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One Word: The Meaning of ‘Hegemony’


Naeem Mohaiemen: Museums, universities and other institutions are now targets of critiques about de-centering the canon and ending European hegemony in the production of culture and knowledge. Efforts sometimes focus on expanding: hiring non-white curators and academics, collecting works by non-Western artists, etc. These are necessary steps, but I wonder if they will be enough. Increasing the number of non-European protagonists is a way to disturb the status quo, but what to do with the way that the familiarity of certain stories (and the strangeness of others) has settled into our bones over generations? A change of gatekeepers alone won’t shift this.

The English language as a global flow melds with the triumphalism of capital in projecting European and American culture as world culture. Sometimes I mistake myself as part of this ‘we’, and then realize it is because of a century’s project of soft dominance. The late Mladen Stilinovic understood this with his work An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist (1992). 

I have been thinking about how the museum gets to a place where the majority world is not a therapeutic addition to what is already overrepresented, but a shared project. Expecting the Global South to always ‘bring’ its narratives into the proscenium places all the burden on one side: for us to know equally our stories and yours – a project of twice the work. What is needed is much more joyous entanglement between the two, not only in listening to these stories, but also in their making: not as duty, but as pleasure – the way things could be. More here.

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