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 and Mette Kia Krabbe Meyer together with Sarah Giersing.