial implications could also deserve further reviews as the post-structuralism and the preoccupation with language loses popularity in academia, opening space to the political correct.
In any case, British Representations of Latin America achieves a good deal of empirical research regarding an often-dismissed relationship, as it comes as an alternative way of looking at colonial mind set. It confirms neither the hegemonic British look of authority and knowledge, nor the victimizing position that Latin America may assume in post-colonial studies, as hegemonic relations carry far more complexity.
To pay homage to the world’s indigenous communities, the Biennale creates unnecessary mysticism
The 57th Venice Biennale decided to dedicate a large pavilion of its Arsenale section to the art of native communities around the world. An example of this incursion is the large embroidered hut designed by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, entitled “Um Sagrado Lugar” or A Sacred Place. Neto’s original proposal was not only to debate shamanism by reconstructing a type of dwelling found in the Amazon forest, as he also invited a few members of a tribe to the show’s opening, straight from north Brazil. At the occasion, a few members of the community spoke with the artist, as they performed rituals in circles, sang typical songs.
One month later, whoever visited the Arsenale would see a slight diversion from the “sacred place”. In fact, what old shamans took millennia to protect and cultivate, one Biennale is enough to turn it mainstream and consumerist. The layout of Neto’s installation is still the same, but the mystery and the genuine performance of the indigenous culture now appears as a mere object for thousands of visitors’ appreciation, who have gone through the gigantic exhibition. Would these visitors care if they are seeing Appalachian art, or Masi art, or Dengese art? They would be all branded as native and that is fine.
That means that the indigenous hut was nothing more than shelter for children and their parents, as millenary songs were now entertaining the crying babies. In brief, Neto’s curation of indigenous art, brought here for being authentic, was the delight of foreigners in their sightseeing vacation programme. While fitting well into the Biennale’s proposal, the problem is whether his pieces could still bear any relation to the indigenous people, whose cultures curators vow to defend and revive.
It is not the case of vilifying Neto for his sincere interest in importing the unknown from Brazil to international stage, which would inevitably produce a commodity. This is not the point. The problem behind opening what ethnic minorities do in their native lands in this way, alongside selling their rituals as ready-made (useful enough for the “world” gaze and re-enactment) is at the limits of this ambition, and at the generic frame adopted by artists and curators alike.
There is a breaking point between the revival of what once was genuine, as found at its birth place on one side, and the legitimisation of the fake, on the other. One thing is the religious and reverent side of shamanism, another thing is the irony and mockery as result of its exhibition and foreign reconstruction. The question is whether Neto’s attempt to talk indigenous to this audience adds anything in their consideration (or knowledge) for the ancestral non-Western cultures, therefore, then generalising the crushed indigenous history in the West. That question would apply to the entire pavilion and the event’s bona fide will in general.
On the other hand, it is also important to recognise that other artists in this Biennale have also developed a sincere relationship with all things indigenous. For them, what was really at stake was the critique, while still a comfort zone, gave visitors more things to consider. Juan Downey’s work, for instance, is more sensitive to the mediatisation of the indigenous as of Latin American culture and politics. Downey places old TV sets in circle broadcasting what seems to be indigenous ceremonies continuous programme, which includes images of Chile’s colonial and authoritarian past, as if they belonged to the same context of colonisation and power. Although not putting it in that way, Downey’s repertoire is doubtlessly aware of the limitations to portray the indigenous, which is for a great deal of the population media images only.
Indeed, the very problem of ‘going native’ at the Biennale lies in the extent to which artists do recognise mediatisation as their take when moving forward on this subject. Amid droves of tourists circulating in the legendary city, the question is less who-did-what-and-where, and even lesser about playing the political correctness card, and more about the de-politicisation of others’ culture. Shall artists, such as Neto, still try to broker the objective presence of such distant, imaginary environment on this stage, or should they deliver artistic, intellectual, or creative analysis or critique of how indigenous materiality has been appropriated, sold, destroyed, and imitated by the “white man”?
Less ambitious works have invested in the second hypothesis. Artists have created beautiful pieces in which indigenous or colonial memories do not try to play the spectacle for the audience and do the “such extraordinary thing”. Abdoulye Konaté’s produced a large textile piece named Brésil (Guarani). Konaté has travelled across Southeast Brazil to re-connect what he found as similarities between the art produced by Brazil’s tribes with that of his native Mali. The result is a multicolour fabric piece starting from tones of indigo, but converging into a full variety of other tones. It is about recognising the variations of a same culture when forcedly or spontaneously seeded in multiple sites.
Another example exists in Nicolás Garcia Uruburu, from Argentina. In a work originally shown in the 1970s, Uruburu painted everything in green, colouring the many canals and old buildings in Venice. As far as the core of his interventions is purely at designing a new environment and an echo from ecologist movements, it has also encapsulated a fundamental debate on colonisation and de-colonisation as change, mix, or otherwise, conservation, without raising an eyebrow by manipulating ancient cultures on their iconic value. He has crafted his own icons to talk about changing others’ environments.
Thus, no shock effect is necessary to bring the powerful and powerless, victims and agents closer. While vocal on art that aims to revenge against colonialism, the shamanic in the Venice Biennale sets another return to the visually exotic, but comfortable enough for the likes of European audiences, cuddling each artists’ ego as both victim and protagonist. Part of this agency is creating a new modern, international traveller indigenous, but which, otherwise, drives visitors away from the state of preservation into a state of trivialisation.
To wrap it up, it is not a matter of artistic cynicism only, but of ignorance. By not granting visitors a chance for self-criticism, particularly regarding the century-old European voyeurism to the disadvantaged natives (as everyone is native at some point), curators seemed to privilege interpretative, mockery art on top of the real thing. It is if the real thing could not exist without mediation, let’s say it. The same problem seen decades ago in Magiciens de la Terre, the controversial French exhibition. That had given us so much to think about in the last decades. In brief, it told us that there is no need to invite shamans if curators are the first ones to create mysticism and alienation.