The questionable influence and dominance of western culture is at the forefront of a new form of seemingly ephemeral diplomatic history that is termed ‘new internationalism’. Internationalism itself is not really a new concept, and is basically a system based on equality for all people and cultures on a global scale. In the global art world ‘new internationalism’ is an active topic and was the focus of a 1994 INIVA Symposium entitled, A New International Symposium. The topics discussed included: Recording the International; Art, History and the Modern Museum; Beyond Diversity and Difference; Curatorship and International Exhibitions.1 During his lecture at the symposium, sculptor, essayist and poet Jimmie Durham puts forth the idea that, “…Europeans seem to think that, as art is their invention, effective art is within a developed vocabulary and accent…”2 This kind of statement emphasizes the enormous task of disuniting ‘actual’ art history from that recorded under the influence of western culture, and it demonstrates the long-standing influence of imperial thinking.
In the article New Internationalism, Rasheed Araeen talks about how the West, after its separation from colonialism, continued its “hegemonic position” and global control (Araeen 3). Araeen’s main argument is that if we (all global nations) aren’t willing to acknowledge an obvious historical timeline that has been based on Eurocentricity (a focus on European history and culture), then the concept of ‘new internationalism’ will never be visualized. In other words, there must be a willingness on the part of nation states to fill in the omissions of history, especially in regard to art and culture (6). The INIVA Symposium is possibly one slice of evidence that seems to indicate a tendency towards new internationalist thinking, but Aareen asks us to question whether actual changes within institutions are indeed taking place. He says, “The prevailing situation in the British art community is very different from the impression the initiative of this symposium may convey.” (Aareen 2)
It may be useful here to further clarify ‘new internationalism’ and its relationship to cultural diversity, in order to understand what is actually at stake. The real objective is to give up distinctions between different peoples and cultures, but most importantly it is to do so while relinquishing any link to hegemony. What good does acknowledgment do if art institutions and curatorial processes continue to omit important contributions from history? It does no good because it keeps everyone on unequal ground, attaches cultures to binary labels, and is a form of exclusion.
Araeen illustrates the idea of internationalism through the 1994 global exhibition ‘Magiciens de la terre’ in which artists from around the globe were...