Archive for March 14th, 2007


Wednesday, March 14th, 2007


Culture colonization the relationship between the colonizer and the colony

Having been very much inspired by Edward Said, Gandhi pointed out that ‘Postcoloniality, we might say, is just another name for the globalization of cultures and histories.’(Gandhi, 1998, p.126) As nineteenth-century colonization has faded from our memory of history, post-colonialists are well aware of a new kind of cross-cultural ‘postcoloniality’, which without hostilities, pillage and occupation but rather cultural, educational and spiritual influence implanted in contemporary society, which can be regarded as an invisible form of cultural imperialism. Regarding cultural imperialism, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam argue that,

… the third world always seems to lag behind, not only economically but culturally, condemned to a perpetual game of catch-up, in which it can only repeat on another register the history of the ‘advanced’ world. This system ignores the ‘systems theory’ that sees all the ‘worlds’ as coeval, interlinked, living the same historical moment (but under diverse modalities of subordination or domination). (Shohat and Stam, 2002, p.38)

They elaborate this point further, ‘ like the sociology of “modernisation” and the economics of “development,” the aesthetics of modernism (and postmodernism) often covertly assume a telos toward which “Third world” cultural practices are presumed to be evolving.’ (ibid.)

From Shohat and Stam’s point of view, the so-called ‘first world’ Modernisation system and its effects on other cultures should be questioned. It cannot be seen as an advanced goal, which the rest of the world (non-western countries) has to follow. The debate here will be centred on the concept that a Modernized ideal is not necessarily the same as a modern ideal. There is still a relationship of cultural colonization between the colonizer and colony.

The identity of Chinese contemporary art
I will now turn to Chinese contemporary art to show how colonization has affected its identity.

In China, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in contemporary art in the last 30 years. There is a question whether contemporary Chinese art is a replication of the western contemporary art or whether it has its own Chinese identity.

In relation to Chinese contemporary art practice, there seem to be three aspects of contemporary postcolonial thought which appear to have influenced it.

Establishing an international image and reputation
First, a growing body of Chinese contemporary art attempts to follow similar western patterns of establishing an international image and reputation. Accompanying the rapidly developed economy in the last thirty-years, there has been a realization of the influence of cultural colonization upon major cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou The thriving contemporary Chinese art scene has reflected some kinds of western art world ideologies, and many contemporary institutions such as Shanghai Art Museum have followed similar institutional traditions as Europe since the end of the 20th century. For instance, the Venice Biennale has successfully been held in Europe for more than 100-years. In recent years, the major cities in China such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing have all held art biennials, which the Chinese government has encouraged in order to attract attention from all over the world.

Who is more familiar with Chinese contemporary art
Secondly, it seems that the westerners are more familiar with Chinese contemporary art than the Chinese by looking at certain phenomena.
After searching and observing many Chinese art institutions and artists’ websites, one phenomenon is that their websites are generally translated into English. By looking at their biography in these websites, the exhibitions are held equally overseas and in China, or often they hold more international exhibitions than ones in their own country, places such as America, Japan and many countries in Europe.

Furthermore, there are foreign collectors, museums and galleries, many from the ‘first world’ especially America and Europe, who have been collecting numerous outstanding Chinese contemporary artworks in recent years. And this tendency is increasing every year, as there are more people from the art circle or even outside paying attention to Chinese contemporary art. For instance, many contemporary Chinese artworks can be found in the well-known Christies and Sotheby’s auctions today. Both of these companies established overseas offices in major cities of China. This might be because on the one hand, the Chinese art market is becoming increasingly popular; on the other hand, it has become another major resource for them. For example Sotheby’s in New York put Chinese contemporary art on the block as an individual sales category for the first time just one year ago (Richard Vine in Vine, 2007, p.50).

However, there are positives and negatives if Chinese contemporary art practice remains the same. The fact is that there are less Chinese people collecting contemporary art than westerners. The reason could be either people cannot afford these artworks (perhaps because these works are brought to the international market where western buyers are willing to pay a higher price than Chinese collectors) or even those who are wealthy have no intention of collecting contemporary art, owing to the fact they are not aware of its significance and value.

Another reason could be the absence of an aesthetical education of what is contemporary Chinese art by which I mean having a culture of aesthetic appreciation of contemporary art in general. This may be because of the lack of world-class museums in China and the major movement of Chinese artefacts to the west in the 19th century.

The well-known Chinese artist Chen Danqing reminds us that among what is preceived to be the best ten museums, such as the Berlin Museum in Germany, the Maya Museum in Mexico or the British Museum in the UK, there are none of in Asia which has the largest population in the world. (Chen, 2005, p.19) Without more local facilities, the next generation will have the same ‘destiny’ as the Chinese now.

They will also have to fly almost half the globe to visit places such as the British Museum to look at the art from their ancestors. So instead of permanently working individually, Chinese contemporary artists should encourage and help the government construct an aesthetical education system to collect contemporary art works in order to provide an artistic environment and also educate young generations. It will help change the sense of art of the nation. Chen Danqing says, art is visual culture, if we cannot perceive it originally, is just like deaf men talking about music. (Chen, 2005, p.18)