Postnational Visual Culture

The idea of a ‘nation’ is a complex one, frequently open to interpretation and critical debate.  As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a nation can constitute: a people or group of peoples; a political state; a large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people, now also such a people forming a political state; a political state (in early use also in pl.: a country.); a group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory; the whole population of a country, frequently in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.  (OED)

For many, these definitions prove inadequate for the representation of their personal systems of congregation around which they form a community, cultural and personal identities.  The idea of postnationality is closely linked to current ideas of globalization, the spread of communication technologies, interchange of goods and ideas and economy.   A simplified definition of post-nationalism is supplied by the Oxford English Dictionary as adj. of or relating to a time or society in which national identity has become less important (OED).  The prefix ‘post’ indicates the possibility of constructing other theoretical and cognitive maps that allow for the reconstruction of visions outside of the conventions of nationalism (Ribeiro 46).  This, in addition to the involvement of the term ‘identity’ within the dictionary definition of post nationalism, is key to postnational studies and postnational visuality.  It implies the inclusion of identity formation as it pertains politically, socially, culturally and individually.  Defining identity can occur post-nationally at either a level ‘above’ that of a nation, through designated geographic areas (such as “Latin America”), through global systems of exchange including electronic media, or via cultural groupings that transcend constructions of geography.  According to Spivak, the term “post nationalism” is extremely imprecise; much like “postmodernism” it can only exist in conjunction with nationalism functioning semantically as its core (Resina 50).

The postnational is closely tied to post-colonial theory, which focuses on a colonial past that is Eurocentric and the response of non-Western peripheries to this domination.  It is also linked to globalization theory, which concentrates on an Americocentric present, looking at the effect of contemporary Western practices and productions on the rest of the world.  Postnationalism shares with these theories a means of dislocating Western modernity from the theoretical center by dismantling the categories of “nation” and “nation-state” (Krishnaswamy 106).  Hedetoft examines postnational identity by comparing and relating it to nationalism.  He believes that post nationalism is antithetical to nationalism, but it is not opposite.  His ideas revolve around the sense of belonging, closely tied to a personal sense of identity.  The role of the nation in shaping identity is generally implicit, becoming so ingrained that most do not take notice of its role.  Postnational belonging stems from a sense of hybrid identity.   People may feel that they have more than one belonging, more than one place in a culture that they belong to that play a role in their notion of identity as a sum of multiples, something that can be nested, situational or fluid. These ideas are derived from Edward Said’s Orientalism, which marked a demonstration of the formative role of representation in the social construction of reality and identity.  For Arjun Appadurai, the construction of transnational group identities via culturalism is strengthened by the removal of boundaries of difference (Krishnaswamy 116).  However, for critics like Spivak, the term “post-nationalism” is extremely imprecise; much like “postmodernism” it can only exist in conjunction with nationalism functioning semantically as its core (Resina 50).

When examining these ideas within the context of Latin American Art, a broader label is applied than that of one specific nationality.  This term applies a general label of cultural heritage to a broad area, deriving from 17th-century classification (Sullivan 8 – 9).  The postnational comes into play not only in this case from the broad application of this label over geographic borderlines, but also in its application to members of the Latin American diaspora, as well as artists, who tend to travel and participate greatly in cultural exchange.  The idea of culture carries with it ideas of authority.  Culture presents itself as a knowledgeable site of referential truth.  A desire for self-inclusion within this site or grouping demonstrates itself in terms of the need for self-representation in terms of the political, but also in terms of art and literature.   Hernandez examines this need in terms of the formation and creation of a voice for Chicana feminist groups within the United States (57-58).  Enunciating/representing a culture introduces a split in performing the present state of identification, entwined with the demand for a model, tradition or community to reference as a stable system and the negation of the certainty of this enunciation in bringing to attention new cultural meanings, strategies and demands as practices of domination, subversion or resistance (Bhabha 51).   For example, the mestizaje represents a hybrid figure (Hernandez 17) whose discourse rejects the principle of monolog, instead composing identity by selecting from different and sometimes competing discourses (Hernandez 178).  As an example of postnational visual culture applied to works of art, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto makes use of Rasquachismo, attuned to mixtures and confluence to create a sense of the new that resonates with the hybrid “Chicano sensibility” (Bhabha 10, Zamudio-Taylor 317).  This sensibility derives from a need within the community construction of culture from both older traditions, which were previously instilled with the constitution of a national identity, as well as demonstrating the movement into present history (Zamudio-Taylor 317).  This serves to challenge the hierarchical distinctions of cultural production. Bhabha sites a need to move beyond originary narratives and initial subjectivities in order to make visible articulations of cultural differences (2).  These points of articulation function as ‘in-between’ spaces, or borderlines, that allow the elaboration of selfhood and provide initiation of new signs of identity, sites of collaboration and engagements of cultural difference that are useful in defining the idea of society itself in an ongoing negotiation of cultural hybridity (Bhabha 2-3).  In terms of an idea of global art, these borderlands are negotiable as frames of reference outside normative experiences of homeland, displacement and migration, produced by an “international band of cultural nomads”, artists who travel to create and exhibit (Amor et al. 29). The dissemination of ideas and discourses over a global culture of people fits into Arjun Appadurai’s naming of “ideascapes”, which are also referred to by Ribeiro as “cosmopolicies” (32).  These translocal circuits of exchange and production are put in place by exhibitions, universities, galleries and museums, the institutions of culture.  As such, they have been criticized as serving to reinforce the dismantling of subaltern narratives and nationalisms by developed institutions and nationalisms which function as the global centers of power  (Krishnaswamy 117).

The ideas of post-nationalism remain connected to ideas of a nation and the construction of visual identities as they relate to its designation as a specific site of geography and culture.  Within the context of Latin American Art, this can be applied outside of the designated geographical boundaries that constitute the area known as “Latin America,” a much contested site that is already a postnational construction that functions above national boundaries.

Melanie Hayes

Works Cited

Amor, Monica, et al. “Liminalities: Discussions on the Global and the Local.” Art Journal (57)4: 29-49. 1998.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. 408 pages.

Hedetoft, Ulf, and Mette Hjort eds. The Postnational Self: Belonging and Identity. Minnesota, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.  317 pages.

Hernandez, Ellie D. Postnationalism in Chicana/o Literature and Culture. Austin, TX, USA: University of Texas Press, 2009.

Krishnaswamy, Revathi.  “The Criticism of Culture and the Culture of Criticism: At the Intersection of Postcolonialism and Globalization Theory”.  Diacritics, 32(2): 106-126.  2002.

Oxford University Press.  Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition.  [online] accessed at  2000.

Resina, Joan Ramon.  “The Scale of the Nation in a Shrinking World”.  Diacritics, 33(3/4): 45-74.  2003.

Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins. “Post-Imperialism. A Latin American Cosmopolitics.” in Brazil and the Americas: convergences and perspectives. Peter Birle, Sergio Costa, Horst Nitschack (eds.).  Madrid: Iberoamericana Editorial, 2008. pp. 31-50.

Sullivan, Edward J., ed. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996, 2000.  352 pages.

Zamudio-Taylor, Victor.  “Chicano Art”.  in Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century.  Edward J. Sullivan, (ed.).  London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996, 2000.  pp. 315 – 329.

This entry was posted in Appadurai, Bhabha, boundaries, community, cosmopolites, ideascapes, identity, nation, Orientalism, visuality, Zamudio Taylor. Bookmark the permalink.

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