Unfinished Histories – University of Copenhagen

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Detail from La Vaughn Belle, Chaney (we live in the fragments 003), 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Unfinished Histories: Art, Memory, and the Visual Politics of Coloniality 

International conference 30 November - 1 December 2017.

The year 2017 marks the centennial of Denmark’s sale of the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix to the USA. After more than 200 years under Danish colonial rule, the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands. In Denmark the marking of the centennial has brought an unprecedented level of attention to Danish colonialism, which for too long has been relegated to the margins of collective consciousness. While this year’s commemoration can be said to mark a shift in the Danish acknowledgement of its colonial past and participation in the transatlantic enslavement trade, many of the public debates have provoked traditional responses to colonial histories as being a closed chapter in the nation’s past, where one can look back upon it from the comfortable distance of the present.

This two-day international conference Unfinished Histories: Art, Memory, and the Visual Politics of Coloniality takes as its starting point the view of colonialism as a radically unfinished body of histories, with major ramifications in the present day. Attentive to colonial logics and their durability in contemporary culture, the conference seeks to examine the role art and visual culture have played, and keep playing, in (re)producing colonial histories and attending to the coloniality of the present. While the aftermath of Danish colonialism in the Caribbean is a focal point of departure, the conference invites perspectives that engage with the visual politics of coloniality in a global context, including but not limited to Africa and the North Atlantic.

Artists and curators have long been at the forefront in examining the visual politics of coloniality in Denmark as well as in the US Virgin Islands and beyond. A collaborative exhibition project such as Overdragelse [Transfer] (curated by La Vaughn Belle and Jacob Fabricius, 2008) is an important reference point for the current interest in artistic engagements with Danish colonial history, however exchange and dialogue across borders and perspectives have generally been limited. Therefore, the Unfinished Histories-conference also seeks to facilitate further collaborations, by bringing together artists, curators, scholars, and others who work across different geographies, backgrounds, contexts and fields of study to discuss the relationship between art, memory and coloniality.

The conference will take place at the University of Copenhagen and The Royal Danish Library in conjunction with the visual culture exhibition Blind spots. Images of the Danish West Indies colony, curated by the conference organizers Mathias Danbolt, Sarah Giersing and Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer. 

Progamme to be announced.

Invited speakers

Call for papers

We invite papers on topics including but not limited to:

  • Responses and resistance to colonial histories and coloniality in contemporary art and visual culture
  • Colonial visualities and countervisualities
  • Art historical engagements with colonial aesthetics (e.g. African Diaspora Art History, Decolonial Art History, Postcolonial Art History, Caribbean Art History, Black Art History, Queer Feminist Art History)
  • Museum exhibitions and curatorial initiatives on colonialism and coloniality
  • Performance, dance, and embodied knowledges and repertoires (e.g. bamboula, calypso, queen pageantry, and “moving bodies” in resistance [C. Oliver])
  • Decolonial approaches to art and visual culture in Heritage and Memory Studies
  • “Afropean decolonial aesthetics” (A. Lockward)
  • Artistic engagements with concepts and histories of “transfer” (J. Cook-Rutnik/E. Endress/L. Lee)
  • Artistic engagements with “colonial wounds” and “decolonial healing” (R. Vazquez/ W. Mignolo)
  • “Tropicalization” (K. Thompson), picturesqueness, and the aesthetics of tourism
  • Colonial ruins, colonial ruination and “imperial debris” (A.L. Stoler)
  • “Colonial ignorance” (W. Modest), nostalgia, amnesia, and aphasia
  • Art, affects and critique – from responses to “white innocence” (G. Wekker) to decolonial “aesthesis of outrage” (R. Shilliam)

Please send 300-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations and a biographical note to unfinishedhistories@hum.ku.dk no later than 1 October 2017

Contact

  • Mathias Danbolt, assistant professor in Art History at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Sarah Giersing, research librarian and Head of the National Museum of Photography, the Royal Danish Library
  • Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer, senior researcher, the Royal Danish Library

For further information, contact: unfinishedhistories@hum.ku.dk.

The conference is organized as part of Mathias Danbolt’s research project Colorblind? Theorizing Race in Danish Art and Visual Culture at the University of Copenhagen, funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark and the Sapere Aude: DFF Research Talent Grant.