Said and Nochlin emphasize this East / West divide, but hybridity takes a different approach to normal cultural relations.
Hybridity doesn’t concentrate on the separation of cultures – us and them – meaning that culture isn’t always pure, but a mixture different traditions; they interact and shape each other and become a hybrid.
Hybridity is like cultural exchange but there are things it is not.
Primitive-ism is the best example of Western artists using form and visual ideas from colonial cultures: African masks and Oceanic carvings, are but two!
Hybridity is not about the stereotyping of perhaps a closeness to nature, or stylistic borrowing. This was illustrated in 1984 in New York; the exhibition compared modern art alongside tribal objects to show an affinity between different parts of the art world.
James Clifford suggested that the approach to cultural difference we are used to hid an important history. Clifford was about ‘affinity’ thus different cultures share something that transcends history.
Remember, visual affinity overlooks how these artifacts arrived in the West, how we decided they were art, regardless of their use in the locations they were made.
The exhibition attempted to show the influence of tribal artifacts on Western modernism. But, it failed to address how it connected to colonialism.
Colonial culture has transformed the world of the colonized and this was ignored in the exhibition. Clifford argued that affinity connects peoples and cultures but not material and historical process; thus, it ignores the two way process of colonialism.
To deal adequately with cultural encounters requires attention to being historically specific, with the political and ethical issues that underpin these encounters; celebrating non western art is not enough, simply because it is very different.
Theory based on the idea of hybridity, relating to history, using the politics and culture exchange, is far better. For example, David Craven used the postcolonial viewpoint to account for abstract expressionism. Abstract Expressionism is epitome of modernism which is the end point of a teleological process of painting, becoming less representational and more about the paint pigment on the canvas!
New York became the world capital of abstract expressionism. It was used by the CIA to signal American freedom with traveling exhibitions to show the ideology of the US elite, and their global ambitions.
Craven points towards two paradoxes relating to abstract expressionism and American cultural imperialism.
Abstract Impressionism was greatly received in Latin America as well, even when there was anti-American sentiment, thus if abstract impressionism supports imperialism as well as imperialised, there must be something about it. Abstract Impressionism was well received regardless of hostility towards America.
Craven examines Pollocks work from the margin rather than the centre, and attempts to show it is neither pure Western art the modernists would have us believe, nor is it the global politics of the developed world.
Pollock was hugely interested in native America, thus Craven argues that the drip paintings reflect the Navajoansnad. Pollock doesn’t see Navajo as a novelty, like an exotic ‘other’ known by Oreintalism. Instead, he finds common ground rather than distance between him and the Navajo.
Craven also saw that Pollock immersed himself in Navajo art when it was being discouraged and natives were learning conventional techniques to assimilate them; Pollock, in essence was challenging such racism in art.
Pollock did not copy their motifs, but absorbed the values by representing them on the canvas. Pollock was left-wing and fitting with the Navajo values – both being repressed by cultural agenda. McCarthyism at the time didn’t help. Like a mirror image of cultures.
Craven saw beyond native and white American culture. He points out that Pollock’s radical techniques were hugely influenced by the workshop in New York where Mexican, communist painter Siqueiros helped him, with many other white and hispanic artists.
Abstract Expressionism is not just the continuation of European schools and influence. Surrealism yes, has an influence in many ways (anti-colonial and non-western politics) but also Navajo and Mexican work. There is a political affinity as well as appropriation of forms.
There is hence an alternative history of abstract expressionism which explains it as a form of subversive art.
Craven saw abstract expressionism unfolding differently to the one seen as New York being the new Paris, when avant garde becomes American.
Post-colonialism then reveals that Abstract Expressionism is not actually American art but art of the Americas!
It’s origins are global and it continues to move between cultures particulary in a pan-American radical style.
Postcolonialism lacks a specific theory though.
Said used Foucault but Craven used Marxism (because it involves economic and politcs determining art) thus, Craven’s premise is that abstract expressionism is a product of global politics.
Craven and Pollock are linked to native Americans and latin Americans because of the US economy – the world’s largest superpower and economy has a huge influence across the Americas and the globe! Annie Coombes said in 1992 this affects curating and the display in exhibitions; she suggests post colonial anaylsis offers a niave enthusiasm and she figures it to be analagous to feminist art history.
Coombs goes further than addressing the object and thinks more broadly about cultural, social and political structures of ‘it’ when displayed; not just the art but the institutional context, the location, the function rather than just the appearance.
Like Griselda Pollock, Coombes suggests you don’t just add a new group of items to the gallery!
