Friday, November 13, 2009

Conference on Global Art History @ LMU, Munich

A section of the audience in the massive LMU auditorium where Hans Belting gave the Keynote lecture Nov. 12 (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Yesterday, was the opening of the conference on global art history, "Horizonte: Principles and Terms of Global Art History," organized by a team of art historians led by Professor Ulrich Pfisterer, who holds a Chair at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. The uber-art historian Hans Belting gave a keynote lecture that, I understand, set the grounds for the knotty issues tackled by panels that started today and continuing tomorrow. Bottomline is that there is no good news, perhaps not anytime soon, about the value of global art history, and I am not saying this because my paper was titled "Art History, Globalization and the Specter of Difference"! Two noteworthy things that have happened here: first, at the end of Professor Belting's lecture, during the reception that must have had a million people jostling to make new acquaintances while grabbing snacks and drinks, he wondered why I looked so despondent during his lecture (I was seated at the front!). I was struggling to keep jet-lag at bay, I informed him, and moreover, I did not understand a word of his talk and failed woefully to follow him through the slides presentation. I must have sprouted more gray hairs trying to understand the part of his lecture that dealt with contemporary African art! His lecture was in German and no translator was at hand! It got even worse for me (the only speaker in the conference who did not have German as first/second/or third language) in the morning panel today, which had all panelists delivering papers in German. Of course, I said to myself, I should have learned some German in graduate school. But, well, I didn't. And I don't have immediate plans to do so! Traveling from my native Igbo to English and a little French is all that I can take. The paradox of course is that a conference examining the question of global art history reinforces the boundaries of linguistic differences and the pressures these put on the possibilities of a global art history, or even a global conversation, simple. The world needs translators!

Second, as 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!

While I gripe about these realities of our postcolonial age, here are some pictures from the conference, which has gone really quite well. I can say so for my panel of anglophone speakers (which included papers by Kitty Ziljmans and Monica Juneja), and the response to the presentations by Belting.

Professor Ulrich Pfisterer, one conference organizers introducing the keynote speaker
(Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Professor Hans Belting during his keynote lecture (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

My co-panelist, Professor Kitty Zijlmans of University of Leiden (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Pfisterer, Belting and co-panelist Monica Juneja of Heidelberg University (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

Hans Belting with a conference participant during tea break (Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu)

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