‘Global’: A View from the Margin
by Sunanda K Sanyal
There is no question that for contemporary artists of non-Western origin, the doors to international art scenes, barely ajar in the late 1980s, have opened wider, with increasing access to an inter-continental art market and blockbuster exhibitions. What is more, in the absence of any dominant paradigm in the contemporary discourse of art, critics like Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor, and Nicolas Bourriaud have defined contemporaneity as a condition demanding diverse approaches to the making and criticism of art (Smith: 2009, 2010; Enwezor: 2009; Bourriaud: 2009). Identifying the diachronic historiography of Euro-American modernism and its universalist claims as hegemonic, they have proposed a heterochronic approach to art history. In sum, art today appears to have gone ‘global’.
Once the term ‘global’ is isolated from its misuse as a generic synonym for ‘worldwide’, it signifies an immensely complicated and constantly evolving, totalizing discourse of economics, politics, and culture of the present era that involves the entire planet. The problem is that the fluidity of the cultural aspect of ‘global’ makes it particularly elusive. The euphoria of sharing a ‘global’ culture, for instance, may conceal the fact that despite all its heterogeneity, fragmentation, hybridity, etc., the space we call ‘global’ is hardly a level one. Let me explain.
In their celebrated book, Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri contend that capitalism’s historical role as a tool of imperialism has become obsolete (Hardt & Negri, 2000). As a decentered, deterritorialized apparatus, global capital, they argue, is engaged in erasing the traditional boundaries between the West and its Others, replacing them with the domination of a borderless world market, where profit is the sole standard of value. Backed by neo-liberal political powers worldwide, this all-encompassing market constitutes the new Empire. While this emerging system of power necessitates new forms of resistance, it also undermines the conventional forms of cultural normativity, hierarchy, domination, exclusion, etc. Discrimination in the Empire is caused by economics, not by chauvinistic forces, such as a prejudiced art establishment.
(Published: First Word column, African Arts, 48(1), spring 2015, pp. 1, 4)