Caribbean Visual Culture Conference

The University of Birmingham are hosting a fabulous conference on “Contemporary Caribbean Visual Culture: artistic visions of global citizenship” in June and I have graciously been selected to present my paper. This will be my first time discussing my research and work in this setting, and (terrified as I am) I am thoroughly looking forward to speaking with fellow artists, researchers, and enthusiasts and the Conference team have done more than enough to put me at ease with their enthusiasm and kind words. And of course, it seems appropriate when Birmingham has such a high Caribbean and mixed-Caribbean population! I’m unbelievably excited to visit the city, meet like minds, and of course… try to locate myself some curry mutton along the way! (Because everybody likes to get those “home comforts” when they can!).

Akin to many issues of difference and acceptance that sparked up the civil rights movements of the 1960s and inspired post-colonial studies, racial and cultural difference (much like feminism) are unfortunately still areas that need to be discussed despite the efforts and steps made toward progress. It is for this reason that conferences like this are still so important and necessary even in our ‘tolerant’ Britain.

In this paper I discuss the issues of power struggles and access to art markets for Others (particularly Caribbean vs Western art practitioners) via Bourdieu and Adorno among others. I explore the effect of this power struggle and alterity on the self in this time of globalisation and post-colonial identity. I use the success of the recent inaugural Bahamian Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2013 as a case study, and discuss strategies to empower the Caribbean Other artist in this uniquely displaced situation.

 

The following is an excerpt (full text can be given upon request):

DISPLACE & DISTASTE – The Taste for the Other: Tavares Strachan’s ‘Displaced’ Bahamian Pavillion at Venice Biennale 2013.Taste is, first and foremost, the distaste of the tastes of others.” (Bourdieu, p.56)  Or perhaps it is a distaste of Others?

For both Bourdieu and Adorno, modern society and its culture are a structure of domination, founded on the unequal distribution of resources (Gartman, 2011, p.1). As such, if we view this notion of taste as a marker for the class systems that Bourdieu sees the world’s Western societies working within (at the very least, his 1970s France at the time), and if as he claims,“taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier” (1984, p.6) then just what happens when subjects outside this dominant hegemon of the West begin to find their way in? What is it that happens when they begin working their way into these frameworks that are literally and metaphorically foreign to themselves, frameworks designed in many ways (intentionally or not) to exclude groups and perpetuate a hierarchy of domination and subordinance?

Such appears the case of the contemporary art world and its penchant for seeking out the ‘next big person from the little place’ (not unlike Tavares Strachan’s success in the first Bahamas Pavilion of the Venice Biennale which will be addressed in more detail further on), almost using other cultures as a resource to ‘enrich’ a burnt-out, bourgeois Western society (Edelsztein, 2007).This former exclusion of Other artists has shifted from ostracizing and denial of means of access, to an inclusion of foreign artists ‘on Western terms’ – that is, non-Western artists working and expressing through a Western contemporary aesthetic. The Western art world and its privilege does appear to function as the global bourgeoisie to those living outside the Occident. Perhaps this influx of other cultures serves to fulfill the leftover “primitivist fantasy: that the Other has access to primal psychic and social process from which the white (petit) bourgeois subject is blocked.” (Foster, 1996, p.303) where Others continue to serve as a point of exotic intrigue. It is in many ways a constant of us and them, of us and ‘Other’: a binary play of power. The ‘us’ being the Western hegemonic centres of trade and influence, both in art and on a more universal scale of global influence, namely: the U.S. & and Canada, and Great Britain and the other European power-houses…