PRINT January 1992


Ida Panicelli

WE’RE FINALLY HERE: 1992. Let the party begin.

The 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of America has fascinated both sides of the Atlantic, almost as though we expected to look in the mirror and see a different face, or at any rate a face with a different history. The display of anything and everything connected to Columbus and his fateful voyage will last out the year, but Washington, D.C., hasn’t even bothered to wait for January 1: it began its ceremonies in October with the “Circa 1492” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. In this issue, Homi K. Bhabha discusses the difficulties a museum faces in approaching the problems of Western history over the last five centuries, and of the way that history has been inscribed. Who holds the tools for writing history? Who dictates the Word that becomes Law? Who looks at whom, and how can the “official” version be undone? What the West saw as discovery was seen from elsewhere as manipulation, decimation, burial. Some say Well, but that was 500 years ago. Today, instead . . . .

Walton Ford obviously feels a desire—or a need—to look at the past with the viewpoints of all the different protagonists in mind. In writing about his paintings, Jimmie Durham suggests a kind of secret narrative of the Europeanization of North America—the comfortable familiarity of the facts is cut away, leaving them bare and unfriendly. And Leïla Sebbar perceives colonialism through a double filter: the photographs of Arab women taken by a Frenchman in Morocco in the early century, and her own memory, conditioned by time and by geographical distance.

In her piece on the woundscape of post-Desert Storm, Thyrza Nichols Goodeve warns of the dangers of historical amnesia, of being closed to experience, harsh as it may be. Giving voice to the wound keeps us human, she argues, allowing us to speak of rupture and violation, and opening the possibility of healing. Yet the word can divide as well as heal, and is a crucial instrument of power. Franz Graf’s visual project makes us see the complex “tectonic” structure of the German word, through a double tondo that virtually mirrors itself ad infinitum—the semantic foundation of the text, and its symbolic reverberations, caught in a mise-en-abîme. Another of the projects this month is rather gentler: Luigi Ontani, traveling through the southwestern United States, has paid his respects to Wewha, the personification of the artist for the Zuni Indians. Neither man nor woman, but man and woman, the Zuni artist is the androgyne par excellence, and needn’t resort to sexual hierarchies to express a view of the world.

Finally, the columns include three different takes on the Hill-Thomas case, where the use of words as vehicles of both sexual and cultural abuse ended in ambiguous victories and losses all round.

Ida Panicelli