posted by CAA — August 08, 2022
Join us this fall for the virtual symposium, Global Conversations: Materiality and Mediation, on October 4, 2022, organized by CAA and two of its international affiliated societies, the Design History Society and the International Association of Word and Image Studies.
To register for the event, visit this page. The event will take place from 11 am to 1 pm Eastern time.
This global collaborative project brings together three intersecting constituencies—art and design, design history, and word and image studies—to examine how materiality and mediation intersect.
Six participating scholars will present on the following topics, followed by Q&A and discussion. The event will be recorded and shared online following the event.
- “Tavolino di gioie”: The Mediation of Material Techniques in Late Cinquecento Hardstone Inlaid Tables – Wenyi Qian, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Toronto, Toronto
- Mediating the Meaning of Textiles through Exhibition Displays in Israel, 1950s-1970s – Noga Bernstein, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Visiting Researcher, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- Made in Japan: Development of the Poster Medium in Japanese Commercial Art and Design – Nozomi Naoi, Associate Professor of Humanities, Yale-NUS College, Singapore Erin Schoneveld, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of Visual Studies, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania
- Mine Craft: Design Histories of Mining – Ellen Huang, Associate Professor of Art and Design History, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California Arden Stern, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Sciences, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, CA
This no-cost event is open to the public. Please consider donating to support no-cost programming and providing access to new and emerging scholarship.
CAA’s membership program connects you to the largest community of individuals and organizations working together and advocating to advance research, practice, and the impact of the visual arts. Visit our website for more information and to join our organization.
Arts organizations interested in joining CAA as an affiliated society can do so by visiting our website.
To join the Design History Society, please visit this page.
To join the International Association of Word and Image Studies, please visit this page.
posted by CAA — July 06, 2022
The Getty Foundation has awarded the College Art Association (CAA) a grant to fund the CAA-Getty International Program for a twelfth consecutive year. The Foundation’s support will enable CAA to bring twelve international visual-arts professionals to the 111th Annual Conference, taking place New York, NY, February 15–18, 2023. These individuals will be first-time participants in the program and will be accompanied by alumni of the program returning to present papers during the conference.
Participants will receive funds for travel expenses, hotel accommodations, per diems, conference registrations, and one-year CAA memberships. We encourage all international art historians, art history educators, and museum curators to apply. The program will also include a one-day preconference colloquium on international issues in art history on Tuesday, February 14, as well as ongoing engagement with other alumni from the program online and at future conferences. The deadline for applications is August 15, 2022. Guidelines and application can be found here.
Last year, CAA organized a publication to celebrate ten successful years of the CAA-Getty International Program. The publication, entitled Global Conversations: 10 Years of the CAA-Getty International Program features in-depth accounts of the program, a timeline of important events and milestones, and directories of past papers, members, and meetings.
The CAA-Getty International Program was established to increase international participation in CAA and the CAA Annual Conference. The program fosters collaborations between North American art historians, artists, and curators and their international colleagues and introduces visual arts professionals to the unique environments and contexts of practices in different countries.
Since it began in 2012, the program has brought 147 scholars to the conferences, from over 50 countries located in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Each year, a preconference colloquium on international topics in art history inaugurates the week, kicking off four days of conference sessions, meetings with new colleagues, and visits to museums and galleries. Subsequent to these events, the program has generated many scholarly collaborations, including publications, conferences, and exhibitions.
Most of all, former grant recipients have become ambassadors of CAA in their countries, sharing knowledge gained at the Annual Conference with their colleagues at home. Past recipients have said that “variety of topics presented also exposed me to the realization that there is so much to be done to unearth the hidden treasures of global art history, which hitherto I have overlooked in my discipline and nation but which will now form the basis of my future projects,” and “the direct contact with other global south researchers is an unique occasion, rarely possible and extremely enriching.”
posted by CAA — April 21, 2022
Filmed at the National Museum of Mexican Art, this program features a discussion about mentoring between two Chicago-based artists, Rubén Aguirre and Dan Ramirez, mediated by Cesáreo Moreno, Director and Curator of the National Museum of Mexican Art. Their conversation takes place inside the Aguirre’s exhibition Tectonic Reflections, open at the National Museum of Mexican Art until July 24. This program was a part of the session, “Mentoring Beyond the Classroom: The Continuing Relationship Over Time,” at CAA’s 2022 Annual Conference in February, chaired by Richard Serrano, a member of CAA’s Services to Artists Committee.
posted by CAA — December 22, 2021
We’re pleased to announce this year’s participants in the CAA-Getty International Program. Now in its eleventh year, this international program supported by the Getty Foundation will all twelve new participants and four alumni to participation in the 2022 Annual Conference. Learn more about the first ten years of the program in our online publication.
At a pre-conference colloquium, the new participants will discuss key issues in the international study of art history together with CAA-Getty alumni and US hosts. The program will delve into topics as postcolonial and Eurocentric legacies, interdisciplinary and transnational methodologies, and the intersection of politics and art history.
Alumni invited back to the 2022 conference will present in the session Can Art History Be Affective? Empathy, Emotion and the Art Historian, chaired by Getty alumni and International Committee members Nora Veszpremi and Cristian Nae, while also providing an intellectual and social link between new participants and our burgeoning group of CAA-Getty International Program alumni.
The goal of the CAA-Getty International Program is to increase international participation in CAA’s activities and the field of visual arts in academia, thereby expanding international networks and the exchange of ideas both during and after the conference. We look forward to welcoming the following participants.
2022 PARTICIPANTS IN THE CAA-GETTY INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM
Tatiana Muñoz Brenes is an art curator and researcher. She has combined the exercise of cultural management with Social Sciences by having degrees in Art History and Psychology, both from the University of Costa Rica. Her training has allowed her to work on the topics of community museums, sustainability, collection research, curating exhibitions and curatorial accompaniment for artistic production. Currently, her work focuses mainly on queer art and the LGBTIQ+ community in Latin America. In addition, she has extensive experience in international projects, lectures, publications and museum training in Scotland, Portugal, Spain, China, Japan, Ecuador, and other countries. Projects can be found at www.arthistorylady.com
Simona Cupic is Professor at the Department of Art History, University of Belgrade, Serbia. Her fields of research and teaching include art and culture between the World Wars, and the 1950s and 1960s. She is particularly interested in the visual and popular culture between 1920s and 1960s. She is the author of Mona Lisa & Superman. John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier of the Culture (2016), Elain de Kooning. Portraits (with Brandon Brame Fortune, Ann Eden Gibson, 2015), The JFK Culture (edited volume, 2013), and Bourgeois Modernism and Popular Culture. Episodes of the Fashionable, Faddish and Modern (1918-1941) (2011), among others.
