Beyond Multicultural Art Education: International Perspectives

Article excerpt

D. Boughton and R. Mason (1999). (Eds.). New York: Waxmann Munster. 362 pages. ISBN 3-89325-783-7.

What we have learned from postmodernism is that all texts are read from particular social positions and locations, and therefore my reading of Beyond Multicultural Art Education: International Perspectives, edited by Doug Boughton and Rachel Mason, needs to be situated. I read this book on multicultural art education as a "product of a diasporic consciousness" (Hall, 1993, p. 363), embodying the traces of my home culture (India)its history, language, values, and beliefs while negotiating the culture, values, and history of the United States where I have now lived for over 20 years. Walking in at least two worlds simultaneously, I constantly negotiate the nexus of social relations in this space of overlapping worlds that are often incommensurable, and this shapes my worldview.

I also read this book at a particular historical moment marked by the events of September 11, 2002 that brought into focus the shifting terrain between local and global in relation to culture. The transparent veneer of multiculturalism as an accepted ideology was exposed in the United States. To be an 'American' was marked on one's body in particular ways, which meant to look 'Muslim' or Arab was no longer acceptable. As the subsequent days after the attack on the World Trade Center demonstrated, lines were quickly drawn between them and us, civilized and uncivilized, self and other. The rise of nationalism and xenophobia in the United States and Europe and growing fundamentalism in many countries worldwide in this era of globalization raises crucial questions about the role of multiculturalism as a curricular reform movement internationally.

Bringing into sharp focus the global context of multicultural art education in relation to "human rights and responsibilities" (p. x), this book is not only timely but also vitally crucial to any dialogue about multiculturalism in today's world. Clearly, the pernicious effects of racism and prejudice cannot be overlooked if we talk about human rights and responsibilities. These issues of racism and prejudice are not sidelined in this book but rather discussed in relation to art education and its potential for social change, shaping its underlying contours. The central question that frames this book is: What does multicultural art education mean in different countries? The five major sections, with each section composed of a number of essays, portray the diverse frameworks and approaches developed by various countries in different parts of the world based on their history. The appendix is a reflective narrative on the relationship between aesthetic practices and the sweat lodge rituals of Native Americans. By highlighting key ideas in each section I present snapshots of this book that should be of interest to all art educators because it opens critical dialogue about many pertinent issues regarding the nexus of relationships between local and global in relation to culture.

The conceptual frameworks and strategies that shape multicultural reform in various parts of the globe are considered in the four sections beginning with a section on North America titled, "Multiculturalism and Social Reconstruction." This section draws attention to the notion of multiculturalism as a site of struggle and contestation. As Bernard Young's essay suggests, it is contested by African Americans because it does not explicitly acknowledge the racial formation of the U.S. that has disproportionately affected African Americans economically, socially, and educationally. An Afrocentric approach, he argues, needs to be part of multiculturalism. Elizabeth Vallance discusses the role museums can play in fostering multiculturalism clearly based on what is known as liberal cultural pluralist form of multiculturalism, wherein art objects in the museum are contextualized in terms of culture and history. Rita Irwin, Tony Rogers, and Ruby Farrell contest the idea of liberal cultural pluralist multiculturalism from the perspective of indigenous people in Canada and Australia. …