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Paul Mellon Centre: “Observation and Diagnosis: Pathologizing Bodies, Medicalizing Space in the British Empire”

November 5, 2020 @ 6:00 am - 7:30 am

A keynote lecture by Anna Arabindan-Kesson, part of the British Art & Natural Forces event program.
45 minute talk followed by Q&A and discussion
Over the last three decades art historians have increasingly turned their attention to how Empire plays an important force in the production and circulation of British Art. In particular these studies have reminded us how both art making and colonialism share a concern with the epistemology of vision. From the birds-eye to the microscopic, the creation of viewing positions has been crucial to the construction of meaning about peoples and places across the former British empire. My talk returns to this question of “how things come into view” through the lens of medicine and its forms of observation. I focus on the production imagery that transformed non-white lives and spaces into, as Rana Hogarth has shown, “medical matter.” Drawing on the work of Black and Indigenous writers like Sylvia Wynter and Eve Tuck, I want to reflect on the ways these forms of image-making continue to haunt our vision and what it means for us to see (through) Empire. Alongside these histories, I will examine how Black and Indigenous forms of medicine, healing and land-use redraw our perspectives, and our vision, of the past and its futures. Taking the decolonizing critiques and ethical frameworks of these artists, writers and scholars seriously, I wonder if British art history – indeed the field of art history – can dismantle in order to rebuild new ways of seeing and being in the world?