Anica Draganić is an architectural historian, conservator and multimedia artist who currently serves as an Associate Professor at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. She received her PhD in Architectural History and Heritage Preservation from the University of Belgrade with a dissertation on Austro-Hungarian historical breweries. Her work focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century European architecture, with particular emphasis on industrial heritage and identity issues in the intercultural context of Central Europe. Her extensive research on the architectural heritage of the Vojvodina region has been published in journals, conference proceedings, and books, but also presented in numerous exhibitions. Her most recent book, Shadows and Silhouettes of Industrial Past of Vojvodina, shows the complexities of the socio-political context in which the industrial architecture of a specific multicultural region emerged, developed and disappeared. She is currently particularly interested in European architecture from the socialist period, exploring its historical values and contemporary potential.
Heba Khairy Metwaly is an Exhibition coordinator at the Grand Egyptian Museum. She Oversees and provide rigorous, accurate and efficient exhibition coordination and follow up all aspects of exhibition development between all partners in the GEM. She is a PhD researcher specialized in the Collection Management and Documentation Practices in different museums. Heba has participated in many international and national field projects and studies focusing on the tangible and intangible material culture preservation and local community engagement and development. Heba has participated in the development of the daily life gallery “P34” at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, the European Union Funding Project of Transforming the Egyptian Museum. In 2017 she participated in the British Museum International Training Program, where she curated the Object in Focus temporary exhibition. She Also participated in many international conferences focusing on the preservation of museum collection and exhibition design.
Roma Madan Soni is an art historian with a PhD from the University of Wolverhampton, an Assistant professor at Box Hill College Kuwait, an ecofeminist-artist, and a researcher. Her art, teaching, and research are interdisciplinary, positioned at the node of ecofeminism: practice, theory and history, and contemporary visual politics. Her articles are published in Journal of Visual Art Practice, Feminist Media Studies, Ecofeminism and Climate Change, Crafts Research, Art & The Public Sphere, Necsus, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Journal of Gender Studies, Swasti, and a chapter in Cambridge Scholars. She collaborated for conference presentations and conducted workshops at CAA, SVIMS-Pune, JNU, LSR, Raza Foundation, University of Wolverhampton, Kuwait-Nuqat, KISR, TEDx Global Day- Gulf University of Science and Technology, Dar Al Athar-Yarmouk, Kuwait University, American University of Kuwait, Box Hill College Kuwait, American Open University, UN Habitat and Beit Sadu. She has exhibited at Kunsthaus-Steffisburg, TAPRI-Finland, DarAlAthar AlIslamiyah, The Scientific Centre Kuwait, MOMA-Kuwait, Masaha13, Artsy, Mayinart, Artling, Saatchi galleries, and painted the book-cover for Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research (2021). Research grants, commissions and awards from The Scientific Centre Kuwait, Kuwait Foundation of Advanced Sciences, Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research, UN Habitat, and Arab Open University aided her research and creations. She is a member of the Museum Committee and a Reader for the Council of Readers at CAA. I chair the “Transformative Education Think Tank”-Collective Impact Coalition-Konrad Adenauer Stiftung to address Kuwait’s academic challenges. Her work has been accepted at the Venice Art Fair and Florence Biennale 2021.
Patricia D. Meneses is an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Campinas (Brazil). She earned her PhD in History of the Visual Arts at the University of Pisa (2009). She is the author of Baccio Pontelli a Roma. L’attività dell’architetto per Giuliano Della Rovere (Felici Editore 2010) and editor of several books, such as Arte Não-Europeia. Conexões historiográficas a partir do Brasil (Esta ção Liberdade 2020), and A imagen como experimento. Debates contemporaneous sobre o olhar (Milfontes 2021). Recently, she was Hans Jonas visiting professor at the University of Siegen (2019), where she taught a course on “exotic” materials in Art History. She is currently part of a Connecting Art Histories project sponsored by the Getty Foundation (“Teaching Non-European at Brazilian Universities”). Her research focuses on the connections between art, science and ecology in the nineteenth-century. She is presently developing a book project about hummingbird’s ecology in Brazilian visual culture.
Akinwale Onipede is an art historian, researcher and teacher at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He trained at the University of Benin, and, the University of Lagos, where he works in the area of the interface of global and local cultures and identities as expressed in visual arts. His main interest is in how developments globally in the philosophies, techniques, products and opportunities in visual arts, have affected its contemporary practice and direction in Nigeria. The universalization of cultures, consequent upon globalization, he argues, is skewed in favor of the West, whose culture is endorsed, whose pocket is deepest and whose machinery is most efficient, in the promotion of the direction of visual arts studies, practice, articulation and documentation. He is of the position that the continent that produced the great pyramids, the Nok, Igbo Ukwu, Ife and Benin masterpieces should play crucial roles in contemporary promotion of the arts.
Melissa M. Ramos Borges is an art historian with a predilection for the (re)vision of the discipline. She obtained her doctorate from the Programa de Estudios Artísticos, Literarios y Culturales with a specialty in Art History at the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid, where she presented the first comprehensive study of avant-garde art produced between 1960-1980 in Puerto Rico. She is a professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez and Río Piedras Campus. In addition, she is an independent researcher and curator who has published and presented her exhibitions and articles in various international platforms. She curated SUZI FERRER, the first retrospective exhibition of the groundbreaking feminist avant-garde artist, presently on view at the Museo de Arte y Diseño de Miramar. She is currently working on publishing a catalogue with contributions from various scholars which will accompany an upcoming traveling SUZI FERRER exhibition.
Shenouda Rizkalla is a trained archaeologist with extensive experience in archaeological fieldwork, database and collections management, and community outreach. His current research focus is the museum’s role in preserving the local community identity, applied to the content and display of the Sharm El-Sheikh museum and build up a sustainable community outreach program by engaging the local population with the collection and relate the results to wider discussions of repatriation and post-colonial heritage management in Egypt. Rizkalla is an Egyptology PhD graduate from Helwan University-Egypt. His research to date has been diverse, working on recording and translating Ptolemaic Period hieroglyphics, creating and executing site management strategies, and addressing the looting of archaeological sites. He is a member of many excavations and site management missions inside Egypt since 2012. He has many Presentations and Invited Talks, Academic Reports and Publications.
