CULTURE IS ITSELF an act of citationof reference, response, and transformation. From Mayan iconography to Warhol, the Pictures generation to Nanook, orientalism to punk, art has copied, taken, simulated, re-created, and appropriated all manner of images, styles, texts, and experiences. When is such movement a form of resistance, and when is it a form of violence? When is speech free, and when does it harm? Such debates have long raged in the visual arts as in documentary film, sociology, anthropology, and history, but they have taken on a new cast in this time of social media, microaggressions, branding, and a vastly exploded terrain for the circulation of ideas and images. In the pages that follow, artists Salome Asega, Ajay Kurian, and Jacolby Satterwhite; scholars Homi K. Bhabha and Joan Kee; Artforum editor Michelle Kuo; and writer, artist, and activist Gregg Bordowitz examine these urgent and omnipresent politics of representation, appropriation, and power.
HOMI BHABHA: Let’s start with a proposal: I prefer translation to appropriation. The process of translation is a process of interpretation, of relocationof producing, as Walter Benjamin says, “in another place, something new, which bares the trace of”I won’t call it “the original,” but I will call it the anterior, the anterior without priority. Translation assumes that there is a prior statewhether it’s a text, or a prior historical moment, or a prior identity, there is something anterior to that which becomes translated. Unlike appropriation, translation is a relationship that does not immediately give a default value to some kind of original; the anterior is not seen as the “appropriate” or “original” text.
By avoiding such default assumptions, you can actually begin to understand whether or not you think the appropriation in any given instance is just or unjust,
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