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Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, , . Repatriation and the Concept of Inalienable Possession
2010, In The Long Way Home, edited by Paul Turnbull and Michael Pickering: Berghan Books.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Summary: The concept of inalienable possession often figures centrally in debates about repatriation of cultural artifacts (which are also often artworks). The right of alienability (or the right to transfer title to property) is one of the core rights in Western property theory. If property is inalienable, this means that title to it cannot rightly be transferred. In this paper, Coleman analyzes the concept of inalienable possession, and argues that laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)) can foist a conception of inalienable possession on indigenous peoples that can be inaccurate to past and changing cultural norms. She uses this point to offer a distinction between property and ownership. This opens up conceptual space for a link between objects and identity through ownership that might nevertheless allow for the alienability of such property.

Comment: This paper is best for a course unit that is making room for in-depth discussion of the property dimensions of cultural property. It would pair well with Janna Thompson’s “Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity,” or James O. Young’s “Cultures and Cultural Property.” It can be also used together with or in lieu of Sarah Harding’s much longer and more detailed paper “Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property.”

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Davies, Stephen, Samer Akkach, Meilin Chinn, et. al.. How Do Cross-Cultural Studies Impact Upon the Conventional Definition of Art?
2018, Journal of World Philosophies 3 (1): 93-122
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by:

Abstract: While Stephen Davies argues that a debate on cross-cultural aesthetics is possible if we adopt an attitude of mutual respect and forbearance, his fellow symposiasts shed light upon different aspects which merit a closer scrutiny in such a dialogue. Samer Akkach warns that an inclusivistic embrace of difference runs the risk of collapsing the very difference one sought to understand. Julie Nagam underscores that local knowledge carriers and/or the medium should be involved in such a cross-cultural exploration. Enrico Fongaro searches for a way of experiencing cross-cultural art such that it can lead to a transformative experience Relatedly, Meilin Chinn uses the analogy of friendship to explore the edifying dimension of experiencing an art form. Lastly, John Powell studies whether Dickie’s Institutional Theory can be meaningfully used to identify works of art in Western and non-Western traditions.

Comment: The selection of texts by Davies, Akkach, and Chinn, with a part of Davies’ reply in the end, are particularly interesting. These present an interesting tension, with Akkach and (somewhat less overtly) Chinn, criticising Davies for adopting a Western-centric attitude to studying and conceptualising art of other cultures. It can be useful to consider this in the context of Nikiru Ngzewu, ‘African Art in Deep Time: De-race-ing Aesthetics and De-racializing Visual Art’, asking to what extent the present discussion is similar to her criticism of Vogel and Danto. Given that Davies is offering a reply to the criticisms, this could offer an opportunity for a debate-style class design. The texts, and especially Davies’ reply, invite a further reflection: can one ever understand, conceptualise, or analyse the products (art?) of another culture, without doing so using the conceptual frameworks of one’s own culture in ways that are problematic? If yes, how could this be done? If not, should we just never attempt it? What role do power structures and imbalances play in such attempts?

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Izibili, Matthew A. , , . African Arts and Difference
2020, In: Imafidon, E. (ed.) Handbook of African Philosophy of Difference. Cham: Springer, 205-215
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Björn Freter

Abstract: In this chapter, I examine the role African art play in the institutionalization of difference in African traditions. I am particularly interested in how aesthetic signs and symbols or other forms of art are employed by persons of an African culture to differentiate themselves or set themselves apart from other persons within the same culture or other cultures. Such forms of art of interest here include modes of dressing, tribal marks, hairstyles, and nonverbal signs of communication. I assert in this chapter that these aesthetic forms of difference are in some way institutionalized into the fabric of culture that they are taken by members of the society as objective givens and often not subject to questioning. Hence the othering is sustained and maintained through time. I also argue that these forms of differences sustained through art often promote inequality and preferential treatment of the self over and above the other. A case in mind is the preferential treatment of female folks from the royal family as against those who are not from the royal family, a difference clearly made visible through art.

Comment: [This is a stub entry. Please add your comments to help us expand it]

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Nzegwu, Nkiru, , . African Art in Deep Time: De‐race‐ing Aesthetics and De‐racializing Visual Art
2019, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 77 (4): 367-378.
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Abstract: In two essays in the ART/Artifact(1988) exhibition catalog, white American museum curator Susan Vogel and white American philosopher Arthur Danto pronounce that Africans do not distinguish between art and nonart. Although seemingly objective empirical statements, their assertions about Africa and its art are racially based ruminations of a white supremacist worldview. I argue that in theorizing within the category of race they produced racialized aesthetics that commit the Eurocentric fallacy of upholding systemic racist objectives. I argue that (1) their assertions fail to be about African art, but about hegemony and power; (2) as the longest enduring artistic activity of humanity, African art is an important check to racialized aesthetics; (3) art is produced outside the category of race and from a critically conscious awareness of the world; and (4) art bespeaks creativity and presupposes the artistic and moral values of a culture in the manipulation and transformation of physical reality.

Comment: Written in an engaging way, this paper invites the reader to re-evaluate some common assumptions about art from different cultures. Exposing the prevalent Western approach to African art as racialised, it can be a great tool in making students understand both the structural-societal, as well as own biases in approaching other cultures. Ngzewu defends a powerful thesis: that ‘the West’s conception of art and creativity presupposes white racial hegemony.’ She exposes the way in which Western art is tacitly assumed to be a yardstick against which all is measured, and the Westerners have become the ‘purveyors of knowledge’ who apply this yardstick to decide whether works of other cultures are art, all without any need to consult the creators of those works, or to revise own concept of art. As such, the paper can be very empowering to some students, while also being very uncomfortable to others – teaching it might require some skill in leading the discussion in a constructive way. The import of Ngzewu’s argumentis that while racism and white domination rest on the assumption of cognitive and moral superiority of white people, the approach to African art she criticises serves to reinforce this assumption. This can inspire further class discussion on the importance and value of aesthetics. Best used before assigning other texts on non-Western art, which should all be read in light of Ngzewu’s criticism.

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Thompson, Janna, , . Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity
2004, Journal of Value Inquiry 38(4): 545-560.
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Added by: Erich Hatala Matthes, Contributed by:

Summary: In this paper, Thompson sets up a potential tension between two kinds of cases. On the one hand, we might think it is wrong for a wealthy collector to destroy great works of Western art that have value for all of humanity. On the other hand, we might think it is acceptable for indigenous peoples to rebury or ritually destroy artifacts from their culture, even though these works might also have value for all of humanity. How do we reconcile these intuitions? After discussing and dismissing attempts to resolve the problem by appeal to the value of the property for its possessors or the desires of non-owners, Thompsons suggests that by looking at the value of art in the context of different cultural traditions we can see why a certain universalism about the value of art will tell against allowing the destruction of artwork by the wealthy collector, but allow for the reburial or destruction of artifacts by certain indigenous communities.

Comment: This paper pairs well with Kwame Anthony Appiah’s ‘Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?’ or Peter Lindsay’s “Can We Own the Past? Cultural Artifacts as Public Goods.” It is particularly good at engaging questions about the universal value of art and its implications for ownership introduced in those texts.

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