Nsima Stanislaus Udo is a Nigerian and an Africanist scholar. He completed his BA in History and International Relations in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He then proceeded to South Africa where he completed his Honors and MA degrees (cum laude) at the University the Western Cape in Visual History and Theory. He lives in Cape Town and is a doctoral candidate at the University of the Western Cape. His research interest is in African cultural studies: in thinking around visual representations, histories and meanings of African cultural and festival practices. His doctoral research is currently looking at the history of Calabar Festival and Carnival, Nigeria. He is exploring the multiple-layered cultural, visual, aesthetic, economic and secular representations of this complex and elaborate festival. Nsima Stanislaus Udo presently serves as a teaching and research assistant at the Faculty of Art in the same university.
John Kelechi Ugwuanyi is a senior lecturer and the coordinator of postgraduate studies in the Department of Archaeology and Tourism, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He had his PhD in heritage studies at the University of York and MA and BA in Archaeology and Tourism at the University of Nigeria. His research interest is critical heritage studies, museum, indigenous knowledge systems, tourism, and contemporary archaeology. He is the co-editor of Journal of African Cultural Heritage Studies and sits on the editorial board of the Studies in Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory book series published by the Archaeopress in Oxford as part of the British Archaeological Report series of monograph. Kelechi has published in national and international journals of repute. He is a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and a recipient of other scholarship/grant including the Overseas Research Scholarship of the University of York, UK.
Elizabeth Catoia Varela holds a PhD in History and Criticism of Art from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2016). She worked at the Research and Documentation Center of the Modern Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro – MAM Rio (2009-2021). Her dissertation was published as a book in 2017 (Concrete Art Beyond Europe: Brazil, Argentina and the MAM Rio). She published other three books about the history of the museum. Varela was the curator of the exhibition “MAM: its history, its heritage” (2013-2016). She was awarded in 2020 with the AAM-Getty International Program/American Alliance of Museums and is a member of the College Art Association (CAA) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
Nadhra Shahbaz Khan is Associate Professor of Art History and the Director of the Gurmani Centre for Languages & Literature at LUMS, Lahore, Pakistan. A specialist in the history of art and architecture of the Punjab from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, Dr. Khan’s research covers the visual and material culture of the region during the Mughal, Sikh, and colonial periods. Her interest lies in investigating levels of human agency behind artefacts and architectural spaces, both as creators and consumers to understand their political, religious and socio-economic ambitions at different historical intersections. Her publications, conference papers and other research activities spread over more than a decade, especially her book titled Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Samādhi in Lahore: A Summation of Sikh Architectural and Decorative Practices has successfully brought Sikh art and architecture to the forefront of Pakistan’s heritage discussions and conservation activities.
Halyna Kohut is an associate professor in the Faculty of Culture and Arts at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Ukraine, where she teaches history of art, contemporary art, feminist art, and history of theatrical costume. Educated as an artist, she received her Ph.D. from the Lviv National Academy of Arts. Kohut is the CAA-Getty International Program alumna and a recipient of scholarships and grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Austrian Agency for International Mobility and Cooperation, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, and the Queen Jadwiga Foundation at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Kohut specializes in eighteenth-century East European carpets and kilims. Her most recent research interest focus on woman art in Soviet Ukraine. She is especially interested in how ideology informed the identities of women artists and how they challenged that ideology with their art practices.
Irena Kossowska graduated from the Warsaw University in 1980. She obtained a Ph.D. degree and Habilitation at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, in 1990 and 2001 respectively. Currently she is Full Professor of Art History at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, and at the Polish Institute of World Art Studies in Warsaw. She specializes in the field of nineteenth- and twentieth-century visual arts, art theory, and criticism. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including from the Bogliasco Foundation, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, National Humanities Center, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Henry Moore Institute, and the British Academy. She has written extensively on Polish and European art, including Artistic Reconquest: Art in Interwar Poland and Europe, The Search for Cultural Identity in Eastern and Central Europe 1919-2014, Symbolism and Young Poland; Reinterpreting the Past: Traditionalist Artistic Trends in Central and Eastern Europe of the 1920s and 1930s; and The Beginnings of Polish Original Printmaking 1897-1917.
Ana Mannarino is an art historian and a professor of art history in the School of Fine Arts and the Visual Arts Postgraduate Program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where she received her PhD in history of arts and visual arts. Her research focuses on Brazilian modern and contemporary art, particularly on the relationship between text and image, art and poetry, and the production of artists’ books.
Celebrating Ten Years of the CAA-Getty International Program!
CAA-Getty Global Conversation I: The Migration of Art and Ideas
Live Q&A: Thursday, February 11, 10-10:30 AM
CAA-Getty Global Conversation II: The Climate Crisis, Pandemics, Art, and Scholarship
Live Q&A: Thursday, February 11, 12-12:30 PM
CAA-Getty Global Conversation III: The Challenges, Disobediences and Resistances of Art in the Transnational Imagination
Live Q&A: Friday, February 12, 12-12:30 PM
CAA-Getty Global Conversation IV: Disruptive Pedagogies and the Legacies of Imperialism and Nationalism
Live Q&A: Friday, February 12, 2-2:30 PM
CAA-Getty Global Conversation V: A Multiplicity of Perspectives at the Museum of Modern Art (In conversation with curators at MoMA)
Live Q&A: Saturday, February 13, 10-10:30 AM
See conference schedule for details:
International News: The Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands Explores the Legacies of Colonialism in a Solo Exhibition by Victor Sonna
posted by Allison Walters — January 08, 2021
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Ilaria Jessie Obata, an art historian and curator currently completing an MA in Curating Art and Cultures at the University of Amsterdam.
Victor Sonna’s first solo exhibition, 1525, which opened at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in July 2020, tells a multilayered story of personal introspection and shared colonial legacies. This collaboration between the artist and the museum is among the most recent exhibitions that fall under the mission scope of Musea Bekennen Kleur (Museums Confess Color), a contemporary platform established in Amsterdam in March 2020, in which “museums take accountability and responsibility through ongoing conversations about achieving diverse and inclusive institutional settings” (Musea Bekennen Kleur, https://museabekennenkleur.nl/).
