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Global art, national concerns
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-12-18 08:55:50
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It is hard to miss that something is moving in immigrant art globally, especially in Europe over the last two decades, and it is about time for immigrant art to take its rightful place in the national museums. However, that demands two major things: first, recognizing that the description 'National Museum' identifies only the place the museum is built and based and, secondly, that immigrants not only brought new inspirations but also combined forms of art by balancing between integration with their new land and traditions from their land of origin. This is the part where the issue becomes a problem and the solution, despite all objections and denials, is political.

photo000_400Art, to a large degree, is political - artists are sensitive to political changes and the sense of democracy, fairness, freedom, discrimination - but unfortunately art has often become the victim of politics and here I’m not talking about enrolee art, but art denied or suppressed by political decisions or, like in this case, by decisions that might affect society in general. The minute the states will accept that there is immigrant art as part of the national art and welcome it as an independent section inside the national museums then they have to accept the huge submissions from the immigrants in the local societies and I’m afraid to say that the first thing they will think about is how many votes this might cost them!

Integration in Europe, the way it has been done till now, is obviously led by political decisions instead of understanding, so this has led to ghettos and isolation for the immigrant population - something that makes immigrant artists explore more their origins and try harder to find an identity that can combine their roots and their new country. Having lived as an immigrant in three different countries, I have found that integrating immigrants is one thing, making the locals accept this integration is another very different issue, and that is the key to success. This is a line that politicians and, to a further extent, the states are afraid to cross, but, then again, something noticeable is that, aside from poverty, art is the other aspect that has been successfully globalized for centuries.

photo003_400So the next question is whether immigrant art should be an independent section in National Museums or part of the museum’s whole - again, the next time you go to the Louvre remember that Picasso and Dali were Spanish. This anomaly proved that art does achieve an identity on its own, beyond the origins of the creator, beyond borders and geographic cliché. Oddly these questions can become metaphysical, which is something National Museums can live without. From the other side immigration is no longer about a number of poor foreigners that will do anything to survive, but rather a strong part of European society that claims to be an active part of all facets of life, including cultural and artistic features, bringing, as I mentioned, their tradition and their understanding of their immigration.

Another issue has to do with the role of the museums in national history. Museums must prevail over its history, for example, Finland faced the first big ethnic wave of immigrants in the early-70s and it was mainly from South America, especially Chile. These people brought with them their traditions, their music and songs, their culture and there is nothing in one of the Finnish museums to commemorate their coming and integration into Finnish society and culture. Oddly, especially in the summer, we all see a music group of Chilean Indians playing traditional Native American music in the centre of Helsinki and I think that the very same group was playing in a popular soft drink television advert. This shows that they have become part of the national culture by keeping their original identity.

Immigration itself has become a field of research and investigation and most of all it is a field of recording historical fact. Apart from the obvious differences, these people brought with them their art, integrated it and combined it with the national art thereby producing something new and obviously different that can stand alone. Somehow I have the sense that this is the best argument for the need to deal with immigrant art as an independent movement inside the national art movements and, further more, as part of European art. In extent, national museums should deal with the new challenge by not ignoring the politics but probably giving the politicians the chance to make the difference they don’t dare do otherwise.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-12-18 11:01:11
Food for thought! Indeed I concur Thanos that art is always political in some way or other because it exists in a world that is political, but to say that is also to say that it is always cultural and in some way it expresses the culture and the ethnicity from which the artist came. As both Jegede and Appiah argue for African art, to apply universal standards to judge art and then expose it in a museum out of context never pointing out the culture it derives from, and how that culture thinks of it and uses it, is to end up with what Whitehead called “misplaced concreteness,” an abstract universal with no particular roots. As Kierkegaard, Levinas and Derrida have suggested, universalism and the penchant for grandiose totalizing schemes has gone over the top in Western culture, it has become a way of looking down one’s nose at other cultures considered “primitive.” One of those grandiose schemes is nationalism which blinds many to the particulars of the regional and of the foreign and immigrant influences.

Claudio Tomassini2008-12-26 23:54:05
I invite you to visit my blog. you can find my last works of art at:


yours Claudio Tomassini

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