Monday, May 25, 2009

Global Religion and Art

In the novel I'm writing, the main character chooses to leave the Episcopal Church and start an art gallery. He is unhappy with the anti-gay tone of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. In order to avoid a schism at that year's conference, the Anglican bishops voted against any relaxation of the church's teaching on homosexuality. Although the Episcopal church went on to ordain a gay bishop, the art world looks a lot friendlier to my gay main character.

The Anglican church's vote is an unexpected manifestation of globalization. Miranda Hassett has written a comprehensive study of this in Anglican Communion in Crisis, How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism. Hassett chronicles the global outreach of conservative American Episcopalians to African Anglicans in what might be termed a money-for-votes alliance. It is, of course, more complex, which is why you should read Hassett's book.

Hassett looks broadly at the impact of globalization on economies and culture, then pinpoints its impact on the church. Here is a description I like about globalization at a personal level:

In much of the preceding text, I have described Anglican globalization through the actions of leaders — priests, bishops, and primates. How do laypeople and their everyday parish life fit into this picture of important men and significant events? Alghough [sic] the conservative movement is led by a few activist church leaders, ordinary Anglican priests and congregations in both the United States and Africa are also touched, and changed, by these transnational connections and the ideas that accompany them. From a St. Timothy's member who described himself as an African missionary on the basis of the church's link to the Province of Rwanda to a Ugandan Anglican teenager who felt Africans should carry their faith to the rest of the world but wondered whether Americans would respond by wondering, "Where did God find you, when you were sleeping in a grass hut?," Anglicans around the world have been influenced by globalization with their church to reconsider their ideas about and their relationships with one another.

In the art world, it turns out, globalization has unexpected consequences as well. In Contemporary Art, A Very Short Introduction, Julian Stallabrass documents the rise of the biennale phenomenon around the world. Biennales have several benefits including transnational sharing of culture and economic enrichment for sponsor cities. However,

There are circumstances in which the uses of biennales come up against the ideals they were supposed to embody. The Johannesburg Biennale was established in 1995, not long after the first free elections were held in South Africa in 1994. The idea was to reconnect South Africa with the cultural world after years of boycott. For the first Bienalle a large and very diverse series of exhibitions was mounted in an attempt to portray Johannesburg as a fully formed global city. Local artists who would have presented a troubled view of the nation were generally excluded, and many thought that the Biennale presented a dubiously positive picture of South African society. While the Biennale included South African curators, it was much criticized by locals for being an alien incursion into an otherwise deprived an divided region that was in no way ready for it. Thomas McEvilley, among others, was astonished to see that the event had apparently been boycotted by much of the black community, repulsed by the sycophantic courting of the international art world.

In the following youtube video, Stallabrass talks about how he curated a photography exhibit about war (he starts talking at about 2:30). Regardless of how you view his political point of view, it is clear that curators – the people who edit what the art audience sees – need a global perspective to inform their editorial choices. This, in turn, makes the viewer consider his or her relationship to the art from a larger perspective. Not just how does this fit into my world, but how does my world fit into all the worlds out there.

While I write my novel, I realize the novel may have been one of the earliest transnational cultural forms, globalizing scandalous ideas for centuries. Lady Chatterly's Lover, anyone?

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