Making Up in the Petrie Museum

Making Up in the Petrie Museum

, Errol Francis, 2012, chromogenic print

artist collection

My thesis is concerned with cultural articulations of space, from the point of view of philosophy and from the perspective of artists responding to museums as key sites of cultural heritage.

My thesis is concerned with cultural articulations of space, from the point of view of philosophy and from the perspective of artists responding to museums as key sites of cultural heritage. My central research question is how the concept of heterotopia can be useful in exploring postcolonial artistic responses to museum spaces that tackle questions of personal and cultural identity, which arose from key aspects of my own artistic and curatorial practice.

My methodology takes the concept of heterotopia, as proposed by Michel Foucault in his (1967) Des Espace Autres, as its point of departure and I subject it to a critical analysis. I progress through conceptualisations relating to architectural space and end up with delineations of postcolonial cultural domains that are both real and imaginary and relational between one space and another, that is to say an understanding of space that is rooted in postcolonial oppositions that are both geographical and cultural. The concept of heterotopia is used to elucidate these themes through artistic responses to museum spaces and dynamics with pictorial representations that are both real and imagined. A number of museums have been chosen as sites for this analysis, from the Foundling and Sir John Soane’s Museums in London to the Walters Art Museum, George Peabody Library and National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States.

I also engage with the works of old master artists Fra Carnavale, El Greco, William Hogarth, J A D Ingres, the Regency architect Sir John Soane and with the works of contemporary artists Mat Collishaw and Isaac Julien in order to tackle questions about the relationship between the postcolonial subject, heritage spaces and cultural identity. In order to elucidate these questions of the real and imagined articulation of space the thesis contains a detailed analysis of two of Julien’s works that deal with museums: Vagabondia (2000) and Baltimore (2002). 

A key issue I tackle in this thesis is what James Faubion (2000: XXII) says – of Deleuze’s (2006) Foucault – that it underscores that ‘Foucault always regards the psyche as being in, and of, a wider world’ to which I refer in detail in the Chapter 3 in my discussion of Foucault’s critique of phenomenology and the subject centred disciplines. Furthermore I have particularly chosen Julien’s Vagabondia and Baltimore because I believe they probe and articulate this missing dimension of postcolonialism and the spatial experiences of the subject that I believe was so obviously lacking in Foucault’s final exposition of the heterotopia concept. Above all I am looking at Julien’s works as expressions of modernity and, especially in the case ofVagabondia and his engagement with what is called créolite or ‘double consciousness’ through constructions of the phantasmal trickster as a device for engaging with museums and their collections.

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