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Title:Contemporary art and the search for history—the emergence of the artist-historian
Author(s):Jang, Sunhee
Director of Research:Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):O’Brien, David; Meier, Sandy Prita; Hamilton, Kevin
Department / Program:Art & Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Contemporary art
Global and local
Allan Sekula
Santu Mofokeng
Akram Zaatari
Chan-kyong Park
Abstract:Focusing on the concept of the artist-as-historian, this dissertation examines the work of four contemporary artists in a transnational context. In chapter one, I examine the representations of economic inequality and globalization (Allan Sekula, the United States); in chapter two, the racial memory and remnants of colonialism (Santu Mofokeng, South Africa); and in chapter three, the trauma of civil war and subsequent conflicts (Akram Zaatari, Lebanon and Chan-kyong Park, South Korea). My focus is on photographic projects—a photobook (Sekula), a private album (Mofokeng), and archives and films (Zaatari and Park)—that address key issues of underrepresented history at the end of the twentieth century. Chapter one concentrates on how to make sense of the complex structure of Sekula’s Fish Story (1995) and suggests the concept of surface reading as an alternative to traditional, symptomatic reading and posits that some historical truths can be found by closely examining the surface of events or images. In Fish Story, photographs represent the surface of our globe, while the text reveals the narratives that have been complicated beneath that surface. I then analyze how three types of text—caption, description, and essay—interact with images. Chapter two problematizes the historical position of the African subjects represented in Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album—Look at Me: 1890–1950 (1997). I discuss the fluidity of identity and how that fluidity intersects with the process of modernization and historical experience of colonization in South Africans near the beginning of the twentieth century. As I focus on the mnemonic role of the textual components of the project, which evokes the sense of presence for the photographic figures, I also investigate the meaning of the term ambivalence and question how it is connected to Mofokeng’s means of “doing history.” Chapter three begins with by investigating the terms parafiction and truthiness, and then discusses those terms—from hoax to plausibility, from less true to truer—in the context of Zaatari’s and Park’s works. To contextualize the fictional narratives employed by the two artists, I use the terms docu-fiction (for Zaatari) and imaginary-documenting (for Park) to designate the unique ways that the artists unite documenting and fiction. Ultimately, I investigate how their works evince that fiction—when coupled with a genealogical method and affect elements—can emancipate a history from its locally specified knowledge to engage with a wide range of international audience. Throughout the dissertation, I assert that each artist discussed sheds light on the others by engaging different geographical boundaries (between the global, local, and regional), as well as creating different conceptual spaces (between the amnesic, mnemonic, and virtual spaces), where they can pursue history. Finally, throughout this dissertation, I look to Foucault as the theoretical armature for my own work, yet I am as much concerned with the limitations of his theory as I am with his insights. In this vein, the artists that I investigate here reveal in productive ways how we might think about history beyond Foucault’s relativism, skepticism, and cynicism.
Issue Date:2017-04-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Sunhee Jang
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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