post-colonial letter #1

by huntgathersemiotics

Dear Megan

Thanks for your email and apologies for my late response. I have been offline for quite a while. I think your questions are very cogent and intelligent. I cannot provide a very comprehensive response but I hope what I include below suffices to help you along your journey (my responses are inserted into your questions_-see below). Also, see my article “Where is Africa in Contemporary Art?” in SAVVY journal
( It discusses in part the issue of how to reach Africa as a site of discourse.
I hoep this helps. Cheers.

Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Art History History of Art and Architecture
Ellison 2720 University of California Santa Barbara, CA 93106-7080
On Aug 12, 2012, at 5:08 PM, Ortanez Megan wrote:

Summer Greetings Dr. Ogbechie,


My name is Megan and I am an aspiring image-historian from CSU-Sacramento. I attended your lecture “Art Collections, Museums & Preservation of Cultural Heritage in Africa” on my campus a few months ago and it has helped to fuel my journey of continual questioning—-specifically in regards to art and the creation of representational spaces within art and its histories.


Using Sac State’s art history department as an example, there is obviously a plethora of “foundational” courses teaching “Western” (also inevitably interlinked with the term “European”) art history, only slightly devoting time to the politics pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods. My response to this has always been


why, when, and how did West become the foundational subject of art-history study for undergraduates.

The Educational curriculum of American institutions mostly promote an idea of the West as the primary engine of history. In the same manner that the political history of the USA has been written as a history of Euro-American activity, analysis of art-history and global culture assume a primary of Western viewpoints and promote a discourse of white supremacy. Postcolonial studies have challenged this discourse unsuccessfully, and in the current climate of doubt about the preeminence of America, the white supremacist discourses are thriving again. Undergraduate education is affected by this history as are many other aspects of American life.

Why aren’t there foundational courses for African Diaspora Art History (at my school)?

For the same reason that the history of African Diaspora peoples have been excluded from “mainstream” history of the USA. African Disapora peoples have simply been written out of this history. I teach undergraduates who arrive at UCSB without any single educational background in the history of African Americans, which means that no aspect of this history is taught in most of the high schools in the country. This active process of writing black peoples out of history ensures that most people continue to be ignorant of their role in shaping this country, which then allows really them to be demonized as OTHER, which is why you have a rabid opposition to President Obama from the right wing constituency.

Why not teach the myth of “West” in art history as opposed to simply “Western” Art History?

Knowledge is power and the ability to define history as an attribute solely restricted to the West allows for continued Western domination in global affairs. The idea of a Western art history supports this viewpoint by falsely assuming that the West invented itself and owes nothing to other civilizations both ancient and modern. (I will like to direct you to the controversy surrounding Martin Bernal’s Black Athena for further clarification: see

I acknowledge that I may be, in some ways, generalizing our art history department here, but these are the questions that loom in the air through my studies at this college.Some questions I have for you include:

What courses do you teach at UC Santa Barbara?


How does the art history department at UC Santa Barbara challenge and engage students to seek studies that move beyond this “myth” of the West.

This is quite a struggle that depends on each individual teacher. I frame my work on challenging the myth of the West and therefore construct my classes on that basis. There is no overall campus policy on this matter and I don’t think there should be one. I do however think that professors should be encouraged to treat their subjects from a global viewpoint, which recognizes that the history of human culture is a history of cultural exchange rather than insular invention.

Are there any texts or journal articles that you have used in your teachings that you can recommend for my scholarly journey towards practicing and theorizing “The Politics of Looking” when it comes to art and much of its institutionalized histories?

There are many good books but one of the most important is Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism



Thank you for your time and looking forward to hearing from you.

Megan Ortañez

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