"all things being equal"-
the disease of political correctness / sameness
A new version of colonialism now undermines identity and culture everywhere.
Superficial, shallow (and often outright stupid) treatment of Western art traditions are imported wholesale into Eastern / Asian and also increasingly into African culture. These imported notions are simply adopted and geographical histories, identities, and traditions are undermined, extinguished, forgotten - replaced.
Under the banner of political correctness, equal opportunities and democratisation, one of the most prominent, accepted and prescribed standards in the art world globally, the hollowing out of culture is not only excused but declared a necessity. We need sameness because only sameness is fair, and only what is fair can be art, therefore all art must be the same. Nobody would want to be accused of not being fair!
In order to be fair, we must lower all standards.
This new status quo now dominates art events worldwide; a global network of art events, galleries and museums are spreading the same formula: from the Marrakesh Biennale, the Kathmandu Triennale, we now even have the Antarctic Biennale, and so on.
The enthusiasm for the spread of this disease, for the dropping of standards and the abolishment of any notion of originality, authenticity, and individuality is beyond baffling.
As an illustration of this context we would like to draw attention to an article by Antwaun Sargent about the opening of the first major contemporary art museum in Africa:
The opening exhibition is - without a hint of irony- entitled "ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL". The exhibits in this show appear to comply fully and exactly with the standardised western notion of what contemporary art must look like. As the museum intends to become an 'international player' these standards must be adopted in order to be able to play the global art world game.
Whilst some have voiced their concern that this museum perpetuates colonialism, the criticism appears to be very much focussed on the skin colour of the -predominantly white- leadership team of this new museum (which is, rightly, a concern). Yet seeing evidence for colonialism simply in the colour of somebody's skin, therefore implying that this issue can simply be fixed by including more black people, misses and covers up the much deeper, and more painful, point:
It is almost impossible to see how truly African (or truly original 'Western' art for that matter) could still emerge in these circumstances. The implementation of the standards of contemporary art and the art market arrive on top of centuries of colonialism and threaten to replace originally African culture, or original culture anywhere, entirely.
So called 'political correctness' demands that there must be an equal representation of different ethnicities, skin colours or religions amongst artists and subject matters on show in galleries and museums. This necessity overrides any other concern - especially any concern for or interest in art itself.
"Political correctness' as a standard in art prescribes how the museum has to function, determines who can be an artist, and what the content of an artwork has to be ( it must, of course, deal with making everything and every one equal, thus, not surprisingly, most works on show in this new museum deal with gender and racial issues. It is all prescribed, predicted and predictable.
Political correctness in art -democracy, gender equality, racial equality etc.-, purporting to protect and foster difference, leads to its very negation. Cultures worldwide pay the brutal price: the erasion of identity and authenticity, the disconnection from history, the loss of tradition and the abolishment of truly individual thought. It is the death sentence for art and culture.
Antwaun Sargent writes "It’s a play right out of the market-driven, Western production of black art. But is that how Africans want to see themselves? Walking through the Zeitz MOCAA’s galleries, what becomes resoundingly clear is that a contemporary art museum is a uniquely Western idea. The challenge for the institution is to make it a truly African one." This uniquely Western idea has become a global disease.
Some excerpts from the article:
"[...] one well-known white Johannesburg-based artist (who requested anonymity) describe[ed] the project as something of a farce. [...] “We obviously all want it to succeed, but why is Zeitz’s name on the building? Is this colonialism? Art Africa staff writer Ellen Agnew put it this way: “When researching Zeitz, there is certainly some difficulty in ignoring the overarching amount of white male voices present in the construction of the museum.” She notes that the building was designed by Heatherwick, a white British man; founded on the collection of Zeitz, a white German man; and is being run by Coetzee, a white South African man—all in a country that is nearly 80 percent black. [...]T he appearance of the museum being yet another white power grab in Africa is further exacerbated by the fact that the museum’s five trustees are white and the advisory board is co-chaired by David Green—the white British CEO of the V&A Waterfront, who funded a large part of the museum’s 500 million rand ($38 million) construction cost—and Jochen Zeitz himself. [...] A board meeting at Zeitz MOCAA may be like one convened at MoMA or the Whitney Museum, but unlike those august institutions, the curatorial staff, according to Coetzee, is representative of South Africa’s most recent census and is overwhelmingly black. The museum also has an endowed curatorial program that will train aspiring African curators, with the hopes that they return home to work specifically in the context of their communities. Gallerists, curators, and artists I spoke to raised concerns about the museum’s centers of power. But all remained hopeful that, although Zeitz MOCAA’s leadership does not look like the public it will serve, the museum could be a cultural space unlike any seen on the continent. “When you look at the contemporary art scene, we have great artists but we don’t have platforms for them,” said the director of the FNB Joburg Art Fair, Mandla Sibeko. According to Sibeko, only 12 countries in Africa have at least one contemporary art gallery, so platforms like FNB Joburg and Zeitz MOCAA represent two of very few international opportunities for artists.
“Look, if there is any institution that can support and house African art on the continent, I think it’s a very positive thing,” said South African artist Robin Rhode before his performance at the fair. The celebrated Nigerian curator Bisi Silva was also tentatively enthusiastic. “We are all very excited about it, of course,” she said, “but what we do definitely want to see is that it reaches out across the continent, and that’s something that’s sometimes not as easy from South Africa. I think that is going to be very important.”
[...] During its opening weekend, Zeitz MOCAA is expecting about 24,000 people to pass through its doors. To appeal to a broad audience and maintain the flow of visitors, the galleries are heavy on figurative art. There’s a room devoted to the rising stars of South African photography, like Zanele Muholi and Mohau Modisakeng, and a series of masked self-portraits by the Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, “Macho Nne 01-25” (2014).
In the third-level galleries, the Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai has an early-career survey titled “Regarding the Ease of Others.” His cinematic photographs explore colonialism, nation-building, and masculinity by recasting Africa and its symbols (many of them inherited from colonialism) into a femme fantasy where women reign supreme.
“It’s incredible to have my work shown at the museum,” said Chiurai. “But what you have to consider is the museum will be there for the next 600 years and it’s not just a reflection of my lifetime. It will change, and for me, that’s the exciting part. There might not be a need for a museum in 300 or 400 years’ time.”
“All Things Being Equal..,” the major group exhibition curated by Coetzee and a host of Zeitz’s assistant curators, makes the museum’s primary opening statement. It features some of America’s best black male artists such as Glenn Ligon, Kehinde Wiley, Hank Willis Thomas, and many more African artists like Ghada Amer, Wangechi Mutu, and Jeremiah Quarshie.
“Museums have not been user-friendly environments, they have not represented our entire communities, and not seen themselves in service of the entire society. Of late, [museums] have really become conscious of this stuff, but there’s no audience—so we have to build one.” In South Africa, black people were barred from entering museums until 1994, when Apartheid officially ended. Given this history, Coetzee says, the museum has decided to privilege the black figure as a way of welcoming a sceptical audience. “A lot of the work is trying to reconnect the city, the country, and the continent,” he said.
The heavy focus on literal depictions of the black body in almost every room of the museum also runs the risk of essentializing it, I suggested to Coetzee. “That’s a higher-level art problem,” he said. “We get one shot to present ourselves to the public.” So it is that the art on the walls often uses the black body to contest history, as a kind of protest instrument.
It’s a play right out of the market-driven, Western production of black art. But is that how Africans want to see themselves? Walking through the Zeitz MOCAA’s galleries, what becomes resoundingly clear is that a contemporary art museum is a uniquely Western idea. The challenge for the institution is to make it a truly African one."