The Van Abbemuseum, a participant in this project, is also one of the first museums in the Netherlands to embark upon a steady process of decolonizing its exhibitions and collections. This institutional decision was further marked by the Van Abbemuseum’s 2007 exhibition, Be(com)ing Dutch, in which participating artists Anette Kraus and Petra Bauer criticized racialized images of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), which perpetuate the use of black face for the Sinterklass holiday (Saint Nicholas). The museum encountered severe backlash from the far-right party in the Netherlands for its criticism of the Dutch holiday, which further exposed this contested discussion within the country as whole. This response exemplified the need to continue the process of decolonizing cultural and educational platforms that perpetuate racial stereotyping. Therefore, Sonna’s solo exhibition builds upon the museum’s desire for institutional accountability regarding the Netherland’s recent past and its involvement with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sonna and the Van Abbemuseum decided to organize an exhibition with a dynamic narrative that would prompt discussion about contemporary colonial legacies. Working together, Sonna, Van Abbe director Charles Esche, curator Steven ten Thije, and guest curator Hannah Vollam, designed and curated an exhibition that presented Sonna’s research from multiple perspectives.
Born in 1977, Victor Sonna is a visual artist who moved to the Netherlands at age nineteen from Yaoundé, Cameroon. Having studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and then at the AKV | St. Joost in Den Bosch, Sonna is based in Eindhoven and works in various mediums. His Van Abbemuseum exhibition includes three installations of tapestries, prints, and audio-visual material. The exhibition narrative started with his purchase of a pair of chains that once belonged to an enslaved person in New Orleans. The number 152 was engraved on these chains and thus remains the focal point for the exhibition title, 1525 (Fig. 1). Sonna’s installations regularly refer to the commoditization of human life under slavery, or rather “…the treatment of persons as property or, in some kindred definitions, as objects… when the individual is stripped of his previous social identity and becomes a non-person, indeed an object and an actual or potential commodity” (Igor Kopytoff, “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, p. 65). Sonna’s purchase led to his own research on the socio-historical impact of colonial exploitation, which constructed and perpetuated the commodification of human life for Western imperial profit.
His audio-visual works, which contextualize and document the slave trade in Ghana, are shown in six separate film installations in the exhibition. Sonna visually captured the external and internal space of Fort Elmina, a former slave trading post that was seized and consolidated by the Dutch in 1637. He documents remembrances of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which have remained imprinted upon the walls of the fort and linger within the smell of the dungeons. The fort “plays a central role within the exhibition since the title,1525, also corresponds to the year marking the departure of the first slave ships from the West African coast to the Caribbean islands”(Harmen van Dijk, TrouwNL, 18 July 2020, translated from Dutch by the author). Sonna used this historical research to better understand the dehumanizing effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that turned enslaved African individuals into commodities, and led to a specific form of merchandising the colonial: distinguishing people as objects and as lesser than human.
The accompanying installations showcase Sonna’s training as a visual artist as he meshes together the mediums of sculpture, metalwork and tapestry through the jaw-dropping 82-foot-high steam beam tower, from which his framed tapestries hang within the inner spire of the museum. This massive installation, titled the Tower of Babel (Fig. 2), contains the 152 tapestries that require multi-angled viewings because both sides of the frames are packed with layers of overlapping materials, from glued cane sugar to metallic nails and coins. Sonna gathered 152 European Gobelins tapestries, made between the eighteenth and twentieth century, which comprise his series Bleach and Dust, Sugar and Rubber and Maps. However, Sonna wanted to deconstruct the singular perception of these tapestries as representing “the history and prosperity of Europe” (Harmen van Dijk, TrouwNL, 18 July 2020, translated from Dutch by the author), by exposing the forms of exploitative slave labor used to extract materials such as sugar and rubber, which are imbedded and glued onto the surface of the tapestry. On Sonna’s website he states that this series approaches the “layering and displaying of connected histories that have been etched, trapped and layered in the earth” (Victor Sonna, http://victorsonna.com/site/news.php ).
Sonna presses different sculptural materials into the tapestries, creating multiple reliefs on their surfaces (Figs. 3,4,5). He “traps” metallic objects: coins, metal chains, and nails along with Kente cloth from Ghana that has been rolled up and sewn into the tapestries, and granulated cane sugar glued around the edges. He purposefully imbeds these materials into the textural DNA of the tapestry and locks each object inside it. The reliefs pushing out of the tapestry juxtapose the Gobelins framed surface with the visual effects of these contrasting materials, making us look again. The materiality of such commodities is weighed down by the history of their production, one fueled by the violence and death that characterizes the slave trade and its plantations. The artist’s desire to etch and trap together seemingly disparate materials creates a correlation between a shared European history of colonial exploitation and the creation of racial difference.
Lastly, a striking section of this exhibition required two visitors to stand in front of one another, separated by a series of fifty-two silkscreen frames titled the Wall of Reconciliation (Fig. 6). The term “reconciliation” connotes Sonna’s desire to ensure that the printed image reconciled two opposing views. Every silkscreen required a dark backdrop in order to see the printed image; it is only visible if two visitors are standing on opposites sides of the same screen. Thus, the two viewers on opposite sides see the same explicit images of violence that are part of a series of drawings depicting slavery in Suriname, a Dutch colony that gained independence only in 1975. In Figure 7, the image depicts a young boy holding a rake, signifying the effects of enforced labor during the formative years of a child’s life and how it can mold a perception of the self that is intrinsically tied to an object of labor. Henceforth, each of these installations emphasized Sonna’s desire to deconstruct a biased and unilateral frame of reference.
1525, which has received acclaimed reviews in the Dutch press, is on display at the Van Abbemuseum until May 2021. Writers have collectively applauded the museum’s commitment to showcasing this stirring and historically fueled narrative. The Van Abbemuseum will continue to produce related public programming that is both accessible and reflective of its mission to highlight the legacies of Western colonialism in a Northern European context.
posted by Allison Walters — November 17, 2020
This is Part II of an article that began last week in CAA News. It continues the coverage of life and work at the Asia Art Archive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mutual Aid, Cici Wu, Research Assistant, Asia Art Archive, New York
New York declared a state of emergency on March 7, 2020. I couldn’t foresee then that this would be my last chance to be in an art museum for many months. I was looking at the Portrait of America by Diego Rivera in the Whitney Museum, which he painted in 1933 for the Communist New Workers School in New York. The text panel said, “In keeping with the politics of the school, Rivera chose not to celebrate American values but instead to highlight uncomfortable truths about the class struggle and the country’s violence against African Americans.” In 1929, the crash of the US stock market caused many to question a capitalist system that seemed no longer compatible with the country’s democratic ideals. Artists resolved to use their art to effect change. Looking back at this period in history, when Mexican muralists were invited to make artworks by the State, it’s striking how artists were allowed to use their creativity and imagination so freely. They also imbued their art with a social role by depicting the real struggle of workers. It was uplifting.
