Happening in and around the White Cube this week… should art history roll over and die?
During the Art History Graduate Student Association (AHGSA) Symposium, keynote speaker, Lindsay Nixon, spoke about their current work with Indigenous memes and digital futures. They spoke of the ethics of the dissemination of information and Indigenous knowledge and how apps like TikTok allow Indigenous youth to connect with communities across Turtle Island and the world.
But how does this bridge the gap between artist and influencer? Where does art history come into play?
Nixon, who graduated with a Specialization in Women’s Studies from the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and has completed their MA in Art History at Concordia, places the ethics of making first. The maker, the artist, before the art. Meaning over aesthetics.
While TikTok videos and memes are not always works of art, Indigenous TikToks and memes are a different category. They have the power to create a community and disseminate Indigenous knowledge, objects and experience in a way that was almost impossible earlier in the century. Nixon highlighted artists, like Dana Claxton and Fallon Simard among many others, who work in these ways and pull apart notions of what Indigenous art is.
When speaking about Indigenous art and memes, Nixon opts for “Indigenous digital humanities,” as opposed to contemporary art and art history. And when their talk was finished, a member of the audience raised their hand and said, “Art history should roll over and die.” Nixon, who is also the Indigenous Editor-at-Large for Canadian Art magazine, laughed and agreed.
Art history is definitely rooted in colonial notions of high art, and while craft practices come into the art historical discussion, Indigenous art cannot be looked at in the same way. Art history contends with an institutionalized space that Indigenous digital humanities tries to dismantle.
In Indigenous Art is so Camp, an article in Canadian Art from earlier this fall, Nixon wrote, “Art became my career. Somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of Indigenous art, of art generally, and the initial emotions that drew me to the gallery became conflated with the day-to-day grind of contending with an industry.” Indigenous art, unlike many art historical and anthropological thought, is not limited to a series of symbols and narratives but shares a universal love for camp, and all that is theatrical and truly extra.
These narratives—think of Kent Monkman’s paintings and his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle—surpass western knowledge and notions of art history.
Art history is, like so many other fields of study, one that should “roll over and die.” There’s still a lot of work to do to redefine the art world and beyond.