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Art and Catastrophe

H48.1061/ 2061   Lec   4 Credits
Instructor(s): Radhika Subramaniam

Art and Catastrophe

Professor Radhika Subramaniam

H48.1061.001 (Undergraduate)

H48.2061.001 (Graduate)

Wednesdays, 11am-1:45pm

4 points

The aim of this course is to examine the demands placed on the practices of art – writing and image-making – by catastrophe.  The work of art in the aftermath of catastrophe is confronted with several conflicting responses – that catastrophe cannot or should not be represented; that the recovery of the past has a historical and contemporary urgency; that the past is irrecoverable; that only art can heal the wounds of the past; that such healing must take place without directly addressing the politics of the trauma.  Art after catastrophe has therefore variously played the role of testimony, memorial, mourning, indictment, advocate and healing; it has been considered both essential and a luxury.  Catastrophe itself takes many different forms – genocide, natural disasters, war, state-sponsored killings, torture, but also the catastrophe in which humanity itself is not recognized such as slavery. 

The course will work through several key questions: How are artists provoked by the mechanisms of destruction and terror? How does art intervene in the erasures of history, demand recognition and restore voice? What is the effect of trauma on narrative?  What remains and must remain unspeakable, ineffable and unknowable? How do memory and forgetting affect the recovery of daily life after catastrophe?

These questions are staged in several different geographical contexts, the particularities of which sharpen the focus, even while the artistic texts gesture toward broader concerns. 

The course does not presuppose a familiarity with these geographical contexts or with political art or trauma theories, only an engagement with the intersections of aesthetics, psychology and politics.  It can be used to serve a number of different purposes: introducing students of psychology, history, anthropology and political science with an interest in media and politics to the fundamental questions of representation that underpin the world around us; encouraging those with an interest in policy and human rights issues to embrace issues that stem from artistic practice rather than seeing art as an instrumental tool for advocacy or documentation; stimulating critical reflection on the centrality of imagination to the activities of recovery and reconciliation.

This course will count toward Elective or Social Sciences credit for TSOA Students.