Postcolonialism & bell hooks

There has been a huge void between the purpose of this blog (to report on/critique my NSCAD  University experience) and what my posts have been centered around. I think one of the main problems with this term is the lack of ‘work’ I have produced, which has resulted in almost getting a pink slip for my 9 credit APC class.

Here’s some thoughts and discussions from this mornings AHIS 4510 Postcolonialism & Craft class (Dr. Sandra Alfoldy) before I head uptown to work. We had three readings for today to study during the week, gather questions, and then come together and discuss. A different student was to present each reading, before leading into the talk (a senior seminar class – 16 students) The readings for this week were fairly complex (most of the readings have been on intensely troubling subjects), the topic was Case Study#4: African American Quilting, and the readings were Amei Wallach, “Fabric of Their Lives,” Shane White and Graham White, “Slave Clothing and African-American Culture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,”and bell hooks, “An Aesthetic of Blackness: Strange and Oppositional.”

The reading/discussion that particularly absorbed me was bell hooks’ “Aesthetics of Blackness.” It was at the end of class, I was pretty exhausted and starting to not focus on the discussion anymore when the group diverted from the political and social problems that were deeply embedded in the previous two readings and started to turn towards our perception and our criticisms as a culturally diverse (even though virtually non-interracial) class.

I was extremely interested when race and culture didn’t seem to impact the discussion and we all turned towards an idea proposed by bell hooks in the reading: that aesthetics can be taught, we can teach ourselves to see, as we would say in 18th c. – to ‘acquire good taste’.  Sitting in a group completely composed of artists, who it has been said to have a ‘natural’ ability or ‘talent’ for art making practice there were a few mixed reactions. The discussion when even further into what can be taught, what we have learnt from our art based education (as the majority of us are preparing to graduate in April), what is instinctual, what has become as part of us as say eating or breathing. What really hit me hard was how empowered we are by knowledge, by the institution, by learning but also the weight that we begin to carry as a result of knowing almost to much. Ignorance is bliss…or is it? Dr. Alfoldy put it well when she said “everyday you need to choose where the heaviness is going to stop.”

In preparing my research for the term paper (On Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq nostalgia and authenticity through craft objects) there is a definitive burden that comes with awareness. One thing I have continually struggled with is how to term or phrase European colonial expansion into Nova Scotia, as there is much evidence of an Euro presence (travel and settlement) long before the colonization and overturn of First Nations culture and society in the coastal/ eastern provinces. One Mi’kmaq historian and writer, Daniel N. Paul coined the periods of living in Nova Scotia (and the maritime/New England areas) as pre-colonial European and post-European colonization.

There is also a second interpretation to bell hooks statement on our need to teach ourselves to see, that is the cultural implications of colonialism. A point that had been made in relation to the first reading on the Gee’s Bend quilts was capitalist consumption and this was brought out again by the presenter for bell hooks. The older generations of the African American community had relied on aesthetics to lift the spirit during periods of certain and unrelenting oppression. The focus today of the younger generation is on this capitalist notion of consumption.

This clip critiques and comments heavily on pop culture and is an interesting 6 minute clip.

I can’t get past this idea of “heaviness” that comes with knowledge. Knowledge is power, and power is a burden…

You can visit our class site here for more information on this course.


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