A month before March 7, a memorial gathering for the Chinese doctor Li Wenliang was quietly held in Central Park (Fig. 1). The event was organized to stand against the further erosion of free speech in Mainland China. The park was not crowded. People were dispersed into smaller groups on a sunny afternoon, with murmurs, sighs, and tears. The flowers and banners carried words from the bottom of people’s hearts. At that moment, there was a hope that a little change could happen this time.
After March 7, events seemed to accelerate, further unveiling lies, alongside vulnerability, rage and confusion. A wound was suddenly ripped open, resulting in a flowing river of blood. Sad news stories kept coming, one after another, from Italy, Iran, the UK, the Philippines, and the rest of the world. Airlines were collapsing. Small businesses were at risk. Middle-class and working-class people started worrying about their future. All of a sudden, restaurant workers, airline employees, and gig workers were on the verge of being laid off. Immigrants and undocumented residents without families were most at risk. More than ever, we learned that our social welfare was deeply tied to our immigration status in this country. We wondered, how are we going to collectively survive other crises, such as the huge environmental shifts and resulting displacements, that will come in the future?
For a short time, New York became a site of discombobulation, isolation, and helplessness. The city was pale and empty. Workers in the arts, who were lucky enough to keep their jobs, started to work from home. Essential workers, including doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, and home caretakers, were getting off from work shattered. After a period of panic, some artists started to break out of their isolation and regather in small volunteer communities, helping food pantries, protesting against evictions, and organizing mask donations, all built upon the principle of Mutual Aid Community Agreements: “We Keep Us Safe” (Fig. 2).
The city began returning, bursting with idealistic energy. Most precious for the Asia Art Archive in America during this time has been the support and care we have been able to provide for each other. Invaluable weekly virtual meetings helped us stay connected and in dialogue, discussing together our changing thoughts throughout this critical time.
Our research collection, the Joan Lebold Cohen Archive Phase II was successfully launched online in the height of lockdown, on April 1. Three years after the launch of Phase I, the trips Joan Cohen took to China from the 1970s–2000s are finally fully available to explore and learn from: 16,453 color photographs of artists, artworks, studios, academies, exhibitions and scenes of everyday life. These images of a past world travelled through the years and arrived at a moment when nations are drifting apart towards isolation. In the midst of reimagining a new spatiotemporal organization of the world, the looks, smiles, and gestures Joan captured on film brought to mind air and light (Fig. 3).
In Beijing and Hong Kong before returning to New York in February, I was saddened to have witnessed the virus hitting the collective body multiple times. Working through the Joan Lebold Cohen Archive was a healing process, to imagine myself traveling in time and giving light to the gaps of multiple pasts. I want to end here with a quote from the essay Solidarity/Susceptibility by Judith Butler (Social Text, 2018), from her remarks on José Muñoz, the Cuban American scholar of performance and queer studies who died in 2013, as an inspiration to think about archives and the new imaginary: “The potentialities that appear as rips and tears in the otherwise seamless future of no future for those abandoned by progress are immanent and furtive possibilities within the present, indicating that this time is also another time, and always has been; it opens toward a past and a future even when, politically, the force of oblivion seeks to cover over those very openings.”
Erasures and Experiments: The COVID-19 Story in India, Noopur Desai, Researcher, Asia Art Archive, India
Today, we are experiencing an unprecedented moment as we brave the COVID-19 crisis across the world. In India, the situation is complex, similar to many parts of the world, bearing multiple strands, with implications for various aspects of our lives. When the pandemic hit India in March of this year, though early cases were found in January, the country was going through a massive political movement demanding democratic constitutional rights. The announcement of a sudden lockdown across the country on March 22 resulted in the suspension of all social gatherings including, most importantly, the ongoing nationwide sit-in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in various cities and towns.
In the midst of panic and uncertainty in conjunction with the mismanagement of the crisis, the previous two months began to appear a distant past with the erasure of politics and the transformation of public space during the lockdown. In effect, the public space was rather transformed, with images of a mass exodus as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers journeyed home from big cities after the closing down of markets, manufacturing units, and various laborer jobs. Combined with a sense of amnesia brought on by the spectacle surrounding the pandemic, the government actions (mis)used the situation to crackdown on dissenting voices, either by arresting social and political activists, defacing artworks and graffiti at protest sites (Fig. 1), or by exercising certain restrictions on media. Taken together these actions have highlighted the systemic inequality and repressive nature of the current regime.
Surrounded by this grave situation, various arts organizations, artists, and museums have had to reconfigure themselves. Several exhibitions and programs were canceled or postponed, and young arts practitioners moved back to their birthplaces or are struggling to survive in metropolitan centers like Delhi or Mumbai. Responding to the severity of the crisis, many arts practitioners and arts organizations have stepped up to create support systems, including grants for young artists, online displays of artworks, and the formation of chain-systems, wherein artists buy each other’s work. The arts community also created online auctions and other fundraising events to contribute to the relief work for migrant workers and other vulnerable populations.
Physical distancing quickly resulted in digital proximity with the arrival of webinars and online exhibitions organized by museums and galleries, although the graph of the webinars seems to be “flattening” in recent times! However, the digital world has become an intrinsic part of our lives, whether it is through virtual studio visits, webinars, and simulated gallery tours or by creating online resources for teaching and learning. In terms of art education, studio-based practice has been replaced by experimentation with the digital, though only at a few schools, as most of them do not have the resources to run online programs. Nevertheless, there have been important instances where students have used digital platforms to organize their annual exhibitions, which are required for graduation, and which for the most part have not been able to take place physically. Though physical space is crucial in contemporary art practice, this intense effort to use alternative platforms has certainly paved the way for forming new aesthetic possibilities.
