Colonial Exhibition

Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, research fellow at Bergen Academy of Art and Design, Department of Fine Art

What is your main artistic claim or main enquiry?

My research into representational practices under colonialism has made me aware of the
centrality of representation itself to the functioning of colonial discourse: within a broad array of contexts and disciplinary frameworks, the compulsion to display is discovered to be fundamental to the production of the subject positions, to the maintenance of colonial relations of power, and to the colonisation of space. In fact, I now strongly suspect that one key reason why the project of decolonization remains incomplete is that so many hegemonic epistemological structures – ways of seeing and knowing – were forged in the colonial contest, and they have not yet undergone substantial re-evaluation.

The aims of my research project are twofold: (1) to research so as to better understand the
imperative to display at work within colonial discourse – both historical and contemporary – and the ways in which representation is mobilised in the service of colonial relations of power; and (2) to research and to test ways of making and exhibiting artworks that both explore colonialism’s ‘exhibitionist’ practices and that at the same time also call into question the complicity of certain practices of exhibition and display in the operations of colonial discourse itself.

What are your main methods/forms of enquiry?

My methodology combines historical research into the history of display practices and exhibition making in the west with the studio- and gallery-based research and development of a new body of work. This project is designed to support, to extend and to deepen my existing programme of work, which is loosely structured by the exhibitions and publication projects I am currently working towards.

What is the value of your research project for the art world and for your field of work? Does your project have implications for future research?

The art world is currently going through a period of rapid global expansion. At this time of dramatic international developments, attempts are being made to side-step the tools and the knowledges that were developed from within the critical frameworks of post-structuralism and post/-colonial theory to manifest and to problematise the role of the arts in the unequal relations of power in favour of politically denuded, market-friendly discourses that too often seek to rehabilitate the perceptive and epistemic structures of the colonialism and orientalism.