The College Arts Association (CAA) Annual Conference, “the largest professional convening of art historians, artists, designers, curators, and others in the visual arts” [link], will be holding its annual conference in New York City in February. I’m happy and honored that my proposal entitled, “Decolonizing illustration: Rerooting culture, language, and activist practice” has been accepted. The irony that this work be recognized in my nation-state of acculturation and not in my colonized nation-state of birth and return is, to put it mildly, rather bittersweet.
Teaching illustration in the periphery of capital/empire reveals contradictions of disconnection/uprootedness concerning culture, language, community, and artistic practice. Contesting this fracture has a long history. Paulo Freire stated: “The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors”; Frantz Fanon referred to the “colonized mind”; and Patrick Lumumba called for “mental decolonization”. He advised his compatriots to “rediscover [their] most intimate selves and rid [them]selves of mental attitudes and complexes and habits that colonization…trapped [them] in for centuries.”
Given the structural nature of colonial education, within which students are educated outside of local language, culture, and majority class, how might it be possible to reintegrate with local space, realm, and communities? How would an awareness of globalization, liberalism, and humanitarian imperialism affect their university-based projects and, later, their local artistic practices? Finally, what are the negative effects/disincentives of taking political stands in terms of personal/commercial work, given a globalized art industry itself imbued with liberal/capitalist incentives and tendencies?
This paper will reflect on eight years teaching in Lebanon, and attempts to “decolonize” the classroom. Themes examined include communal/collaborative work; the collision of local/colonial languages; the interaction with displaced, dispossessed, and marginalized populations; the exploration of social issues beyond humanitarian imperialist contexts; concepts of fractured, uprooted, and affected identities; and concluding with an exploration of how such pedagogical foci might “travel” and be applicable in the core of capital/empire, as well as among disparate and seen-as unrelated communities.