International discourse on non-Western Cultures in art

March 2006 -

One of the outcomes of globalization has been a greater engagement with art from non- Western centers. The cultural specificities of these locations and issues related to the process of assimilation into the mainstream were the focus of a recent seminar held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The three-day interface of this seminar Art Criticism and Curatorial Practices in the Marginal Context peeled back the multiple layers of the contextual matrix to explore the movement of ideas and its visual expression between the dominant discourse and 'fringe' cultures.

The first session, while accepting the 'validating' role of events like the Venice Biennale and Documenta in Kassel, also expanded on its mechanism of response to recent geo-political changes. These 'new realities' were central to the second session, which dealt with the context of cultural genealogies and how local particularities present new challenges to the critic and curator at home and on the global scene. The third session examined the initiatives, undertaken by various organizations and individuals to engage the local meaningfully with the global as a point of convergence between the center and the periphery.

While forums such as this one, which was held in the context of Africa, and had participants from Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa besides Pakistan, Germany, Austria, France and UK, help to identify the need for a discursive space in the region, it simultaneously points to unresolved schisms that exist between the discourse of the Western and non-Western cultures.

Confrontation between the traditional and contemporary pressured by conformity to the established standards of the West can sometimes cause a deep sense of alienation. A uni-linear reading of world cultures also tends to position the local as the vernacular while in reality, for each people the authentic is located in their own culture. To settle such problematic issues of identity that stem from hegemonic attitudes, a new space for all civilizations needs to be created through on-going dialogues on the multiplicity and complexity of the local context. This calls for a deeper commitment to integrate knowledge of cultural, historical and social dynamics of non-Western cultures in the world art discourse.

Niilofur Farrukh is Editor of Nukta , Pakistan's journal of Critical Writing and President of the Pakistan Section of the International Art Critics Association.

The seminar Art Criticism and Curatorial Practices in the Marginal Context hosted by AICA Paris and Zoma Center of Contemporary Art, and co-sponsored by the Prince Claus Fund.