The University of Leyden is studying colonialism and art history with its World Art Studies.

Study of the decolonisation of art

August 2006 -

Colonisation: is it still an issue? You wouldn’t think so. The European colonial powers have long lost their treasures, haven’t they? But what about the numerous Moroccan public facilities that are now held by Spanish and French commercial hands? Or the fact that France opened a new museum in 2006 that displays artefacts from non-Western cultures, as one of Jacques Chirac’s Grand Travaux? Or that the Dutch government wants to ‘naturalise’ people with a different background? Whether it is typified as ‘post-’ or ‘neo-’, the word ‘colonial’ still applies to today’s era.

The cause is the imperialistic thinking of the past: being modern and enlightened, the West can dominate distant countries and their peoples while enjoying the fruits of their earth. The unexpected development, of course, was that the Western and other peoples would meet in such large numbers in the streets of Europe.
There is little room for true interest in the other person, at least in public opinion. The fear of the unknown is so deeply rooted in our collective awareness that much is needed to make a change. And what could that “much” be?

The University of Leyden recently initiated a new history of art. Because isn’t the history of art as we understand it coloured by the rest of our history of dominance? Professor Kitty Zijlmans of the University of Leyden hopes that World Art Studies will put an end to Eurocentric thinking, by first presenting the bare facts of how we actually think: only Picasso is praised for his works of art inspired by African masks; the makers of his source of inspiration remain anonymous. The same holds true for Henry Moore, acclaimed for his Reclining Figures, which he had seen in Mexican sculptures.

The Picassos and Moores of the world as well as their originals will remain imprisoned in a colonial box until the story has been written from the other perspective.