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Performance and Postcolonialism

Performance and Postcolonialism

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Published by Sara Regina Fonseca
This is an analysis of contemporary scenic arts from a postcolonial perspective. Sara Regina Fonseca wrote it in 2009, as part of a Master in Dance Studies at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.
This is an analysis of contemporary scenic arts from a postcolonial perspective. Sara Regina Fonseca wrote it in 2009, as part of a Master in Dance Studies at the University of Stockholm, Sweden.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Sara Regina Fonseca on Sep 13, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Sara Regina Fonseca
1.1. Motivation
When I moved from Colombia to Sweden, I became more awareof the postmodern phenomenon by which a great number of culturalproducts from non-Western cultures were accessible for appropriation anduse by Western artists and art consumers. This understanding wasshocking because I felt that the velocity, facility and superficiality withwhich these cultural forms were used caused a weird effect: traditionalmeanings grounded in organic and long processes were of no interest, andthat which was a symbol of spirituality or sorrow for many people at oneend of the world, could rapidly become a toy for entertainment or a simpledecorative object to be consumed at the other end of the world. At themidst of this judgmental attitude I had a further revelation: Artists who arelittle less than idols for me were using ‘exotic’
performance forms in theirwork! Furthermore, I was myself performing intercultural representation inmy own dance pieces, without questioning the ethics of my process! Theserevelations have been the strongest motivations for writing this paper allthe way through.
1.2. Argumentation and Purpose
Regardless of their purposes, intercultural performance andcultural anthropology have a common ground in their procedure: theystudy and represent a defined ‘other
. This procedure gives bothdisciplines the power to construct a view of ‘the other’ in ways that run therisk of enhancing colonialist attitudes. Thus, I would like to argue thatcultural anthropology and intercultural performance share a commonenemy, whose invisibility and pervasiveness makes it hard to defeat. This
Sara Regina Fonseca
enemy is colonialism, and it is manifested in different kinds oethnocentrisms and exploitations that provoke the arousal of ethicaldiscussions about issues like the exotization of non-Western cultures or theadvantaged position of Western academics and artists over the ‘nativeothers’. As it usually happens with ethics, a discussion about the fairness of intercultural representation in anthropology and performance is hardly astraight forwards one. However, I believe that the input of postcolonialism
in the theory and practice of anthropology from the 1960’s onwards, showsus that a constant auto-criticism is not only relevant but also fruitful in thefight against colonialism. Indeed, postcolonialism has not only beeninfluential in anthropology but also in performance, to the point that therehave emerged genres such as ‘postcolonial performance’
. Besides thepolitical agenda of postcolonial criticism, other humanistic and aestheticconcerns have led to significant interdisciplinary exchanges betweenanthropology and performance studies, giving birth to hybrid areas of study such as ‘theatre anthropology’
. It is my purpose here to contributeto such exchanges, thereby presenting and discussing arguments whichare directly concerned with the ethics of intercultural representation intheatrical performance.
Methodology and Disposition
In general, my methodology will consist in using existingliterature on anthropology and colonialism in order to clarify concepts andidentify issues that can be relevant for a discussion about ethics of intercultural performance. My starting point is the argument that theprocess of representation implicit in cultural anthropology and interculturalperformance can enhance colonialist attitudes and prejudices. For thissame reason, the argument goes that these two disciplines can sharestrategies in order to defeat the colonialist attitudes that pervade them.After comparing and exchanging postcolonial criticisms to anthropologywith postcolonial criticisms to the work of distinguished artists, I will test
Sara Regina Fonseca
the usefulness of this comparison thereby using the questions discussed inorder challenge the creating process of a specific dance work. Thus, the disposition of this essay will look like this: In the followingchapter ‘Making Connections’, I will present a theoretical and historicalframework in order to introduce notions of anthropology, universalism,race, culture and colonialism, among others. In the same chapter, I will tryto establish possible relationships between anthropology, colonialism andart, providing grounds for further discussions about the ethics of intercultural representation. In the third chapter ‘The Ethics of Representation in the Work of Eugenio Barba and the Odin’, I will focus onthe work of Eugenio Barba, first discussing concepts like historicity,language and meaning, and then looking closer to activities organized bythe Odin like the ISTA, the barters and the festuges. Finally, I will use theproduction of 
The Million
in order to provide a postcolonial criticism of it. The last chapter ‘Defeating Colonialism:
, is a personalaccount of the creative process of a dance work, in which the ethics of interculturalism have been a main concern. In this chapter, I hope tovisualize ways of applying the discussions developed along the paper tothe actual making of a dance work.
Anthropology, Colonialism and Art
 The institutionalization of modern anthropology in Europe isoften claimed to date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, the Europeanage of the Enlightenment and the emergence of modern sciences. Duringthis time, European thinkers developed the principles of Rationalism,defending the individual’s right and capacity to self-governance and ethic judgment. In this vein, Immanuel Kant wrote his
 Anthropology from aPragmatic Point of View
, advocating for an anthropology which aimed at knowing:3

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