Places to Go: Challenges to Multicultural Art Education in a Global Economy
Desai, Dipti, Studies in Art Education
When is multiculturalism the blind mirror ofglobalism?
-Paulo Herkenhoff, (2003)
I begin by juxtaposing two distinct cultural phenomena: one, a typical multicultural art class in grade schools, and two, an exhibit of a contemporary artist's project in order to chart the terrain of a postmodern multicultural art education in which questions of "art," "culture," "local," and "global" mark the complex relationality of our contemporary social, economic, political, and cultural lives in the United States. These two cultural phenomena raise questions that are of central concern to this article: When does multiculturalism become the blind mirror of globalism that can be viewed as a new form of neo-colonialism? What is the role of postmodern multiculturalism in this current phase of globlalization? What challenges does contemporary globalization create for a postmodern approach to multicultural art education, especially one that promotes a managed celebration of difference?
Many of the art classes I visit in New York City continue their commitment to multiculturalism largely unchanged by the turbulent forces of globalization.1 Routinely, these art teachers invoke the trope of global travel in their art classrooms. Similar to armchair travelers, they transport their students to geographically distant cultures and situate their students' encounters through art by locating the cultures' history, society, and political processes in relation to die art object under study. Increasingly, I have observed that some art teachers invite a local person who emigrated from the country that produced the art object into their classrooms to talk about their culture. The studio art project that follows this contextual discussion of the art form tends to redirect the lesson from understanding the experiences of people in another culture to translating this understanding into the student's own personal experience, however, rendered in the aesthetic style of that culture's art form. The assumptions that mark such ubiquitous multicultural art lessons are that art forms are located in one culture-the culture of origin. The fact that the current form of globalization has disrupted this linear assertion and altered the relationship between local and global is not part of the discussion in multicultural art education. Today, for example, particular "traditional" Mexican art forms are not just made in Mexico, but are also produced in Indonesia in the exact aesthetic style and sold in stores in many parts of the world. Thus, the object is dislocated from any genuine cultural context. Translating the culture under study, art teachers produce either explicit or implicit forms of cultural knowledge not only about the global, but its relation to the local.
The artist Matthieu Laurette re-imagined the local and global relationship when he launched the first part of his ongoing "Citizen Project," titled Help me to become a U.S. citizen, as part of the exhibition at Artist Space, New York in 2001. Working together with his lawyers, Laurette began the process of obtaining as many legal nationalities as he possibly could. In this current phase of globalization Laurette is attempting to make the artist the first global citizen. He has set up a website for others interested in obtaining multiple citizenships (www.culture.gouv.fr/ entreelibre/Laurette/laurette.htm). The irony of attaining global citizenship for "the artist" in a time when transnationalization of art is commonplace is not lost in Laurette's art project. He invokes the recent surge of nomadic artists who are increasingly flown to different global destinations to produce site-specific art. Furthermore, his project rubs against the policing of national borders in the United States and Western Europe against the influx of illegal migrants from Mexico, Central America, Asia, and countries in Africa fleeing poverty, war, economic hardships, and political retribution that makes citizenship to certain Western countries a valued commodity. …