Conference: Reimagining Modernism, Mapping the Contemporary – Critical Perspectives on Transnationality in Art


University of Cambridge, Churchill College, 23-24th September 2013

A major, two-day international conference reconceptualising modernist artistic practices from a transnational, interdisciplinary perspective convened by Luke Skrebowski (History of Art/Churchill College) and Devika Singh (Centre of South Asian Studies).

The conference takes as its point of departure the consolidation of a new historiography of artistic modernism written at a global level and characterized by a weakening or even outright rejection of the demarcations that traditionally served to separate Western artistic practice from ‘the rest’. Influential recent studies and exhibitions have argued for the categories of cosmopolitan, rather than national, modernisms; global rather than Anglo-American conceptualism; a diasporic rather than continental Afro-modernism. These developments go beyond a tokenistic inclusion of artistic practices from formerly economically peripheral and semi-peripheral nations into the mainstream canon; they do not simply expand the group of nations understood to be ‘core’ to the development of modernism in line with changing geopolitical realities and the waning of Western hegemony. Rather, they challenge the imagined community of the nation or region as the basic unit of artistic territorialisation, focusing instead on diverse, networked artistic communities that are understood to cohere at a transnational and/or transregional level, often with particular global cities as their enabling nodes.

As postmodernism has taken its place in history so we are obliged to rearticulate the notion of the ‘contemporary’ once again. This conference explores the ways in which doing so requires us to revisit the putative supersession of modernism, examining what types of relations may be found between modernist and contemporary transnational artistic practices Does the development of a transnational history of artistic modernism reflect the ascendancy of a genuinely postcolonial disciplinary moment, one that surrenders the idea of Western exceptionalism? Is there a risk that we are witnessing a reorientation of scholarly priorities in step with the type of selective ‘denationalization’ pursued by global capital, one that preserves deep, if no longer uniform, structural inequities between the global North and South, West and East, while continuing to rely on the power of particular nation states as its guarantor? In the name of what present, then, is the past to be reimagined?

The conference develops a critical perspective on the proliferating discourses of the transnational, considering how they have reshaped the study of modern and contemporary art and the links that are articulated between them. It focuses on scholarship which foregrounds the methodological implications, as well as the historical unfolding, of transnational developments in and between artistic and curatorial practice.


Monday 23 September

10.00: Registration and Coffee; Welcome and Introduction by Luke Skrebowski and Devika Singh (University of Cambridge)


Maureen Murphy (Paris I – La Sorbonne): The “Modern” or the Missing Chapter in the History of Contemporary African Art

Shruti Kapila (University of Cambridge): Husain’s Walk Out of the Nation

Hiroko Ikegami (Kobe University): Goodbye Marilyn, Goodbye Elvis: Tanaami Keiichi’s Response to America


Partha Mitter (University of Sussex): Why Do We Need to Reimagine Modernism?

13.00 – 14.00



Christian Kravagna (University of Vienna): Purity of Art in Times of Transculturality: Modernist Art Theory and the Culture of Migration

TJ Demos (UCL, London): Transnationality in Contemporary Art and Ecology



Curated by Shanay Jhaveri (RCA, London)

Les Visites Rabindranath Tagore chez Albert Kahn, Paris, April 16th, 1927 (1927)

Charles and Ray Eames – House (1955)

Pere Portabella – Mudanza (2008)

Sedat Pakay – James Baldwin: From Another Place (1973)

The Otolith Group – People to be Resembling (2012)

18.00: Drinks reception at Kettle’s Yard hosted by Andrew Nairne

Tuesday, 24 September


Zahia Rahmani (INHA, Paris): The Positive Effect of the Anthropological Turn in Contemporary Art

Julian Stallabrass (The Courtauld Institute of Art, London): Populism, Elite Art and the Transnational



Chaired by Andrew Nairne (Kettle’s Yard)


Elvira Dyangani Ose (Tate Modern)

Kate Bush (Barbican Gallery)

Vasif Kortun (SALT, Istanbul


Terry Smith (University of Pittsburgh): Thinking Contemporary Art, World Historically



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