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THE QUESTION: GLOBAL IDENTITIES
the younger art scene is characterized by crossborder biographies. At
the same time, the global art industry is nourished by local or
national political conditions,traditions, and myths. The question of
“national identity”is a delicate issue not only in art. In the face of
economic crises and streams of refugees, more and more countries are
calling for political and cultural sovereignty.
How important are origins in the globalized art world?
Chief Editor Monopol, Berlin
For artists today, origins can be both an asset and a burden. Art is a global language, sometimes much too much so, and art can only counter the great risk of leveling by means of individual content and distinguishing features that often stem from local traditions. Moreover, nation-states still provide the primary social and economic framework for many artists, through grants and institutions—and political participation is still organized nationally, even for those who think internationally. On the other hand, artists justifiably protest being reduced to their national or local origins, because stereotypes often lurk behind our praise of diversity. Origins today are one realm of possibility, but they do not define identity.
Julia Grosse & Yvette Mutumba
Editors, C& (Contemporary and), Berlin
Julia Grosse & Yvette Mutumba
From our perspective, origins do not play a role. Each artist is first and foremost contemporary AND has, for example, Tanzanian parents, grew up in London, lives in Johannesburg with a gallery in New York. Of course, origins in the sense of cultural influences through family and social environments can help us to better understand an artist’s work or contribute to an affinity for specific themes. An "African perspective" might therefore be relevant alongside many other ideas and points of view. However, origins do still play a role in the global art circus: biennials etc. that pursue a global and political agenda pay close attention to making sure that the countries of origin of the participating artists are as heterogeneous and balanced as possible. Ideally, we will no longer need to explicitly consider the country of origin in the future. It should become normal to show "global" artists as part of the art world. At the moment, though, it is still necessary—and that’s why we produce our magazine C&.
Director, Villa Romana, Florence
I would say there is no such thing as a "globalized art world" or even an "art world." Catchwords like these suggest that there is a "one and only" entity. There is art as individual freedom and necessity, independent of states and geographies. And there are systems in which this art is negotiated, shared, evaluated. Those who speak of this "one and only" world are usually driven by certain interests or are unaware that they are living in a bubble.
At Villa Romana this weekend there were artists from Germany, Syria, Korea, Algeria, and Egypt. One of the female artists from Germany has Kosovar roots. The Algerian photographer lives in Casablanca. One of the Egyptian artists just spent six months in Paris, and another is applying for a residency at the Città dell’arte in Biella. We discuss the varying conditions, degrees of repression, and public spheres in which the artists operate. The biggest problem was to bring them all together here. The Italian embassies in Cairo, Istanbul, and Casablanca have repeatedly denied visas in recent years to artists we invited to events.
For Villa Romana, Italy provides an opportunity to communicate with artists in the Mediterranean region. Conversely, Italy is still the first stop for people and artists who need to flee the African continent in particular. We have begun to establish a network among/with these artists, in the conviction that such exchanges enrich both sides. Something like this is fortunately still possible, in spite of, inside or outside of the "globalized art world." Now that migration no longer stops at Germany’s outer borders, we no longer have to be so modest about this practice. As a matter of fact, it exceeds the competencies allocated to both domestic and foreign policy.
Artist, Bulacan, Philippines
I grew up believing that there is a mythical creature called the "manananggal," a cognate of the Malay word "tanggal," which means to remove, detach, disconnect, and literally translates as "remover" or "separator." She divides herself in two, with the lower torso staying on the ground while the upper body flies with bat-like wings, looking for its next victim. She devours human blood like a vampire … How, then, can one destroy this creature? Find its lower body, put salt in the waist, and she will not be able to return to her origins and that will be the end of her.
I think that we as human beings need to have that "lower body." Just like the roots of a plant, having a family, an identity, belonging to a place, an ideology, is almost an essential ingredient in one’s development. We need a "secure base," as the psychologist John Bowlby’s attachment theory suggests. My country’s myths and origins give me a feeling of that secure base, of that lower torso, of those familial roots.
On a small scale, I don’t have a clear footing in a "home" province, since my parents are really from the province of Leyte in Visayas, in the central Philippines, but moved to the province of Rizal in Luzon and then to Manila, the capital, and now my own family, my wife and children, moved to a suburb, a province called Bulacan. With these multiple moves, I was not able to develop roots, because we were always being uprooted and proceeding to a new place. Filipinos often associate themselves with the province or city they grew up in, but I cannot see myself as an original or native of a particular place. That is why answering the usual question of where are you from is not that simple for me. However, what gives me a "sense of origin" are the stories I heard as I was growing up, stories about a giant named Bernardo Carpio who tried to console two fighting mountains and ended up being buried in those mountains, or a tale about this beautiful maiden Maria Makiling in the forest who takes care of all living things, plants and animals. In these stories there are two forces: good and evil in different forms, whether the tiniest dwarves called Dwende or giant monsters called Kapre …
To be honest, it is not really a primary concern for me whether my work can be read in the globalized way. What I know is that, since I am based in the Philippines, I find my art practice inspired by origins, which I choose to look into closely: the local myths, the beliefs, and the stories. I just want to be true, and as much as possible to be sincere and authentic in my work. I simply enjoy and love the stories—initially illustrating them, giving them form, eventually the process evolved. I am not simply illustrating the stories but showing how these mythologies relate to past, present, and future concerns, issues, and topics … While creating these forms and almost not consciously planning anything, I find myself navigating the different universal topics and problems, while combining the overlapping themes of folk and current events, histories, science, and politics on war, global problems such as climate change, and other crises.
I remember there was time when I had a dilemma about whether I needed to look into other global myths, such as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies, etc. … I told myself that I might explore these other "origins" as sources of inspiration too. However, after doing initial research and reading about these international sources, I realized that Philippine stories may not be so unique in our culture but that there are overlaps and parallels to other country’s mythologies and archetypes. Yes, there are interesting details and peculiar attributes of each story, but there are also similarities in characters, plots, and emotions. As Carl Jung’s theory of the "collective unconscious" posits, we may have a section of our minds made up of memories and images shared will all humankind.
Director, Goethe-Institut, Karachi, Pakistan
Looking at the list of artists selected for the big international exhibitions and biennials, one is tempted to say, no, origins are no longer important. But on closer inspection it becomes clear that the (Western) perspective on non-European art is still—whether consciously or unconsciously—framed by sociocultural and political issues: the unspoken expectation that the non-European artist is trying to explain his world to us or will inevitably make reference to it.
Western art is perceived as international, while non-European art is often not. Why? Because the specific conditions under which Western art developed and its reference system are taken to be universal. But this is not the case.
Non-European artists are presumed to be "authentic" but also to ask the same "universal" questions in the context of global cosmopolitanism. This is ultimately an indissoluble dilemma that we can’t really escape. But it is precisely in this field of tension that great art can come about, through the incorporation of local formats and references that are remote from any exoticism, through interdisciplinary and research-based approaches, and through site-specific works.