ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012

“World Art.” The Curiosity Cabinet from a Postcolonial Perspective

Before the global age “world art” was a colonial term denoting artifacts produced by “the Others,” which were exhibited in ethnographic museums as if in a new kind of curiosity cabinet. In the postcolonial era, in which established traditions are everywhere crumbling, such collections find themselves in a state of crisis. Moreover, they are often criticized from outside when contemporary artists analyze the collections of their colonialized ancestors. In a gesture in which they make the self an object of the exotic, they display their own bodies as items for collection or pillory the restoration of old exotic artifacts as a different form of plastic surgery. But even the successful rewriting of indigenous symbolic languages (in this case that of the aborigines) into an “art” conforming to market requirements is openly condemned by Richard Bell as “a white thing.” In his work Hidden Prisoner (1993), the Iraq-born photographer Halim Al-Karim takes ancient Oriental portraits that watch him in the museum and morphs them in order to express his disapproval of the fact that he encounters his cultural ancestors there. The works presented in this section show that the old organizational term “world art” always served modern interest and is rejected for this reason in the field of postcolonial art production.