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This volume aims to question, challenge, supplement, and revise current understandings of the relationship between aesthetic and political operations. The authors transcend disciplinary boundaries and nurture a wide-ranging sensibility about art and sovereignty, two highly complex and interwoven dimensions of human experience that have rarely been explored by scholars in one conceptual space. Several chapters consider the intertwining of modern philosophical currents and modernist artistic forms, in particular those revealing formal abstraction, stylistic experimentation, self-conscious expression, and resistance to traditional definitions of “Art.” Other chapters deal with currents that emerged as facets of art became increasingly commercialized, merging with industrial design and popular entertainment industries. Some contributors address Post-Modernist art and theory, highlighting power relations and providing sceptical, critical commentary on repercussions of colonialism and notions of universal truths rooted in Western ideals. By interfering with established dichotomies and unsettling stable debates related to art and sovereignty, all contributors frame new perspectives on the co-constitution of artworks and practices of sovereignty.



Chapter 1. Introduction: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Art and Sovereignty

The evocative power and dynamic range of art resonate with the operations of sovereignty. Art’s objects, mediums, and styles are deeply involved with the construction of political communities, just as notions of sovereignty—especially conceptual and institutional manifestations of its modern forms—draw upon artistic representation and performance. Not only do artists and artworks make claims to sovereignty for the sake of multiple communities, but art has long been part and parcel of sovereign practices in their many implications and aspirations. By examining issues related to art and sovereignty in a cohesive manner, we propose a common analytical and theoretical ground for a new field of interdisciplinary research. The dialogue among disciplinary perspectives—that to date have been unconnected or disparate—reveals that artistic and political spheres are variously linked, overlapping, and co-evolving. While not aiming to demonstrate a causal relationship between art and sovereignty, we examine ways in which notions about art are placed in a productive tension with the meanings and practices of sovereignty and vice versa.
Maximilian Mayer, Elizabeth Lillehoj, Douglas Howland

Chapter 2. Space and Sovereignty: A Reverse Perspective

In this chapter, I intend to investigate the complex relationship between art, space, and sovereignty. In doing so, I analyze how this relation has taken concrete form and coagulated, as it were, in a crucial historical moment: the emergence of linear perspective that inaugurated Renaissance and modern humanism. Focusing on the work and the artistic relation—which has been defined as “the most important in the history of art”—between Masaccio and Masolino da Panicale, my aim is to show how, in the process of secularization, art and politics have been closely interwoven in creating the Cartesian–Hobbesian representation of the modern sovereign state. Looking at the artistic space, therefore, means exploring a ‘multidimensional window’, a liminal category, a crossroads in which space, sovereignty, and secularization intersect and reflect themselves into the aesthetic field, designing (and imposing) a specific vision of modernity and its epistemico-political discourse.
Antonio Cerella

Chapter 3. The International Movement to Protect Literary and Artistic Property

The 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works sought to harmonize different conceptions of the artist’s rights in his intellectual creation in order to universalize the protection of literary and artistic works. The protection of art as property not only asserted a new relation between art and law, but also engaged another global transformation under way: the coproduction of national and international law. The Berne Convention relied on national legislative sovereignties to fulfill its goal of international protection for an artist’s property. In so doing, the Berne Convention negotiated a new international public domain, in conjunction with which the rights of individual artists would find an internationally protected space.
Douglas Howland

Chapter 4. Dongbei, Manchukuo, Manchuria: Territory, Artifacts, and the Multiple Bodies of Sovereignty in Northeast Asia

Evaluations of the state of sovereignty typically resonate with the unified singularity of a nation-state apparatus. In reality, a state’s juridico-political boundaries seldom match its proclaimed territory. This is especially true in times of political turmoil when multiple powers claim ownership over the same region. One state’s boundaries may include a territory overlapping with that of another state, and one geographical region may involve plural claims of sovereignty. This chapter examines such conditions through the lens of material culture studies, with a focus on the contested northeastern region of China. Three case studies, dating to the period between the 1920s and 1950s, reveal differently constructed claims of sovereignty that propelled different bodies of sovereignty carried out in the hands of Chinese, apanese, and American researchers.
Vimalin Rujivacharakul

Chapter 5. Claims

This chapter considers the claims we make on works of art, and the claims works of art make on us, in the context of the construction and deconstruction of national sovereignty. It takes as case studies the troubled and troublesome provenance of two modernist masterpieces: The Guitar Player (1914) by Georges Braque, and Angelus Novus (1920) by Paul Klee. It proposes, inter alia, that the investigation of provenance is itself highly revealing of international politics in general and the study of sovereignty in particular.
Alex Danchev

Chapter 6. Stolen Buddhas and Sovereignty Claims

Supported by international legal initiatives, a number of Asian countries are calling for the return of revered Buddhist icons, many of which had been removed from their homelands during times of colonial rule or war. Identified as national cultural properties, repatriated icons often find new homes in state art museums, but this has caused problems because modern museums assign secular status to artworks. Furthermore, religious communities have changed over time and extend across borders. As the prominent cases of Buddhist icon repatriation explored in this chapter demonstrate, many issues arising with restitution are a direct result of the overriding importance attached to sovereignty in international relations today.
Elizabeth Lillehoj

Chapter 7. Art by Dispossession at El Paso Saddleblanket Company: Commodification and Graduated Sovereignty in Global Capitalism

