No People Were Harmed in the Making of this Art: The Reflexive Imperative of a Decolonial Aest-Ethic Praxis
Alice Feldman & Vukasin Nedeljkovic*
© Asylum Archive 2016
The ‘social turn’ in art and the ensuing, fervent debates concerning ‘ethics’ highlight the ways the decolonial projects of aesthetics and of epistemology (knowledge) are not separate but intimately intertwined. Art/aesthetics are deeply implicated in formations of Western colonial epistemic violence, yet aesthesic (experience through sensory, bodily means) dynamics are at the very heart of projects cultivating decolonial epistemologies and transforming subjectivities.
The ethics debates, however, have evolved largely within the narrow parameters of formal Western philosophy, isolated from decades of rich interrogations around the politics of knowledge production, standpoint, positionality and critical reflexivity, across an array of scholarship and practice from identity politics and race critical, indigenous and post- /decolonial studies, to research methodologies and critical pedagogies.
In this paper we therefore integrate discussions of ethics and decolonial aesthetics by considering not only the politics of the ‘art plantation’, but of the encounters and circumstances surrounding art-making. Our starting point, however, is the epistemological perspective of Decolonialidad Europa’s Charter of Decolonial Research Ethics, its fundamental premise being the complete subversion of the all-encompassing, self-authorising power of the white, privileged academic/researcher (or in this case, artist – of any background), and the re/authorisation of subject communities. We ask, what is at stake in such relational reconfigurations for ‘radical’/transformative interventions?
Through a comparison of Richard Mosse’s The Enclave with the work of Asylum Archive, we critically explore the ethical/reflexive implications of the following problematiques: hyper-aestheticisation vs de-aestheticisation; the conscious presencing of (unwilling) black bodies vs the purposeful absenting of (vulnerable) asylum seeker bodies; the white Irish interlocutor rendering the devastations of war/‘Others’ 'elsewhere' vs the former asylum seeker/still-alien Irish citizen enunciating the depredations of direct provision at 'home'; one work selected to represent Ireland in Venice, the other often troubling of/for national white cube spaces as 'too political'.
As many have emphasised, the decolonial project must be a collective one –one that gathers across vast, varied and contradictory terrains of the legacies of colonial wounds. Such transformative aspirations, in turn, demand different terms of engagement. We argue for a shift in discussion from ethics and aesthetics to reflexive, aestheSic praxes of solidarities.
* Paper presented at Risking the Future: Vulnerability, Resistance, Hope, St John’s College, Durham University, 12-13 July 2016
©Feldman & Nedeljkovic 2016