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A Questionnaire on Diaspora and the Modern

Arabindan-Kesson, Anna; Caragol, Taina; Carby, Hazel; Chua, Lawrence; Mehretu, Julie; Pfeiffer, Paul; Gikandi, Simon; ... Tejada, Roberto; + view all (2023) A Questionnaire on Diaspora and the Modern. October (186) pp. 3-112. 10.1162/octo_a_00500. Green open access

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Abstract

The twentieth century was deeply grooved with the trodden pathways of mass migrations. These journeys were propelled by violence and historical cataclysm: pogroms and genocides; natural and unnatural famines and disasters; land dispossession, regimes of apartheid and forced labor; revolution, war, and occupation; colonization and decolonization; and the realignments that followed in their wake. The pioneering sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois may have been the first to herald the character of the new century: Already in 1903, in his treatise The Souls of Black Folk, he situated “the color line” as the defining “problem of the twentieth century” in relation to diaspora. Theorists and writers as diverse as Georg Simmel, Paul Gilroy, E?douard Glissant, Kobena Mercer, Tony Judt, Brent Hayes Edwards, Fred Moten, Krista Thompson, Huey Copeland, and Saidiya Hartman have offered frameworks for understanding diaspora as a cultural formation inextricable from modernity itself. As their work suggests, diasporic thinking puts pressure on the ways that we have understood—and often continue to understand—both modernism and the modern. It counters linear narratives of time, geography, and memory; identities defined by national boundaries; the absence of concerns about race and the complicity that modernisms have had with regimes of power; and a vision of the modern severed from heritage or tradition. Yet despite the diasporic displacements that define the modern period, modernist studies within art history have often favored bounded narrative formations still fundamentally shaped by ideas of the individual and the nation-state as well as taxonomic categorizations according to style, movement, medium, and period. In part, these narrative choices both produce and are symptomatic of a deeply siloed field, cleaved into regional micro-domains (Americanists, Mexicanists); medium specialists (photo people and print people); and the imagined ruptures between the mod- ern and the contemporary, the modern and the postmodern, and the Western and the non-Western. Departmental structures, journals, job markets, museums, and galleries are still siloed by race, siphoned into forms of intellectual segregation that are normalized to an extraordinary degree. Art history, in other words, is divided. Given this, what should we do with the modern? The questions are many: How does attention to diasporic thinking shift our understanding of the modern—or does such thinking invalidate its historical and epistemological claims? How do we create space for the unseen and unthought? How do we write history in a mode skeptical of grand narratives that takes account of darkness as well as light? Or, following Fred Moten's explorations regarding a Black avant-garde: How do notions of avant-gardism put pressure on the ways in which we continue to understand modernism? Does the term “modernism” itself have continued viability and usefulness? If so, to what degree is diaspora—the propulsive vectors and cultural effects of multiple mass migrations—integral to it? Or are modernism and the interests of diaspora antithetical frameworks for the history of art, given what the former has historically enabled and repressed? And, finally, what methodological approaches might reveal its structuring forces in our approach to the cultural objects of the modern period? (Leah Dickerman for the Editors.)

Type: Article
Title: A Questionnaire on Diaspora and the Modern
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1162/octo_a_00500
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/octo_a_00500
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Arts & Humanities, Humanities, Multidisciplinary, Arts & Humanities - Other Topics
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History of Art
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10189632
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