While we all are grappling with this strange time, at Asia Art Archive in India we continue building our online research collections and shaping new projects. As an online platform, we have been able to continue several aspects of our work by sharing digital resources and programming via our website. Despite this, we have also faced challenges in light of changing situations. Though our collections are available online, the groundwork to build those collections requires in-person visits to archives and libraries, access to review personal archives, resources to digitize the documents, and programs to introduce the archival collections; most of these activities have been brought to a halt for now. In the meantime, we are maintaining our spirits by planning and carrying out whatever aspects of our work we can, keeping in mind the need for physical distancing. At the same we are recalibrating our working methods as we venture into the “new normal.”
posted by Allison Walters — November 10, 2020
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by John Tain, Congyang Xie, Michelle Wong, Cici Wu, and Noopur Desai, all researchers at Asia Art Archive.
Introduction, John Tain, Head of Research, Asia Art Archive
In the first few months of this year, one thing that became clear was how deeply divided the world remained and remains, even as globalization brought us all closer physically and virtually. There have been of course the many overt racist acts around the world, and also the less visible but no less insidious effects of structural racism on individuals and communities of color. There also remains plain ignorance reinforced by geography. In long distance calls and video meetings, it became clear that what people across Asia recognized right away as a cataclysmic life-or-death disaster remained literally and figuratively a faraway concern for many people in the United States and Europe—until it wasn’t anymore.
At Asia Art Archive (AAA), we have seen the drama unfolding firsthand in both Asia and North America. Our colleagues in Shanghai went into lockdown almost as soon as the news came out of Wuhan, with our main office in Hong Kong soon to follow. For those first few weeks, outpourings of concern, sympathy, and sometimes curiosity accompanied the daily news and dreaded case tallies. Then, as the pandemic spread, it was our colleagues in New York and then New Delhi who were hit, along with the rest of the world, and it became our turn to send support and supplies when possible. We had already been in the habit of meeting regularly on Zoom as a way to work across distances, but throughout these months, talking with one other online became about more than work. It became a way to bridge the chasms keeping us apart all the more now. It is in the spirit of those conversations that I have asked my colleagues to share their thoughts, as reminders that whatever the disparities, we must deal with this together.
The Pandemic and Politics, Congyang Xie, Research Associate, Asia Art Archive, Shanghai
In early February, two weeks after the shutdown of Wuhan due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, an article was published by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek titled “Clear Racist Element to Hysteria over New Coronavirus.” Translated into Chinese and circulated through the social media platform WeChat, it quickly became one of the most widely shared texts among contemporary art practitioners in Mainland China. Žižek, who has built a large readership in China over the last decade, began by saying that “Some of us, including myself, would secretly love to be in China’s Wuhan right now, experiencing a real-life, post-apocalyptic movie set.” (https://www.rt.com/op-ed/479970-coronavirus-china-wuhan-hysteria-racist/)
More challenging statements followed. Unsurprisingly, there were all kinds of reactions within the art world, which amplified when more articles were published and circulated via WeChat by other Western thinkers who are more or less known to Chinese art practitioners, including Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, and especially Giorgio Agamben (Fig. 1). But the controversies around Žižek were particularly interesting. If Žižek’s text, as many have pointed out, disregarded the local context in China, the reading and sharing of the article in Chinese was also decontextualizing. The (re-)awareness of the very existence of intellectual borders that so many people tried hard to ignore may be one of the by-products of COVID-19.
Reading the text in a literal way, Žižek’s fiercest critics denounced the philosopher as naïve, if not delusional, for saying the situation in Wuhan was desirable, for ignoring the real tragedy in Wuhan, and for being indifferent to the dead and to those who were still suffering. Such opinion is based upon a humanistic attitude. The most extreme camp, however, went so far as to reach a nationalist point of view, concluding that Westerners never understand what is happening in China, and that Western theories are irrelevant and not applicable to China’s problems.
Another group of critics, non-nationalists, with a more liberal mindset, were thus highly attentive to Žižek’s call for “a new form of what was once called Communism.” Based on modern and contemporary history of China, this group considers Communism as just the flip side of the coin of authoritarianism. Taking individual freedom as a priority, this group worried that the activity-monitoring technologies used by the government in the name of containing the epidemic would eventually normalize and strengthen total governmental control over society, even after the epidemic ends.
This critical attitude towards authority was shared by a third group of people, who would agree at least partially with Žižek, citing his words that “If there were people in China who attempted to downplay epidemics, they should be ashamed.” In fact, during the first days of the coronavirus outbreak, transparency from authorities was the strongest demand from all of China’s social groups. The protest reached a peak when Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who was forced to keep silent by authorities, was reported to have passed away from the deadly disease on February 7. That night, lit-candle emojis were all over social media. In response to the event, artist Zhang Peili designed a minimalist set of two T-shirts, which are worn frequently by artists and visitors to exhibitions (Fig. 2).
The debates highlight the ideological conflicts in China that have only intensified under the pandemic, though more space would be needed to map the full spectrum of opinions. Perhaps what makes Žižek’s text so appealing to art practitioners in China in the first place is the claim that “there is, however, an unexpected emancipatory prospect hidden in this nightmarish vision,” even if people may have (mis)understood it in a thousand different ways.
Separate yet Together, Michelle Wong, former Researcher, Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
One evening in March 2020, when Hong Kong’s first wave of COVID-19 cases was subsiding, we sat in a friend’s studio to look at the image archive of an artist-run space. “100 Square Feet Park,” or the Park, as we affectionately call it, was once a storefront on Lai Chi Kok Road, facing busy traffic. The image we were looking at was of a documentary exhibition from the Umbrella Movement of 2014. A monitor was placed on a table facing the street level. Pedestrians walking by wondered whether the images shown in the monitor were live or documentary images. It struck me at that 2020 moment, as we looked at the image five years on, that I had forgotten how it felt when livestreaming news—of marches, of roads puffing with smoke, of sparks flying out from long tubes, of people in all sorts of uniforms running—was not yet a norm. I remember an inexplicably overwhelming feeling of looking at the nine images on the split-screen livestreaming for the first time, and I thought my simmering anger would rise to the boiling point if I saw one more Instagram post that attempted to theorize this over-mediation.
