Perception and presence in British art of the Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas

Wainwright, Leon (2003). Perception and presence in British art of the Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas. PhD thesis SOAS, University of London.



The thesis concerns visual artworks by artists of Asian, African and Caribbean diasporas made in the environment of contemporary Britain. It offers a review and critical evaluation of the existing analysis that has been brought to bear on these individuals by scholars in such areas as Cultural Studies, art history and art criticism, whilst suggesting an alternative phenomenological-styled approach to their study. Descriptions are given of individual artworks and performances that exemplify the phenomenal and aesthetic complexities and concerns favoured by diaspora artists, drawing on Heideggerian and Merleau-Pontian ideas to discuss the effects of this philosophical alternative upon current understanding.

An introductory Chapter I establishes an outline of the study. Chapter 2 points to ways in which diaspora artists have been assembled and represented as a group from the period of the early 1980s to the present, and how individual works are appropriated as cultural (signs'. Chapter 3 shows how the idea of a 'diaspora aesthetic' has been constructed for political ends, yet is less effective analytically and demands to be readdressed.

The usefulness of phenomenological initiatives with reference to diaspora, ethnicity and art practice in contemporary Britain is set out in the three remaining chapters. Chapter 4 focuses on history, memory and personal pasts, and Chapter 5 on the bodily involvement these artists have formed with their perceptual horizons, reflecting on the perceptual 'equivalence' of vision and touch. Chapter 6 looks at corporeality and perception in terms of 'reversibility' and takes up again with some of the issues explored earlier on in the study, in an attempt to find some sort of final ground. In conclusion, the themes of intimacy and contingency relevant to this art are shown to adumbrate an existing understanding of their artists' historical 'presence', enlarging upon a sense of their artworks as enabling social practice and agency.

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