Contemporary complexities of post-colonial identities
Jérôme Havre & Ilyn Wong
European Colonialism (from the 16th century until the 20th century) around the world was a geopolitical move primarily motivated by economical purposes. The aim was very simple: to make the metropolis (and its elites) richer. This plan was put into practice at the expenses of the locals of these same colonized regions through an intense and ruthless practice of violence, exploitation and manipulation.
The white European heterosexual man's point of view dictated the norms, shaped the Truth. Any other possible perspectives were thoroughly silenced, brutally repressed. Only one version of the story could be told. Only one could be acknowledged. The highly patriarchal Eurocentric ideology was essentially based on the dichotomic idea of a developed, civilized, superior and powerful Europe in opposition to a shapeless mass consisting of all the non-European barbaric, naive and weak lands and its peoples.
This extremely simplistic and fabricated division of the world was largely widespread, not only in the main lands and among the colonialists, but also in the colonies and among the locals. This re-education or - more bluntly and unacademically- brainwashing was often carried out by the destruction and dissolution of the local collective identity (for instance, local languages were forbidden, monuments were destroyed, traditions were suppressed) in favor of the dominating class' episteme.
These behaviors and knowledge were learnt, spread and reproduced for years in politics, in arts... They infiltrated the flow of Language, they infiltrated the ordinary daily life, and they became part of people's collective and private identities. And so this hegemonic narrative became self-sustained and normalized. It became a dogma. It became what we call History.
However, in the 70s, along with feminist and environmental activist movements, anti-colonialist movements surfaced. With it came an awareness of their condition as subalterns and the drive to regain their own identity.
Yet, the prolonged and efficient bleaching performed by colonialism made this task difficult and controversial. The problem is that in fact, colonies integrated the imperialists' side of history as their own and even took part in it, in helping it expand and flourish. At some point, the perpetrators’ and the victims’ stories overlap and can hardly become indisociable from one another.
Here fundamentally lies the complexity of post-colonial identities: is it then possible for them to get to know themselves without it being through the identity that an external entity has created for them and forced upon them? Can we speak about post-colonial identities without falling into an essentialist fallacy? How are these identity complexities managed and how are they reflect-ed in the contemporary world?
Jérôme Havre - His art practice has concentrated on issues of identity, communities and territories that affect him personally. As a French/Canadian Queer man of African descent, his work interrogates the place of culture and identity and investigates the political, sociological and identity processes of contemporary life on themes related to nationalism in France and in Canada. His multidisciplinary practice is focused on defining how to make tangible these conditions of identity in settings that favor social transformation. Jérôme is currently a resident at GlogauAIR.
Ilyn Wong – Ilyn constructs physical, emotional, and conceptual spaces to investigate the intersection between history, memory, and fiction. Her work often oscillates between large historical narratives and intimately personal ones. The space created by these seeming dichotomies is also one where conceptual rigor can co-exist with personal and emotive impulses – where the tongue-in-cheek is also utterly sincere. Ilyn was a resident artist at GlogauAIR in Winter 2017.