Disorient: New Perspectives of Colonialism

Curated by Doug Ischar and Silvia Malagrino

Artists: Laura Aguilar, Luis Camnitzer, Jno Cook, Monica Flores Correa, Nancy Floyd, Gadi Golfbarg, Lourdes Grobet, Sunil Gupta, Leandro Katz, Jin Lee, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Sheila Pinkel, Connie Samaras, and Alicia Sanguinetti

Luego vinieron gente desnuda. . . . Este rey y todos los otros andaban desnudos como sus madres los parieron, y asi las mujeres sin algun empacho.
—Cristobal Colon, diarios, Octubre 12, 1492

The history of the world is made up of conquests and defeats, of colonizations and discoveries of others, but the "discovery" of America is what announces and founds our present identity.
—Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America: The Question of Other, 1982

For the exhibition Disorient: New Perspectives on Colonialism, Doug Ischar and Silvia Malagrino, assistant professors of art and design at UIC, selected works by more than a dozen artists who share the goal of resistance to colonialism. The works cover a wide range of colonizing activities, both present and historical. Although Laura Aguilar, Luis Camnitzer, Leandro Katz, and Lourdes Grobet all focus on aspects of Latin American history and culture, their particular areas of interest are diverse. Aguilar’s exploration of the conflicting roles she must play as a Latina lesbian living in southern California contrasts sharply—but resonantly—with Katz’s critical re-imagining of Mayan ruins. Lourdes Grobet photographed the bewilderingly hybrid border culture of denunciation of the United States’ invasion of Grenada. Chicago artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle draws historical parallels between Columbus’s momentous "discovery" and the wretched greeting that awaits poor Latin American immigrants to the U.S. While the Americas serve as the geographic heart of Disorient, much of the exhibition focuses elsewhere. Indian-British photographer Sunil Gupta examines the cultural denial and political oppression of contemporary gay men in India; Gadi Golfbarg, an expatriate Israeli artist who grew up in Brazil, looks critically at Israel’s Palestinian "problem," Chicago artist Jin Lee coolly deconstructs her compound identity as a Korean-American woman, and Connie Samaras critically debunks our "frontier in waiting," outer space.

In an essay on the exhibition, Ischar and Malagrino discuss the ultimate focus of Disorient:

Disorient: New Perspectives of Colonialism is not about Christopher Columbus. Rather, it is about a wide range of colonizing activities, both present and historical. The works in the exhibition ask difficult questions about domination, hegemony, and a variety of conquests and "discoveries." In recent years, as progressive historians have increasingly articulated the horrors of colonization, the larger picture of the European conquest of the Americas has changed. As a result, the arrival of the year 1992 prompted as much reconsideration as commemoration. Yet, as Verena Stolke has noted, this conquest is still often viewed in monolithic terms, as the suppression and dispossession of one group of men (Native Americans) by another (Spaniards), thereby obscuring its complex cultural and ideological legacies. While such totalizing conceptions of oppression can be useful—by fueling emerging movements of resistance for which self-questioning is an untimely luxury—ultimately, they are confirming and deceptive, exclusive and oppressive. Not only do such monolithic conceptions obscure a counter-history of individual and communal resistance to colonial domination, but they also eclipse whole other areas of cultural domination and denial—those of class, gender, and desire. Disorient is not only about a remote and distant past but also about those who lived then. It was also about us, now.