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Decolonising Art Histories in the Wake of the Global Art Turn


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra
  • Assessment: a 1000-word research commentary (20%) and 3500-word essay (80%)

Module description

It has been argued that the most important question art history faces today is the decolonisation of the canon in the aftermath of art’s rapid globalisation since the 1990s. In this module we address the implications of art’s alleged 'global turn', or 'global turns', in line with scholarly and critical discussions on the politics of art display that are proliferating almost as rapidly as exhibitions and biennials worldwide.

What does it mean for art to be global? What are the specific forms that this alleged globalisation has taken? What are the forms of inclusion and exclusion through which it operates? Has this wave of global expansion served to address other pending issues in hegemonic accounts of art histories in the areas of race, gender, migration and colonialism? We will address these questions by situating so-called global art within larger debates on art and the coloniality of power.

A range of case studies will guide you towards familiarity with key artists and works that have shaped the global and transnational artistic scenes since the late 1980s. You will also learn about less well-known figures from a number of geographical regions, including Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We will consider the complexities of art’s global turn from both thematic and regional perspectives, encouraging you to identify developments and omissions in what remains a very recent body of scholarship, and to critique these omissions in your written work.

Indicative syllabus

Critical topics for a global history of art

  • Global turns and the politics of display
    • Case studies: Manifesta12 'The Planetary Garden', 2018; Havana Biennial; Venice Biennale, 2024
  • The place of art in postcolonial and decolonial theories
    • Case studies: Coco Fusco (Cuba-US); María Thereza Alves (Brazil-Germany)
  • Gendered visions
    • Case study: exhibition 'Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985'
  • Race and indigeneity in recent art
    • Case studies: Mona Hatoum (Palestine-Lisbon); Araeen Rasheed (Pakistan-UK)
  • The migrant subject, the global artist
    • Case studies: Annu Palakunnathu Matthew (UK-India-US); The Virtual Immigrant; Ai Weiwei (China)

Regional debates

  • Latin American and Caribbean art beyond the fantastic
    • Case studies: Tania Bruguera (Cuba); Francis Alÿs (Belgium-Mexico)
  • African art and the contemporary condition
    • Case studies: Nástio Mosquito (Angola); Wangechi Mutu (Kenya-US)
  • Middle Eastern art beyond the veil
    • Case studies: Khosrow Hassanzadeh (Iran); Kezban Arca Batibeki (Turkey)

(De)colonial curating

  • Tate’s internationalism: class visit to Tate Modern
  • On the global art market and curatorial activism

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • a significantly wider knowledge of contemporary non-Western art
  • familiarity with some of the most influential artists and works that have shaped the global art scene since the late 1980s
  • an understanding of theoretical approaches to the ways art attends to gender, race, migration and the coloniality of power
  • an awareness of the intersections between artistic practices and some of the major political, social and economic issues that shaped the second half of the twentieth century, and continue to shape the present
  • an acute capacity for the close (visual) analysis of a variety of media, including installation, video and performance
  • a knowledge base to pursue comparative readings of the work of artists from a number of countries and geographical regions, and an awareness of specific local and international contexts of these practices
  • an understanding of changes in institutional and museum practices resulting from and mobilising the boom in the non-Western art market, and a wider knowledge of how museums in Europe and the US are adapting to global art practices.