Fantastic reconstruction: postcolonial artists and the colonial archive
The context paper addresses works submitted that are informed by postcolonial theoretical debates about multiculturalism, racial identification, essentialism, cultural\ud hybridity and mimicry that prevailed in the cultural milieus of New York and London in the 1980s and early 1990s. Race is addressed in all these works as a language and\ud racialisation is treated as a social and psychic process. The practice that is addressed in the context paper is interdisciplinary, involving performance, video and curating, as well as writing that assesses how these works engage the public in a dialogue about race as a signifying practice and about the seductive qualities of racial imagery.\ud \ud Central to the works submitted is the notion of the archive, and more particularly the colonial archive. The context paper singles out the pertinent conceptualizations of the archive in relation to the postcolonial theories and practices under consideration. Those most relevant to the works submitted are the writings of Edward Said, Michel Foucault and Allan Sekula. The colonial archive is understood as actual repositories of official representations of colonised peoples, as well as a structuring principle that demarcates the\ud possible articulations of subaltern selfhood.\ud \ud The context paper treats the artistic works submitted as attempts to work through postcolonial theories via critically informed lived experiences, which is to say via praxis. What is proposed is that performative re- enactment and interaction with audiences offers an important means of exploring how racialised cultural discourses actually operate in and shape understanding of the world. The principal argument for the originality of the works submitted is that the reflexive use of performances foregrounding the constructed nature of racial identity through re-enactment and simulation constitutes an innovative approach to postcolonial praxis.\ud \ud The context paper also summarizes relevant aspects of the historical context in which the submitted works were produced. During that period, the author was associated\ud with artists and art collectives that were actively engaged in a postcolonial critique of cultural institutions and Eurocentric aesthetics in the United States and Britain. The\ud multicultural activism of that period concentrated on developing ways to combine experimental techniques with a "new cultural politics of difference" in the words of cultural theorist Cornel West. Multicultural activists were concerned not only with critiquing the stereotyping of racial minorities in mainstream media and art history, but also with putting forward a notion of race as a social construct and a symbolic practice. The works submitted address the ways that racial tropes from colonial discourse, such as "the primitive" reasserted themselves in the contemporary discourses of state-sponsored and corporate multiculturalism.\ud \ud The context statement focuses on three major cultural projects and nine essays that engage with the notion of race as a language. Those cultural projects are: my caged\ud Amerindian performance, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992-1994), featured in the video The Couple in the Cage (1993); my video a/k/a Mrs.George Gilbert (2004); and my curatorial project Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (2003). The essays address either these works or others by artists who share a concern with racial representation. The context statement outlines the theoretical underpinnings that inform these works. I discuss how these works have been informed by structuralist and post-structuralist theories of language and discursive practice; psychoanalytic theories of racial identification and fantasy and postcolonial models of cultural interpretation. The\ud conclusion incorporates retrospective commentary on the shortcomings in my approach and in my original understanding of audience reception, particularly in relation to credulity and the suspension of disbelief.
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