All of a sudden including non-Western (or colonial) work isn’t enough – appearing as the token gesture – and more importantly there are fundamental principles surrounding the museum set up itself, thus, each gallery is different as is each exhibition.
Coombes was challenging the Western structure of ‘them and us’ which underpinned Said and Nochlin’s arguments.
Curators were showing hybrids, thus many exhibits were the result of cultural contact and interaction.
There was still the need to show unique qualities with the exhibits being different from Western art though, and craft essentially gave both types their identity but at the same time bringing the whole ‘thing’ forward.
Does this challenge Eurocentism or celebrate postcolonial culture?
Attention and celebration of the object displaced a sense of history, the location and its journey from one part of the globe to another, giving it a sense of continuing history.
Celebrating difference and diversity, however, ignores the problems of history, giving us visual pleasure, without the global issues involved. Multiculturalism might be another word for this. Ethnic groups appear in a city like New York but they evolve there and art marks these changes in a great many ways.
Hybridity is more than this though. More than the happy ending of fusion of artworks rather than ongoing politics.
The exhibition in London called “Hidden Peoples of the Amazon” had Indians shown interacting with the West, whilst embodying their own identities. What was not shown was the struggle between the Indians and the Brazilian government; hybridity was not shown for its politcal problems.
Something similar happened in Paris with “Les Magiciens” which presented hybridity alone and ignored the unchanging native culture. It was only the cultural artefacts presented as hybrid becuase they were mobile but ignored the scattering of people around the world; voluntary or forced migration.
Exhibitions were accused of presenting cultures interacting at a distance, when many artefacts were geographically static. How then does hybridity account for the African community in Paris?
Hybridity became the same notion everywhere, when clearly some benefited more than others with regard to the balance of power.
Coombes recognized that hybridity was as problematic as any other theory. Like the anthropologist Nicola Thomas who used the term ‘entanglement’ to describe the interweaving of cultures that perhaps cannot ever be seperated. Cultures do not blend smoothly but comprise with relationships visible and invisible.
This is not a review of token cultural exhibitions but research into key problems with postcolonialism as a way of doing art history.
When art historians assume a painting or sculpture is tied to its culture – like so many do – we really need different criteria to evaluate it if it is not our own culture.
Coombes figured there may be no way of doing this properly. Like Said and Orientalism we may have to insist on difference and similarity at the same time.
Hybridity may well be a mistaken notion that hides unpleasant histories.
Mickey Mouse appears in colour for the very first time in this wonderful, nine-minute film and he struggles through a distraction filled – public concert – performance in the park, while his orchestra play music from Zampa and Rossini. Mickey conducts his fun-packed musicians in a band that includes five members: Goofy is on the clarinet, Clarabelle Cow is playing the flute, Horace Horsecollar likes percussion, Peter Pig plays trumpet and the one and only “Paddy Pig” has the tuba.
Donald Duck is the only speaking character in this short Disney film and along he comes (rolling his cart through the audience) quacking away and shaking his “tush” the only way Donald Duck knows how! Donald is selling lemonade, popcorn and ice cream to the crowd and he thoroughly disturbs poor Mickey, who was having a great time leading the party in the park.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, Donald Duck jumps up on stage and in a huge insult to Mickey Mouse, starts playing his flute to the band. The band follow suit to the absolute infuriation of Mickey Mouse, who then breaks Donald’s instrument in anger and chucks it on the floor!
Donald keeps producing new flutes and continuing to play until he finally gets booted off stage, so then he starts fighting with a bee that goes across to annoy Mickey Mouse and Mickey swats it away in time to the music.
When the orchestra keep playing because they all think that Mickey Mouse is still conducting the music, Mickey is really fighting the bee and poor old Mickey Mouse is having a rough time out there, leading this hilarious performance in a timeless piece of cartoon history.
Donald then throws ice-cream at the bee and splats Mickey in the crossfire beginning a comedy of errors that culminates in Donald smashing Goofy on the head with his hammer instead of the bee.
Finally, the music reaches its crescendo as they play the “Storm” segment of the overture and an actual typhoon then swoops into the park and everyone else runs for their lives; the band continue to play however – reminiscent of the Titanic going down – and belt out tunes even when they get sucked up inside the twister.
This wonderful cartoon finishes when the band members all throw their instruments at Donald Duck, thus “The Band Concert” has now been rated in Hollywood as one of the greatest animated films of all time.
“The Band Concert” spawned a remake in 1942 called the Symphony Hour and the band members have all appeared frequently since in other cartoons, video games and theme park rides, as well as being featured at Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday celebrations; hence these colourful musicians have probably become so successful because they reach out to every generation!