STATUARY, MEMORIES AND REPRESENTATIONS IN THE DECOLONIAL ERA
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
Journal of Cultural Studies
“Statuary, Memories and Representations in the Decolonial Era”
In the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the United States, and various parts of the world, the statues of historical figures known for their connection to slavery or colonization have been targeted and toppled. The growing movement hints at a collective determination to censor or exclude symbols vindicating crimes against mankind. This is corroborated by the methodical destruction of two statues of French abolitionist Victor Schœlcher in Martinique, the artistic degradation of a sculpture dedicated to Leopold II in Belgium and of a statue portraying General Lee in Virginia, and last, but not least, the toppling and spectacular projection of Edward Colston’s statue, a well-known British slave-trader, into a river in Bristol. Taken together, all these recent events seriously question the sculptural symbolism of bio-power.
Mainstream media outlets and transnational social movements (including #mustfall and #Blacklivesmatter movements) were quick to take up the issue, echoing incidentally a mix of reactions ranging from total approbation to the most scathing criticisms. What are the possible underlying motives behind such actions? Should these latest movements be seen as the rekindling of anticolonial struggles of previous decades? Could they be the resurgence or re-appropriation of memories stifled by the official memory which is promoted by States and is occasionally celebrated during public commemorations? What to do with symbols of Western domination such as statues, monuments or signs glorifying the so-called “civilizing” mission of colonizers or abolitionists? And what about the legacies of a history perceived as glorious for some or painful for others?
To answer these questions, this inaugural issue of NaKaN – a journal of Cultural Studies promoted by Melanges Caraibes, an international association of researchers and cultural agents of the Americas and their diasporas– focuses, inter alia, on three complementary thematic axes:
1) Statuary, discourse and colonialities
The persistence of acts of symbolic counter-violence against statues, relics or other figures of colonialism or slavery brings to the forefront the issue of the relationship to the coloniality of knowledge and power (Quijano 2012). History is not, according to Ramon Grosfoguel (2002, 2007), an absolutely neutral or prejudice-free science. The Puerto-Rican sociologist’s perspectives on epistemic decolonization provides insightful clues to assess the symbolic and political impact of the transnational movement which involves people of different generations and ethnicities to openly challenge the legitimacy of such institutionalized symbols (Grosfoguel 2002, 2007). As in Western countries, the Spanish-speaking context, with its colonial historical representations and dictatorial political past, finds a legitimate space for this questioning of statuary in lifestyles, mentalities, policies and values intrinsically linked to this dominant historical heritage.
2) Memories and patrimonialization
The weight of postcolonial memories and legacies (Stannard 1992; Blanchard & Bancel, dirs. 2006), the painful liabilities of interethnic relations in a precarious socio-economic context, exacerbated by identity and community tensions, the haunting question of reparations, and lastly, those of the representation and reconstruction of subalternised cultural identities (Lefrançois & Kirchner-Blanchard 2018) are also invoked within this perspective.
Questioning the legitimacy of statuary in the public space amounts to probing the depth of the representations and collective memory shared by a group. In this perspective, Maurice Halbwachs' work leads us to distinguish between memory, the strong version and the distributed version, an interpretation of a representation of the past. In conjunction, Paul Ricœur refers us to three notions - memory, history, oblivion - taking ethics as the main axis of his reflection. Building on the work of Ricœur, it is appropriate to study memory representations in the light of their historical evolution in order to understand paradigm shifts. What is the interest of history, of memory, of the old, in a new paradigm? What about the heroization of certain figures in the national consciousness of peoples?
While the desire for justice emerges as one of the most obvious avenues for analysis, other factors must be taken into account when interpreting the extent and direction of a phenomenon that is not at all discrete in its statistical nature. An underlying discourse aimed at the decolonisation of the arts in the public and institutional space profoundly questions the validity of cultural relativism (Verges & Dambury 2018) and, in the process, debunks the thesis of an assumed and valued resilience among populations that have emerged from major traumas such as slavery (Charles-Nicolas & Bowser 2019). Psychological and political factors thus intersect in the interdisciplinary field of ethnicity, aesthetics and ethics to create a synergy of a singular kind. It is therefore urgent to grasp its fundamental dynamics.
3) Heroes and myths
While statuary identifies with the art of creating distinctive sculptural works to pay homage to the memory of certain personalities, it is not dissociated from the crossroads of aesthetics, ethics and politics, as these three fields combine to redefine the criteria of beauty, good and truth in art and good taste. From this point of view, it must be noted that in the diasporic societies of Africa and the Americas there is often a hierarchy between a statuary designated as a worthy legatee of a national consciousness, based on the status of heroes in myths and great national narratives (Lyotard 1974, 1977, 1991), and a native statuary emanating from the modernity of the new Creole worlds.
All in all, these historical, geocultural, artistic and generic characteristics ultimately reflect antagonistic ideologies, representations or imaginations. In the Western doxa (the vision of European elites, for instance), it is part of the public environment and is the emanation, more often than not, of intentional political choices. It is intended as the consensual and accepted representation of a reading of history - the original objective being to aggregate a people, to unite, to homogenize and to obtain the widest acknowledgement of a peculiar vision of history which, furthermore, turns out to be subjective.
But when the history of a country is marked by singular convulsions, such as those that have shaken Caribbean postcolonial societies, is it envisageable – from the verticality imposed by external history – to build, on the local level, a collective imaginary including all its diversalité? In other words, by concealing the dark part of history, do we not run the risk of obscuring both the peace of a nation, whatever it may be, and the serenity between the various communities that make it up? The recent social events and health scandals evidence this, just as the recent social events and health scandals that are bringing back the shattered pieces of a painful past. Is it possible, therefore, to combine History and Trans-History – meant here in the Glissantian sense (Glissant 1997: 113) to invoke the concepts of "network" or "archipelago" – in communities still subalternised, caught up in the infernal spiral of the domination of peoples, colonialism and imperialism?
Contributions may take the form of original articles, case studies, analyses, syntheses, interviews or reviews drawing upon transnational and multidisciplinary perspectives:
- cultural studies and culturology
- visual and performing arts
- national, diasporic and comparative literatures
- philosophy: aesthetics, ontology, epistemology
- a comprehensive array of human and social sciences: history, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, political science, as well as other interconnected fields of knowledge.
Selection Process and Timeline
The selection of proposals will be done in two stages.
- From 1 September to 30 October 2020: submission of abstracts and biobibliographic records
Proposals should include a title and an abstract of approximately 400 words (maximum) in the author's usual language[CN1] . They should also include a short bio-bibliographic record, not exceeding 150 words.
- From 1 November to 30 November 2020: selection of proposals.
Authors will be notified by 30 November 2020 of acceptance or refusal of their proposals. These will then be processed into articles limited to 35,000 characters, including spaces.
30 October 2020: deadline for submission of proposals (abstracts and biobibliographic records)
30 November 2020: notification of acceptance or rejection of proposals to authors
30 March 2021: deadline for receipt of full text of articles
30 May 2021: return of double-blind expertise
30 June 2021: Publication of NaKaN Issue No. 1
Proposals for articles, together with a short biobibliographic record, should be sent by 30 October 2020 to email@example.com. For any information request please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.