For some of us, the pandemic is a moment to survive, reflect, deconstruct or even start all over again. It is a moment where inequality has inevitably carved more space between people and places through the failure of our collective responsibility. The contemporary artworld reflects and holds close connections with this picture, particularly when referring to its genesis.
With this in mind, dismantling is an act that stands as the urgent possibility to start anew the structures, systems and institutions that constitute the present moment in contemporary art. Based on a system of inclusion and exclusion that has allowed for the silencing, erasure and lack of genuine visibility and agency within its spaces, there is a need to put at the artworld’s core the voices of the marginalised, the racialised, the “others” – those who envision a world from scratch in building new imaginaries and discourses through artistic practices as tools for sharing knowledge and shaping other horizons.
Internationally, arts institutions have demonstrated their lack of relevance and engagement with recent and ongoing political events. What we’ve witnessed is the commodification of anticolonial and antiracist movements, silence and their refusal to adhere to justice despite the power they systemically hold. These are also the spaces that carry and produce the culture and knowledge that lead the hegemonic discourses, canons and representations. An important part of dismantling is the naming of the logics and processes in which culture and cultural policies operate today.
It is a must to identify the daily structural methodologies of erasure that cultural policies implement in what is often seen as censorship, cultural appropriation, distribution and lack of financial access for artists and practitioners located in the peripheries. It is also a must to recognise the governmental and private distribution of funds, which leads to the question of who really gets to produce and validate what “culture” is. Consequently, dismantling refers to the knowledge and practice that contributes to the destruction of colonial narratives, the platforms that allow for the validation of people and practices, as well as the condemnation of a highly contaminated language that sits within contemporary art.
Starting from the roots, the prospect of dismantling and deconstructing the current structures of contemporary art allows for a permanent future agency in archiving lost narratives, broadening ideas of knowledge and culture, and democratising modes of production, funds and access, amongst others – an agency that would allow marginalised narratives and voices to belong and have a space without negotiation.
Cindy Sissokho is a cultural producer, curator and writer with a specific interest in intellectual, political and artistic aspects of decoloniality within the arts and culture. Her work is nurtured by the urgency of broadening and disseminating epistemologies and new cultural production from the Global South. She currently works as a Curator and Special Projects Producer at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham (UK).