Artistic practices, as cultural products, make a map through which a culture can be read. Visual arts and oral or written traditions pertaining to a specific cultural group allow people to define themselves according to specific reference points. The same cultural products, uprooted and recast in a different context, take on the role of vessels used to define the culture of origin. Traveling cultural products are displayed or showcased through a different set of cultural practices.
In the post-colonial context, two different discourses are created around the same artwork in different geographical locations. At the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in the broadly Tahrir Square, you will contemplate the treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb amid the honking of the cars and the scorching heat, making your way through the maze of artworks are displayed in an overcrowded room; in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, you will be eye-to-eye with a haughty Nefertiti, taking up a circular room to herself; at the Louvre, the viewer will become acquainted with every Egyptian god through an amulet with an explanatory notice held behind a glass case. What Westerners know of Egyptians is laid down on paper, in a highly sanitized environment. A traveler eventually entering Egypt will take this ‘knowledge’ to comprehend the new context he witnesses, sometimes interpreting reality according to preconceived, culturally inscribed ideas.
This week, we invite you to discuss the art forms that make up parts of a cultural fabric, nourishing perceptions of ourselves and others. Hitler used the division of arts to define the grounding of his ‘future’ Aryan state by contrasting two exhibitions, ‘German art’ and ‘degenerate art.’ As outlined in the movie ‘The Rape of Europa,’ disputes are still unsettled around the artworks taken from Jewish families during World War II. Now, as national cultural expressions are being increasingly protected and defended, we are searching for a shared European identity. Following the late nineteenth century example of the Venice Biennale, nations entrust their representation to one visual artist and one theater company, celebrating diversity collectively in just one mode. Would it be possible to find cultural products pertaining to the Old Continent as a whole, while its boundaries are still undefined? And which cultural products worldwide can we consider to be more valuable, either through government support or by having survived the test of time?
Whether you qualify it with ethnic, global or local—whether you categorize it with mine, yours or ours—choose your angle and join us in reflecting upon how an artform has the power to shape what makes ‘us’: identity.
On ‘The Rape of Europa,’ See our entry in ‘We watch culture’: https://artsasculturaldiplomacy.wordpress.com/we-watch-culture/