The El Paso Saddleblanket Company (EPSB) is one of the largest and longest-lived traffickers in the accouterments of Southwestern style interior decorating in the USA. Since its founding, the EPSB has come to occupy a central place in the increasingly globalized production and consumption of “ethnic art.” Products include vaguely Southwestern USA/Northern Mexican–looking pottery, tin mirror and picture frames, rustic wooden niches, and other items, that are widely used to decorate homes in what has come to be called “the Santa Fe style.” This chapter examines one such item, the “knock-off” Navajo textiles sold at EPSB and other textiles like them, and the commodity chains that connect their makers in the USA, Mexico, and India to EPSB’s retail and wholesale outlets. David Harvey’s characterization of the important role of “accumulation by dispossession” in the historical development of neoliberal capitalism, Aihwa Ong’s work on “graduated sovereignty,” and Igor Kopytoff’s “biographical approach” to studying the meaning of material culture within the process of commoditization are combined to provide the interpretive framework for this transnational story. This triple analytical frame offers new perspectives into how the problematic connections between the aestheticization of objects as art and the negotiation of differential claims to sovereignty are co-produced within the geographic and cultural spaces opened up by global commercial flows.
W. Warner Wood

Chapter 8. Claiming Sovereignty Through Equestrian Spectacle in Northern Cameroon

Sovereignty requires legitimacy of rule, and can therefore be contested by constituent members of a state. The historical legitimacy of traditional rulers within Cameroon constitutes a potential threat to state sovereignty. Traditional rulers employ art and performance as a means of garnering popular support, emphasizing their roles as cultural and religious leaders. The Islamic religious festival of Juulde Layhaaji as celebrated in Ngaoundéré, northern Cameroon, provides an example of this interaction between traditional ruler and populace. Lying uncomfortably in the background is the knowledge on the part of both state and traditional ruler that the show of support for the ruler during this festival, as a display of citizenship, carries with it the potential for transferal to the political sphere given the right circumstances.
Mark Dike DeLancey

Chapter 9. Identity and Sovereignty in Asian Art Cinema: Digital Diaspora Films of South Korea and Malaysia

The visual construction of time and space, and narrative storytelling within that time-space—the major characteristics of film as a representational form—have been in rigorous use and reuse in cinematic discourses of popular and art films in many parts of Asia. However, neither of the filmic modes in relation to sovereignty and marginality of the populations has been adequately analyzed in the Asian context. The effort of contextualizing two national/transnational art practices from and within the Asian cinemas and their portrayal of their Asian “Other” is an attempt in this direction. This paper seeks to connect independent digital film cultures of South Korea and Malaysia within larger frames of nationhood, state, and citizenship, by comparing Korean diaspora cinema with that of Malaysia. The central concern here is to find the relationship between the idea of sovereignty and cinematic expressions as imagined by/among the South Korean and Malaysian art cinema filmmakers. How can the digital diaspora films imagine and construct partial sovereignty for the marginalized groups such as Asian migrants in South Korea and Malaysia? I tackle this question by situating national and transnational formations in today’s global world.
Zakir Hossain Raju

Chapter 10. Re-viewing Sovereignty, North Korean Authoritarianism, and Art

Emerging research on North Korean art mainly reads North Korean art, art theory, and art institutions for the roles they play in sustaining a North Korean authoritarian political system. To counter this trend, I turn to North Korean art and art/political theory to critique the deployment of authoritarianism in international research on North Korea and more fundamentally, to interrogate prevailing conceptions of sovereignty that feed into contemporary international interventionist practices. I begin by both problematizing the hierarchy in international politics that the authoritarian framework reifies and illustrating how North Korean juche ideology can be read to complicate how sovereign relations work, feel, and look in North Korea and beyond. I turn my analytical focus to North Korean paintings that circulate globally, and in particular the case of the 2010 MAK exhibition in Vienna. Rather than conceiving of art and art spaces as new arenas for bringing change into North Korea, I argue that these emerging sites that bring new actors, institutions, and traditions in contact should be viewed as intercultural sites for shiftings in sovereign politics through North Korea. My argument is that reinterpretation of North Korean political ideology and ways of reading North Korean art have major implications for reimagining sovereign relations in a post-Cold War, postcolonial era.
Shine Choi

Chapter 11. Sovereignty as Performance and Video Art: Citizenship Between International Relations and Artistic Representation

This chapter deals with the limitations of national sovereignty and citizenship, illustrated by an analysis of performance and video works that represent experiences of illegal migration. The chapter aims to make a contribution to the scholarly literature on citizenship and centers on its global rights-based dimension. In addition, it makes a conceptual contribution to the body of work by critical scholars of international politics labeled the “aesthetic turn,” by introducing into the discussion the innovative explanatory power of Roland Barthes’ concept of “myth.” This chapter applies such theoretical and conceptual discussions to three different cases of performance and video art focused on the experiences of Eastern European migrants living and working illegally in Switzerland, Spain, and the UK.
Corina Lacatus

Chapter 12. Directions for Future Research on Art, Sovereignty, and Global Affairs

Critical analyses of the art-and-sovereignty nexus demonstrate that art is inextricable from global affairs and from sovereignty in its various forms. Art and sovereignty relate to each other in ways that are much more complex and changeable than suggested by the notion of separate academic fields. While it is misleading to treat art and sovereignty separately in explorations of world politics, collapsing the two terms is also a misrepresentation. Art and sovereignty are best viewed as coconstitutive. Based on insights gained from our chapters—each of which examines a specific case of mutual constitution of art and sovereignty—this concluding section advances possible directions for future research on topics located at the intersection of art, sovereignty, and global affairs. Whether deliberate or on an unconscious level, art can raise questions about group allegiance and emotional belonging, as well as issues related to the heterogeneity of populations within territorial boundaries. Tracing the life of artworks offers opportunities to articulate concepts of material agency, the role of religion, and deep time in relation to practices of sovereign self-determination. Finally, we raise the question whether and how artworks are themselves sovereign.
Maximilian Mayer, Elizabeth Lillehoj, Douglas Howland


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