Emna — Danto as seen from the outside

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This post is in reference to our event and the included article:
Dear Friends,
I’ll try and make it to the discussion this Monday…
I for one found the Danto article horrible and alarming… I wrote the text
below as a letter to the editor to ARTFORUM but they did not print it.
I am not surprised though that his what is calls “Standard” is already
adopted uncritically.
Best, Emna
Danto as seen from the outside
In the article American Self-consciousness in Politics and Art, Arthur Danto wrote that images such as the Rodney King beating and the Abu Ghraib torture are “powerful examples of how images change who we are, and from that perspective they must now act as standards against which we can judge the political efficacy of art.” While those images, as news items had an amazing impact on the American awareness of police brutality and of what is happening in Iraq, there is not much virtue in their continued public presence and their migration to the museum space. It is staggering to me that Danto¹s argument in favor of the presence of such images leaves out their key player: the victim, even with an American like King. Which American self-consciousness is Danto referring to? That of white Americans?
Danto fails to consider the possibility that the victims may not agree to display their torture and abuse in a museum. As the International Center of Photography opens its exhibition of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs, one wonders, how could it really transform the American consciousness, if the ³others² are always present in the American psyche as victims with no power over the way they are represented. Yes, Americans across the political spectrum may be overwhelmed by shame, guilt and pity, but these photographs won’t persuade them to feel humility and respect for the Iraqis. On looking at the “other” humiliated in the glorified space of a museum, just comforts a position of superiority. That is what Danto calls “standards of political efficacy”!
Danto foresees the Abu Ghraib prison photographs as part of the 2006 Whitney
Biennial and concludes ³There was nothing in the 2004 Biennial that, were we
to see it from the outside, would cause us to want to change the way we are
to othersŠ² Danto cannot conceive of a dialogue yet speaks of change the way
Americans are to others. He limits himself to speculating on how such a show
is seen from the outside instead of engaging with peoples living outside.
Indeed Danto¹s standards of political efficacy and self-consciousness are
deeply flawed when they do not acknowledge the other as worth hearing from
or talking to.
© Emna Zghal
Tunisian artist living in New York.