Chika Okeke on Horizonte - 'Grundbegriffe' einer globalen Kunst- und Bildwissenschaft in Munich
Chika Okeke posted a blog entry in which he reflects on Horizonte: Principles and Terms of Global Art History // Horizonte - 'Grundbegriffe' einer globalen Kunst- und Bildwissenschaft in Munich. The question of language, this being an international conference held in Germany, he raises is probably particular to Germany. Anyway, the second issue he raises has certainly wider resonances for ‘our’ discussions of globalization, postmodern identities and global arts etc. Moving between European countries without even a border check it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is not everybody’s reality, instead a quite privileged position to be in.
[A]s I write, the organizers are still not sure that my colleague from University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Frank Ugiomoh will show up to give his paper Saturday morning (he is the only non-European invitee living outside of Euro-America). The problem? Well, it turns out the German Embassy in Nigeria seems unenthusiastic about granting him travel visa. So when really smart folks talk about the ease of movement across borders in the age of globalization, they must not be from countries below the visa line (think of the migrants from these countries dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe). Or when people like James Cuno argue that "global" museums must be defended for their role in safeguarding and making accessible to the whole world mankind's artistic heritage, I say to him, yea right! Because your idea of the whole world does not include the millions like Dr. Ugiomoh who must go through severe psychological torture to get legitimate access to fortress Europe/America. This sucks!
And yes, this of course ties in tightly with the question of who speaks for and about contemporary African arts in the global (academic) arena that was touched upon in the recent Nka roundtable. – A conference on GLOBAL art history and Dr. Frank Ugiomoh is the ONLY ‘non-European invitee living outside Euro-America’?! I’m sure, rather than bad faith, practical concerns related to scale, funding, uncooperative clerks in German embassies abroad etc. might have played a significant role here. However, there’s clearly something amiss, if a conference explicitly addressing a topic on a global scale only invites one speaker based outside Europe/US America! Also, to be completely honest with you, I'm missing the voices of artists in the conference programme. And, we all know there is quite a number of expatriate artists (part-time) based in Germany and neighbouring countries who might have some intersting ideas to contribute. And that without the hassle of obtaining visas or the costs of international flights if that really is where the problem lies. In fact, they might even be able to present in German. They might just not tick the 'acknowledged expert in their field' box quite as well. - But isn't that just yet another barrier for a truly 'global' discussion about art history, one that goes beyond the (academic) elite?
 I guess the organizers of conferences in the English- and French-speaking world can often reasonably assume that all participants are sufficiently fluent in the conference language. I’m not quite sure where I stand on this. I don’t think it's a coincident that there does not seem to be an English-speaking conference website. So, I suspect that was meant to be a German conference to an extent. Which is fair enough, is it? After all, expecting everybody to learn English (or French) in order to follow a conference held in Germany is also somewhat arrogant as well, or? (I’m still not sure how I feel about a workshop I attended while in Germany aimed at the departments’ research community that was almost exclusively held in English. Not a problem for me, but a friend of mine.) But, of course, he’s right, if you invite international speakers (which the topic seems to require), you might want to provide translation. Politeness, you know.