For some time now I have pondered the morbidity that is part and parcel of my vocation as a researcher at AAA. It is only half a joke when I describe my job as “talking to old(er) people and working on dead people stuff”. On various occasions I have described archives as haunted and haunting, trains for zombies, and repositories for art that could be undead. I still think about these things when I peer and squint at my computer screen while on Zoom/Jitsi/Skype. During the time leading up to the pandemic, and perhaps also during it (i.e. now), I think often about a generation of practitioners, many of them friends and colleagues who I have met through my work at AAA. I think of how these people, myself included, have knowingly or unknowingly committed ourselves to remembering other people’s lives. Everyone who tells stories of other people’s lives, in this case through dealing with their archives, is learning how to do so along the way, much like writers learning how to write. And as we remember these lives and tell these stories, our stories can become entangled with theirs. Sometimes, it is nice to know you can choose not to do it alone.
posted by CAA — September 28, 2020
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Kanwal Khalid, Director of the Punjab Archives, Lahore, Pakistan, and an alumna of the CAA-Getty International Program.
Having spent my career as a university professor, I recently was appointed the director of the Punjab Archives in Lahore. This rich collection is one of the best in South Asia and I am pleased to share a description of the institution, which also includes a library and museum, with readers of CAA News, who will soon be able to access many of the collection’s materials online.
The history of every nation is important and documents that reveal a nation’s history become increasingly precious over time. The majority of these documents are held in archives—collections that are both accumulations of historical data and repositories of record. Pakistan contains many rich archival collections: The National Archives of Pakistan and the National Documentation Centre, both located in Islamabad; the Sindh Archives in Karachi; and the Baluchistan Archives in Quetta. But the oldest of them all is the Punjab Archives in Lahore, located inside the Tomb of Anarkali.
The Punjab Archives is significant both for the immense value of its holdings and for the historical importance of its building (Fig.1), which was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627). It was originally a tomb attributed to a woman named Anarkali, traditionally thought to be a concubine of Jahangir’s. According to the date written on the cenotaph, the monument was completed in 1615. The building has witnessed many ups and downs in its four-hundred-year history. After the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, the building was used as storage for documents pouring in from all parts of South Asia that were under the control of the British Raj. Two years later it became a church used for Sunday services, but in 1891 it was declared a record office.
Punjab Archives Collection
The Punjab Archives (Figs. 2, 3a-b) holds one of the largest repositories of documents in South Asia and it is responsible for the safekeeping of official documents and records of the Pakistan government. It houses census reports, civil and military gazettes, official files, historical documents, manuscripts, handouts, brochures, pamphlets, maps, notifications, memoranda, lithographs, research papers, journals, magazines, newspapers and periodicals. Many of these cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The archive also includes a fine collection of miniature paintings and seals.
The records in the Punjab Archives date back to the seventeenth century and cover the Mughal, precolonial, colonial and postcolonial eras in South Asia. Primarily the collection consists of:
- Persian Record of Mughal Period, 1629-1858
- Persian Record of Sikh Period, 1799-1849
- Akhbar Darbar-e-Lahore (Daily Court Proceedings of Sikh Rulers), 1835-1849
- Persian Record of British Period, 1809-1890
- Old Persian Newspapers, 1840-1845
- Colonial Agencies Record, 1804-1849
- Record of Princely States in Punjab, 1849-1947
- Record After the Annexation, 1849 to 1947
- Record After Independence, 1947
The Archival Library
Sir Edward Meclagan served as chancellor of University of the Punjab (1919-1924) and Governor of Punjab (1923). He was a historian whose passion for knowledge is evidenced by his donation of rare and out of print books to the Archives. This initiative led to the establishment of a small but important library that still exists today.
The collection consists of biographies, reports and travelogues. Currently the library holds more than 70,000 highly valuable reference books. The oldest book is a memoir, Journal of Sir Thomas Roe, which dates to 1616 and recounts the author’s journey to different parts of India (Fig. 4).
Another person who played an important role for the Archives was Lord Malcolm Hailey. He went one step beyond his predecessor and established a small museum in 1924 in the central hall of the tomb (Fig. 5). This collection, still maintained today, contains portraits of important Lahore personalities (Fig. 6), along with paintings, prints, maps and lithographs. Mughal Farmans (proclamations), important official letters, old stamps, medals, weapons, and miniatures are also on display (Fig. 7).
For the past several years, the Punjab Archives has been in the process of digitizing its collection to improve accessibility to scholars. Approximately 500,000 pages of historic documents are currently being scanned and catalogued, precluding the need to move the fragile original documents, thus minimizing their wear and tear. A web portal will make these digitized documents accessible under the authorization of the Punjab Archives. This project is a first step towards a long-term strategy of modernizing the Punjab Archives and Libraries. To date, more then 120,000 pages have been digitized. Although the project was scheduled to be completed by June 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought all activities to a standstill. Once completed, the archives online services will be a primary resource for scholars throughout the world. In the meantime we are providing information to any researcher who contacts the Archives Department by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International News: “My World Now Is Black in Color:” Pandemic-Era Programming, Anti-Racist Activism, and Contemporary Art in Italy
posted by CAA — August 11, 2020
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Tenley Bick, Assistant Professor of Global Contemporary Art, Department of Art History, Florida State University, and the 2019–20 Scholar in Residence at Magazzino Italian Art Foundation, New York. A related essay, “Ghosts for the Present: Countercultural Aesthetics and Postcoloniality for Contemporary Italy,” will be included in an edited volume forthcoming from Lexington Books.
June 13, Milan. The 2006 monument to Italian journalist Indro Montanelli was found covered in red paint and tagged “razzista, stupratore”: racist, rapist. The intervention targeted the statue of Montanelli and the journalist’s past as a colonial soldier in East Africa. In 1935, Montanelli bought a twelve-year-old Eritrean girl, Destà, to serve as his wife under the practice of madamismo. Montanelli never apologized. The intervention ignited public debate in Italy on racism and public monuments, bringing the country popularly known for apathy toward its colonial and fascist histories, pervasive associated monuments and street names into renewed transatlantic debates on these topics. Four days prior, Italian-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, writing on anti-Black racism, Black Lives Matter, and monument debates in the United States and Europe in the Italian weekly Internazionale, made a call for Italy to confront the “uncomfortable traces of our past.” Citing an earlier intervention at the Montanelli monument in 2019, Scego noted the absent memorialization of Destà: “It would be nice if someone, whether a street artist or a municipality, dedicated a statue, a drawing, a memory to that distant child” (trans. Bick). Street artists and activists responded (Figs. 2–3). Cities did not. The Montanelli monument was cleaned and, by mayoral decision, remains in place.
