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Stuart Hall Library reading group discussion post, Thursday 12 May

Comparing postcolonial diasporas

Thanks to everyone that attended this month’s reading group discussion. For those unable to attend a recording of the discussion will soon be available via the library website. You can also listen to recordings of all our previous reading group discussions and download a copy of suggested texts for future meetings.

The reading for May was Siobhan Shilton’s ‘Transcultural encounters in contemporary art: gender, genre and history’ in Michelle Keown, David Murphy and James Procter (eds.) Comparing postcolonial diasporas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. pp.56-80.

We chose this text as part of our ongoing interest in visual arts in relation to the politics and repercussions of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Also, we were aware that few of the texts we have read and discussed in our meetings so far have addressed gender issues. We are also interested in the way that researchers study and approach people and issues relating to cultures other than our own, especially in the context of the use of language and theory.

Key points for discussion:

  • Is there a difference between ‘transculturation’ and ‘appropriation’?
  • P.56 ‘Chapter is concerned with gender and diaspora space’.
  • P.57 Shilton defines ‘transcultural’ in the context of art as that which ‘renegotiates the relationship between cultures in ways that avoid attempts either to unify or hierarchize them…’
  • ‘Transculturation’ can be seen as a reciprocal, selective process of cultural adaptation/adoption/absorption (concept derived from Mary Louise Pratt)
  • P.58 ‘Veiling’: Both artists address this issue, which Shilton calls ‘an overdetermined sign…’ Arguably, what is significant about the veil is: a) how it has become a political issue, and, b) The majority of voices that are heard expressing opinions and judgments about it in ‘the west’ are men, and is this part of (from a feminist viewpoint) a continuing assumption that they assume ‘ownership’ over women’s bodies?
  • P.65 Shilton uses the phrase ‘radical otherness’ to describe Khattari’s work. ‘Other’ in relation to who? Khattari is not ‘other’ to herself and so the question arises as to why those designated as ‘non-Western’ must constantly define themselves in relation to the way others see them?
  • P.65 Shilton refers to Khattari’s use of the performance tradition by feminists of the 1960s; she comments: ‘[…] when the traditional space of the gallery…were male-dominated’. – Are galleries are still male-dominated today? – Shilton’s theorising is from the standpoint of an ‘objective viewer’ when in fact she is implicated in the ‘othering’ of the artists she is discussing.
  • P.69 Shilton asserts that Satrapi uses the ‘bande dessinee’ graphic novel form, and adheres to many of its traditions; Satrapi also ‘shares its structure, and certain tropes with many Francophone narratives of immigration, exile and ‘return’.
  • Shilton concludes that Khattari’s work and Satrapi’s text focus on ‘distinctively visual processes of transculturation’.

Next meeting

8, 9 June at 6.30-8.00: Frances Dyson. ‘Atmospheres’ in Sounding new media: immersion and embodiment in the arts and culture. Berkley, CA: University of California, 2009. pp.158-181.

A copy of the text is available in the Stuart Hall Library. If you are having any problems obtaining a copy of the book then please contact us and we will make this available to you. Email the library for further information or to book your place: library@iniva.org