Discourse and effect : politics after art

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2014
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- This exegesis is a critical reflection on my practice-led investigations into cultural strategies for decolonisation through discursive practices in contemporary art. Between 2010–2012 I produced a series of performance-lectures: What’s Eating Gilberto Gil? (2010–11), The Digger You Love to Hate (2011–12), Lost limbs (2011) and The Anticolonials (2012), to unpack ideas of decolonisation, transnational politics and necropolitics in art and academic contexts. Following a visit to an ancestral home in Sri Lanka 2011, my research resolved to consider my Tamil heritage alongside recent performances of Tamil subjectivity in art and popular culture and to read this as a decolonial discourse. Sri Lanka is an island nation that suffered almost thirty years of civil war, most often framed as an ethnic conflict between a Sinhala-Buddhist majority population and a separatist Tamil minority. The war was brought to a historical conclusion in May 2009 with the total defeat of the separationist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by Sri Lankan forces, during which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians died. These events provoked certain diaspora Tamils to perform on the global stage. The British-Tamil pop star M.I.A., born Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, sensationalised the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils in her media appearances, performances and commercial output. The asylum seeker Sanjeev ‘Alex’ Kuhendrarajah gained international media attention and notoriety as a spokesperson for 255 Tamils caught in a stand-off between Australian and Indonesian authorities at the port of Merak, Java. More recently the British-Tamil artist Christopher Kulendran Thomas has won kudos for his antagonistic enterprise that purports to exploit the difference between contemporary art markets in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo and those in the art centres of Europe and North America to fund an online performance platform that would empower marginalised Tamils. I read these figures, performances and actions as a heightened public discourse, recasting Tamil diaspora concerns as a popular politics of migration, global justice and human rights. Overall my research contributes to a body of knowledge that seeks to deconstruct and dismantle the associated violence of colonialism, nationalism and borders, by using the platform of art as a space for political experimentation and inquiry. By emphasising art’s effect of producing politics and critique over material production I approach a notion of ‘art after the Contemporary’. I have worked with texts by the art theorists Claire Bishop, David Joselit, Pavle Levi and Simon Sheikh and the artist/writer Hito Steyerl, and concepts developed by the cultural theorists Angela Mitropoulos, Brett Neilson and Suvendrini Perera. My exegesis was completed in conjunction with the performance-lecture, Alex & I (2013–ongoing).
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