One of the first hotspots in the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy was then emerging from a three-month lockdown. During that time, Italian museums (public and private) became leaders in innovative arts programming for a pandemic-era world. The Museo Madre launched an #iorestoacasa “call to action” campaign, publishing artists’ responses to the pandemic online; the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna invited and posted videos about its permanent collection; the Fondazione Prada produced podcasts and alternative exhibition encounters through its #innerviews and #outerviews programs, using social media as a “laboratory” for “new formats and codes” (@FondazionePrada, Mar. 18). This innovation has since extended to safety technology. Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo introduced wearable sensors to ensure social distancing—technology subsequently implemented by institutions of Italian art outside of Italy. Magazzino Italian Art Foundation (New York) is the first museum in the United States to use the technology, reopening with Homemade (cur. Vittorio Calabrese with Chiara Mannarino), an exhibition of work made during the pandemic by New-York-based Italian artists.
While the Montanelli debate coincided with a moment of reckoning for institutions in the United States and Western Europe, the overwhelming majority of art museums in Italy have not announced such programming, policy changes, or statements of solidarity. This inattention is not due to a lack of anti-racist social justice activism in Italy (Black Lives Matter Roma, Neri Italiani, the Stati Popolari movement, among others), nor is it due to an absence of Black Italians in Italian popular culture, especially in literature (Scego), cinema (Fred Kuwornu, Amin Nour), and music (Ghali).
A few exceptions demonstrate the potential for institutionally supported, sustained, collaborative programs to counter anti-Black racism in Italy. The Uffizi has partnered with Black Lives Matter Florence on a series of virtual programs to address “the presence of black culture in European art, told through the works of the Gallerie degli Uffizi” (https://www.uffizi.it/video-storie/black-presence). Organized by Justin Randolph Thompson, co-founder and director of Black History Month Florence (BHMF), in collaboration and partnership with the Uffizi as part of their On Being Present program, the eight-week series entitled “Black Presence” debuted July 4th with Thompson’s video discussion of a Piero di Cosimo work and continues with concerts and video tours on representations of Black Africans in Renaissance art. MAXXI, one of Italy’s major contemporary museums, launched a short-lived social media initiative: #MAXXIforblacklivesmatter. The campaign “aims in raising awareness and consciousness of the @blklivesmatter movement through art” (@museomaxxi). With eighteen tagged Instagram posts (most recently dated June 17), the museum posted images of BLM protests in Italy and works by African and African diaspora artists Robin Rhode, John Akomfrah, and Yinka Shonibare from MAXXI’s 2018–19 exhibitions. The initiative was highlighted on June 12 by Italian-Haitian-Ghanaian cultural curator and Griot founder Johanne Affricot in an essay for Artribune as a “necessary” if late action amidst the generally delayed response from arts and culture in Italy to BLM in comparison to the global context (“Black Lives Matter ma non in Italia. Il ritardo dell’arte e della cultura nel paese,” June 12). Program information is notably no longer available on MAXXI’s bio.
Beyond these varied efforts, Black artists have been included in major museum and gallery exhibitions, and Black curators have curated exhibitions at prominent museums, but these figures are almost always non-Italian artists and art workers. While Italy is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic (and multi-racial), the country does not track ethno-racial statistics (Reynolds 2018, BBC; Ambrosetti and Cela 2015). Instead, citizenship and place of birth serve as “proxies” for race and ethnicity (Ambrosetti and Cela 2015). This is one of many reasons—from racial laws under fascism to renewed racism in response to cross-Mediterranean migration—why Blackness in Italy is most associated with foreign identity (with populations of African migrants, immigrants, and residents) rather than with Italian identity as well.
Two Afro-Italian artists—Jem Perucchini (b. 1995) and Luigi Christopher Veggetti Kanku (b. 1979), both based in Milan—are making inroads that might change that. Perucchini made a series of portraits of Black Italians in history for Vogue Italia during Black History Month (see Jordan Anderson, Mar. 12, 2020) (Fig. 4).
Harper’sBazaarTV followed with a “visual interview” in mid-July. When asked “What colour is your world, these days?” the Ethiopian-Italian artist responded: “Certainly my world now is black in color. I think it is the color that is most suited to represent the situation that the whole world is experiencing, in terms of sanitary, economic, social problems” (interview by Laura Taccari, trans. Bick). At the end of lockdown, Perucchini had completed a large painting of the Stele of Axum: the ancient obelisk that Italy returned to Ethiopia in 2005, nearly seventy years after stealing it as war spoils (Zoom interview with Bick, Fig. 5).
Veggetti Kanku (represented by Galleria Rubin, Milan) has confronted the institutional and cultural marginalization of Black people in Italy directly. In late June, the Congolese-Italian artist held a soft opening of a new exhibition space in Milan’s center for Afro-Italian artists (Zoom interview with Bick, Jun. 29). Entitled The Office, the evenings-and-weekends-only arts space is a legal office during regular business hours. Veggetti Kanku’s monumental portraits of Black women (Fig. 6), intended to bring Black figures into (white) Italian bourgeois homes (Griot, Mar. 25; Zoom interview with Bick), hang in the space, to be inaugurated this fall with his solo show SOTTOPELLE: “A show dedicated to black women, inclusive of social status, a show that destabilizes and puts up for discussion the canons of strictly Western beauty in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic Italian reality” (Veggetti Kanku, email correspondence with the author, July 16, trans. Bick).
The museum complex now perhaps most directly engaged with Italy’s colonial history, the Museo delle Civiltà (home to Italy’s national ethnographic museum and partial repository of Italy’s colonial collection, formerly at the Museo Coloniale di Roma and various iterations that followed), has announced plans for a new museum (in development since 2017) dedicated to Italian colonialism in Africa (including postcolonial periods and an engagement with contemporary art): the Museo Italo-Africano Ilaria Alpi, to open in 2023. (See Scego, and Giulia Grechi and Viviana Gravano’s interview with colonial collections’ curator and cultural anthropologist Rosa Anna Di Lella in Roots–Routes). As Italy begins to address the presentness of its colonial past, the absence of Black Italian artists in Italy’s museums and galleries persists. What might a Perucchini or Veggetti Kanku exhibition look like at MAXXI or the Galleria Nazionale? What might happen if the innovation of Italian arts programming and centrality of the arts to Italian identity made space for the multi-ethnicity of Italy today? It remains to be seen if and how the country’s art museums and galleries—leaders in arts programming in many ways—will address racial inequity in their own collections.