Ordering the Universe: Documenta II and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze

By Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu | Art Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Ordering the Universe: Documenta II and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze


Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu, Art Journal


History is always interpretative, and it is that exegetical coloring and its inevitable and successive variations that give it a fictional quality. All narratives of this type thus turn out to be fatally tied to a fiction that they create and found.

-Carlos Basualdos

An history has been a complex and internally unstable enterprise throughout its two-century-long history. Since its beginnings, it has been deeply invested in the fabrication and maintenance of a model nity that linked Europe to an ethically superior aesthetics grounded in erotic relations, thereby allayin the anxieties of cultural relativism, such that Europe (and Christendom), in their expanding encounter with alien cultures, might be saved from reduction to but one reality among many.

-Donald Preziosi

Documenta 11 transformed critical and curatorial practice in contemporary art by investigating the possibilities of an avant-garde art for political action in the era after the end of art. ' Critics claimed the exhibition pandered to an ethos of identity politics and multiculturalism by its overwhelming focus on nonWestern spaces.2ThIs criticism arose from the visibly larger number of African, Asian, and other artists of non-European descent included in the exhibition. Viewed against the outright exclusion of such artists in previous Documenta exhibitions, Documenta n indeed achieved greater visibility for these artists. The appointment of Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian-born, American curator, as the first non-European person to manage this event was also a radical departure from the norm.

Identity politics typically concerns the liberation of a specific constituency marginalized within the larger context of national and global structures of politics or culture. Enwezor's curatorial project became implicated in identity politics when he declared his intention to focus on circuits of knowledge outside the predetermined institutional domain ofWesternism.3 However, the curator was careful not to hinge his selection of artists on ethnicity, and in most instances it was not possible to surmise an artist's ethnicity from the subject matter of the artwork. In addition, non-Western artists represented only about 20 percent of the total number of participants.4 The accusation of identity politics leveled against this exhibition therefore occludes a proper understanding of Documenta 11 's curatorial innovations and its challenge to the continued dominance of occidental paradigms in the discourse of contemporary art.

Identity politics defines a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the experiences of injustice shared by members of certain social groups and the attempts to rectify such marginalization within national and global contexts of politics and culture.5 The most common examples of this phenomenon concern struggles within Western capitalist democracies, but indigenous rights movements worldwide, nationalist projects, or demands for regional self-determination use similar arguments. These political activities have engendered a philosophical body of literature that takes up questions about the nature, origin, and futures of the identities being defended, as well as philosophical questions about the nature of subjectivity and the self.6 According to Sonia Kruks:

What makes identity politics a significant departure from earlier, preidentarian forms of the politics of recognition is its demand for recognition on the basis of the very grounds on which recognition has previously been denied. . . . The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of "universal humankind" on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect "in spite of" one's differences. Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different.7

Documenta 11 did not construct a narrative of contemporary art based on identity politics, although it insisted that no evaluation of contemporary global culture could ignore the glaring marginalization of large constituencies of non-Western artists that were, under Enwezor's watch, thereby included in a Documenta exhibition for the first time.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Ordering the Universe: Documenta II and the Apotheosis of the Occidental Gaze
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?