- In Art Papers, Mashinka Firunts Hakopian and Patricia Eunji Kim talk about “monuments under occupation” and what that means. They also discuss Kim’s concept of “carceral heritage,” which is very relevant to cultural heritage today:
MFH: … I think your work is instructive here, Tricia. In your essay for the Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, you outline a phenomenon that you call carceral heritage that I think is incredibly germane to this conversation. You define carceral heritage as “heritage that is physically and symbolically policed by historical powerholders, and as an act of process by which a community’s otherness and abjection are reinforced.”
PEK: Yes, I think you’re right. I first theorized carceral heritage, actually, as an analysis of a monument called The Statue of Peace, which was constructed by two South Korean artists who wanted to commemorate—and demand justice and reparations on behalf of—the hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors of Japanese imperial enslavement and sex-trafficking. And about 80% of those victims—or those who were kidnapped, essentially—are of Korean descent. But that article was informed by Black feminist scholars who have theorized the carceral state, particularly in the United States. And I was really struck by the ways that their thinking around the aesthetics of carcerality functions and operates in matters of cultural heritage of monuments. So, in other words, what I think is really germane to this discussion is that the visibility of censorship—that is, the redaction—has a particular kind of aesthetic role in the spectacle of violence against specific communities via the violence towards heritage and monuments. [All of] this is precisely the point of the state-sanctioned attacks on indigenous Armenian monuments. So, to summarize, I see this kind of violence towards heritage or monuments as operating through an aesthetics of carcerality by visibly demonstrating that an erasure has taken place, [which] actually leads me to my next question.
Many people refused to believe the nearly 6-foot-tall girl with the long, flowing hair and the mournful face was only 14. Her family received calls and letters calling her a drug addict, a tramp, a communist. The governor of Florida said she was “part of a nationally organized conspiracy of professional agitators” that was “responsible for the students’ death.” While some people saw her as a symbol of the national conscience, some Kent State students expressed resentment about her fame, saying she wasn’t even a protester.
The first time I saw the painting, it felt very impressive. Forceful. Tense. I would later come to recognize this as an effect of the impasto, the thickness of the layers of paint, more sculpture than painting really. What made the two diagonal streaks so special was how they had to cut through the paint itself. I could feel that something had been displaced. There is such weight to the painting. But part of that has to do with the fact that you can see the strokes. If you zoom in, you can see every thought, hesitation, gesture. What part of it he left for you to see anyway. A painting, like a story or an essay or a movie is an exercise in redaction. You leave enough behind to give the sense of naturalness. But in fact, it’s all constructed. And if the thing itself is not constructed, then the context into which it is embedded is constructed.
De Staël’s Composition paintings are like watching someone tear themselves up in order to escape themselves. He painted many of those Composition works when he was trying to figure out what kind of artist he wanted to be. He was trying on techniques and trying out aesthetics. He was working long hours and neglecting himself, trying to crack something open, looking for a language, a visual vocabulary to express the inexpressible. Trying to represent the simultaneity of experience. The wholeness of it. The part of experience that was personal but also the part of it that was universal.
There are lots of ways of understanding appropriation, and what makes it wrong. In general, I’ve found that the way it’s articulated when it comes to digital blackface often amounts to what is called “cultural nationalism” about blackness. Cultural nationalism is the belief that there are certain aesthetic ways of presenting and behaving that are distinctly black and should remain distinctly black. In this case, then, the ways of performing and behaving these memes demonstrate should be reserved for black people.
One way that people explain cultural nationalism is by making a dichotomy between “who one really is” and “how one is presenting.” Imagine a certain cultural practice – say, wearing kente cloth. Then imagine a black person and a white person each wearing kente. What, if anything, makes it ok for the black person to do so, and very much not ok for the white person to! One way to explain it is to say that the white person is “pretending to be something they’re not”; they’re acting in a way that’s different than who they “really are.”
This sort of explanation is often used to condemn digital blackface. In sharing or making a given meme, nonblack people are “pretending to be black.” But this is, at least in the case of memes (as opposed to, say, kente), dangerous. What this argument seems to suggest is that certain people behave a certain way – talk loudly, or move a certain way – because of some intrinsic fact about them, some “essence” they have. But as many, many black theorists have argued, this claim gets dangerously close to the clearly racist belief that certain human beings act a certain way just because of “who they really are”.
I suspect what’s actually happening here is that Gutmann’s daughter is coming home and discussing things about race in a way that makes Gutmann uncomfortable because he’s never been confronted with these ideas himself, he feels personally attacked, and he doesn’t understand the vocabulary, so he over-focuses on the things that feel alien to him, which is anything that suggests America is not inherently good, that white people have a societal debt to Black people, and so on, and that this is more about his feelings than his daughter’s education. And we’ve already established that he dislikes active learning methods like classroom discussion, and would prefer that instructors just port their knowledge over to students via lecture. So he’s probably more disturbed that instead of just telling students what to think, instructors are having students actually think through these issues that, if they’re wealthy and white, may not affect them directly and might make them ask uncomfortable questions about how their whiteness gives them some advantages and what their wealth means in the context of inequality in America. Worse, it may prompt them to ask those questions about their parents’ whiteness and wealth! And well, Mr. Gutmann cannot have that. He is not paying $54,000 a year so his daughter can learn that investment banking is largely a societally useless rent-seeking activity and that financial engineering has the potential to be enormously destructive.
- Today, Joe Biden is expected to use the term “genocide” to describe what happened to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the first formal declaration by a US President. It’s a big deal. One essay I would suggest reading about this is by Danielle Tcholakian in Newsweek, where she outlines her own struggle with recognition and the pain of being a descendant of genocide:
Being an Armenian in diaspora—a far-flung result of the Armenian genocide, of a century of survival and also a century of epigenetic trauma filtered down, or maybe concentrated, thicker and murkier with each generation—means being one of those people. It means you carry those chains and those blocks behind you all the time, every minute of every day, and once a year you ask if anyone might consider taking a bit of the weight. And every year, they all blink at us innocently and ask, “What weight?” while neatly stepping over the blocks they clearly see are there.
- NASA has achieved another first. The little Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed the first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on a planet besides Earth:
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