It has become customary to see increased globalisation as a homogenising, universalising model that absorbs cultural differences and ultimately rejects them. The term ‘globalisation’ was first used in America as a way of defining the growing character of capitalism, and in the 1990s an anti-globalisation movement emerged in response to what was perceived as cultural and economic neo-imperialism.
In recent decades, terms such as ‘global art’ and ‘global exhibitions’ have increasingly been used to describe contemporary art practice. Artists are increasingly likely to be well-informed of global concepts and seek an international audience for their work across local, regional and global spaces.
The mechanisms of globalisation further impact upon contemporary art curation as a result of the growth of the digital age and through international art exhibitions, like biennials, and commercial art fairs, like Frieze.
Exploring the themes of global issues
Now, artists are addressing the issues that surround this phenomenon. Contemporary multimedia artist Owais Husain uses a combination of video, photography, painting and installation to explore themes of identity, iconography and urban mythology in his works.
The Dubai-based artist, originally from Mumbai, describes modern society in an age of shifting populations and environments: “We are all immigrants, driftwood in a ceaselessly dysfunctional world, where a flux of identity in the nuclear and larger domains are elements of human nature.”
One of his most recent installations, entitled You Are Forever was first exhibited at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai, in October 2016. The piece features an assembly of trunks, stacked to create a wall and converging in a corner to form a screen for video projection.
In the artist’s own words: “The video on one of the trunk walls gets reflected on the remaining trunks, giving it a sense of timelessness and continuity. Trunks are synonymous with a particular meaning; they are a storehouse of memories but also symbols of movement. One idea is that the installation has got to do with displacement and at many levels, migration. The other idea is the search for homeland.”
Discursive explanations of global experiences such as these share a similar sense of a global citizenship that is marked by mobility, displacement and cultural multiplicity.
Retreating back to traditional crafts
While some artists are embracing the global phenomenon, others are retreating inwards, securing a future for traditional arts.
In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched a convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, aiming to secure cultural diversity and the exercise of cultural rights.
The benefactors of such provision include the folk art styles of Africa, Asia and Oceania. Prominent are those like Gloria Petyarre, arguably the most famous and significant female Aboriginal artist working today, Maori artist Theresa Reihana and Shane R. Hendren, a master metalsmith and artist of Navajo heritage.
Traditional and folk artists around the globe have benefited from heritage grants to see to the preservation of traditional manufacturing methods of arts and crafts. MITHILAsmita is a traditional art promotion and preservation Social Enterprise. The Enterprise promotes the heritage Mithila (Madhubani) Paintings of India, and members of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, an Initiative by the US Department of State and Aspen Institute USA, to develop the artisan sector around the world.
Embracing modernity to help traditional art forms evolve
Some artists have responded to globalisation by turning back towards their heritage while embracing modernity in other ways, promoting an increasingly diverse scope for traditional art in the global market. Often, this results in cultural hybridities.
Japanese artist artist Ikenaga Yasunari‘s serene and portraits of modern women evoke the dreamy nostalgia of traditional Nihonga painting through their faded golden hues and elegant floating poses. But the subjects themselves are thoroughly modern. Painting using a Menso brush, mineral pigments and soot ink on linen cloth, Yanunsari’s works continue the ancient tradition while bringing modern elements, such as clothing styles and floral textile designs, to play.
Others are utilising digital techniques to preserve traditional art forms.Yan Yongliang is a Chinese artist, whose approach to shansui, or traditional Chinese landscape painting, is based on retaining its inner essence while updating its subjects and media. Yongliang photographs cityscapes to serve as raw materials for his images. He then alters them using digital editing software, blending them into fantasy landscapes that evoke the traditional Chinese landscape paintings of the past.
Hamza Bounoua is an Algerian artist, whose work displays a particularly unique approach to the use of the Arabic letter in contemporary art, using plexiglas in the execution of works. Bounoua does not shy away from tradition, utilising the most elementary symbols and materials to perform his incision into the heart of tradition.
This practice is an example of the hurufiyah movement, influenced by both classical Islamic calligraphy and Western art traditions. These two tensions created a struggle for modern Middle Eastern art that erupted into a new identity and art movement.
Artists’ response to globalisation looks set to be as diverse as art itself.