On Art, Artists, Latin America, and Other Utopias

On Art, Artists, Latin America, and Other Utopias

On Art, Artists, Latin America, and Other Utopias

On Art, Artists, Latin America, and Other Utopias

Excerpt

The essays in this section are organized around a general theme of translation. This stems, on the most literal level, from the experience of exile but also informs or underlies many of the processes by which art and culture are created and validated, and through which they circulate in the world. In each act of reception there is a kind of translation, and Camnitzer’s attentiveness to the many dimensions of that interaction form a through-line in these texts.

“Contemporary Colonial Art” (1969) opens many of the themes that will preoccupy Camnitzer for the next four decades. These include the fundamental problem of how local histories are written according to the criteria and measures of the center, in the process naturalizing those measures and criteria as universal. Closely related to that syndrome is the problem of self-colonization, through which the colonized mind carries with it the imagined metropolis and superimposes its plenty onto the local deficits—living according to “somebody else’s truths,” experiencing, even if vicariously, “experiences [he] never had.” This process of transculturation creates artificial needs and, as Camnitzer emphasizes, leaves authentic needs — such as a functioning culture—unmet. This idea of building a new culture, unburdened by the many distortions of colonialism and imperialism, is an urgent motivating force and ideal that drives much of Camnitzer’s writing.

In this vein, while much postcolonial cultural theory in the 1980s tended to emphasize ideas like mestizaje, anthropophagy, and “hybridity,” valorizing the ways in which subaltern cultures might take on the attributes of dominant culture in order to rework them for their own, often subversive, purpose, Camnitzer’s perhaps more candid appraisal of the dynamic looks first at how class tends to correlate to the autoingestion of the “international” and at some of the psychological dynamics involved.

Camnitzer’s intense discomfort with the commodity role of art, and with the absurdities of replicating it in contexts that do not even have a functioning commodities market, leads him to speculate about possible . . .

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