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The Sea is History: Art and Black Atlantic Cultures
A Symposium around the work of Frank Bowling
Friday, October 20, 2017, 11 am until 8 pm

Haus der Kunst

"The Sea is History: Art and the Cultures of the Black Atlantic" engages not only with Bowling’s diasporic unconscious as an emigré, transnational, and cosmopolitan artist; it seeks to map and examine how his work upended various modernist pieties about pure immanence that surrounded formalist abstraction and its criticism within late modernism. While in New York, his earlier humanist interest appeared to have dissipated into pure abstraction. However, abstraction in his work did not necessarily dissolve content, nor did it separate itself from representation. Like many black artists of his generation, Bowling was confronted with the changing allegiances between the late modernist idea of the autonomy of the artwork and the demands on individual artists as agents of social and political change.

The debates that attended the chasm between modernists and politically oriented artists pivoted around broader questions of the social emancipation of the black subject, more specifically of the black artist as a catalytic figure in the emancipatory possibilities of art in the struggle for cultural visibility. This charged environment instigated in Bowling a reconsideration of his own role as an artist. But it also awakened in him – a black artist born in South America and educated in England – the recognition of his own difference from African American political struggle.

With the inauguration of his celebrated “Map Paintings” in 1967, Bowling perceived an opportunity to complicate the narrative of black artistic universality by redirecting his critical lens to South America and the Caribbean. With this move he engendered a new discursive and critical awareness not only of the historical, but also of the specifically spatial and temporal dimension of the “Caribbean Discourse” of his painterly practice. In this radical turn the “Map Paintings” were situated at the center of the Black Atlantic as a worldly site of universal meaning and artistic invention. This self-conscious formal, and philosophical move is, in many ways, analogous to the work of West Indian and Antillean writers such as Aimé Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Wilson Harris, George Lamming, Édouard Glissant, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, and Stuart Hall, all of whom Bowling deeply admired.

The goal of this symposium, then, is to examine the intersection of the artistic, theoretical, literary, and cultural dimensions of Bowling’s practice. Over the course of the symposium, it is hoped that the invited participants, ranging from literary scholars, cultural theorists, and art historians to artists, will bring into sharp focus the ways in which the Black Atlantic continues to inform the production of art today by a new generation of artists, in conversation with Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi.

Speakers | Sonia Boyce, J. Michael Dash, Peter Doig, Ellen Gallagher, Isaac Julien, Courtney J. Martin, Steve McQueen, Mark Nash, David Scott, Allison Thompson


11:00 | Welcome and Introduction
Okwui Enwezor, Director Haus der Kunst

11:20 | Panel Discussion
- J. Michael Dash, Professor of French Literature, Thought and Culture (New York University)
- Courtney J. Martin, Deputy Director and Chief Curator (Dia Art Foundation, New York)
- David Scott, Professor and Chair of Anthropology (Columbia University, New York) and President of Small Axe Inc.
- moderated by Mark Nash, Independent Curator and Writer, London

13:20 | Lunch Time

14:30 | Public Conversation
- Isaac Julien, Artist and Filmmaker, London
- Steve McQueen, Artist and Filmmaker, Amsterdam
- moderated by Okwui Enwezor    

16:30 | Film screening
Steve McQueen, Carib's Leap, 2002, 41 min

17:10 | Coffee Break

17:40 | Panel Discussion
- Sonia Boyce, Artist, London
- Peter Doig, Artist, London and Trinidad
- Ellen Gallagher, Artist, Rotterdam and New York
- moderated by Allison Thompson, Head of the Centre for the Visual and Performing Arts (Barbados Community College)

19:40 | Film Screening
Isaac Julien, Paradise Omeros, 2002, 20 min

20:00 | End

Fig.: Haus der Kunst.


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