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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Undergraduate Course: The Politics of Postwar Abstraction: Diaspora, Decolonisation, Liberation (HIAR10196)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines forms of abstraction produced by Black Atlantic and Asian artists in postwar Britain. We will look at artwork, critical reception, and exhibitions that challenge formalist readings of abstraction as well as interpretations based on identity politics and consider how decolonisation, liberation movements and new nationalisms shaped and contextualised post-war abstract art.
Course description Focusing on modern and contemporary Black Atlantic and Asian practices in postwar Britain, this seminar-based course examines forms of abstraction in the wake of decolonisation, liberation movements and new nationalisms. Historical narratives and critical reception and exhibitions of this period primarily confined international abstraction in post-war Britain to Europe and the United States, while the rise of a new Commonwealth internationalism in the 1950s-60s became associated with abstract art through the efforts of the Commonwealth Institute, Commonwealth artist collectives, and New Vision Centre Gallery. British politics, immigration and migration, and questions of belonging were intertwined with Commonwealth abstraction. In tandem with the rise of globalism in post-war international politics, a liberal, universal-humanist conception of abstraction by artists of colour would eventually become supplanted by readings based on identity politics.

We will look at artwork and texts produced by artists that problematise formalist interpretations of modernism as well as interpretations that privilege readings of identity, racial and ethnic subjectivity, diaspora, and nationality. We will trace shifts in attitudes towards abstraction through artworks, primary sources and artist texts, critical reception and exhibition practices. Artists explored include Rasheed Araeen, Frank Bowling, Avinash Chandra, Uzo Egonu, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Kim Lim, Althea McNish, Denis Williams, Aubrey Williams, Sadequain, and Anwar Jalal Shemza. We will also investigate theoretical and cultural criticism that seeks new methods for reinterpreting mainstream narratives of art history to better understand the conditions and structures of knowledge and thought that have historically excluded these artists. Topics covered include post-war universal humanism; notions of purity and the artwork as absolute; existentialism; Commonwealth internationalism; and Pan-Caribbeanism.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: History of Art 2A Reason, Romance, Revolution: Art from 1700 to 1900 (HIAR08027) AND History of Art 2B From Modernism and the Avant-Gardes to Postmodernism and Globalisation (HIAR08028)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students who have passed at least 60 credits of Architectural History at Level 8 can also take these courses. If the pre-requisites cannot be met, entry to this course can be negotiated in consultation with either the Course Organiser or Programme Director (History of Art).
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Formative Assessment Hours 1, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Revision Session Hours 1, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 172 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 50 %, Coursework 50 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) You will be assessed for this course in two ways:
(1) ESSAY (worth 50% of your overall mark)
One 2,500-word essay, the title to be chosen from a list supplied; due in Weeks 8-10.
(2) EXAM (worth 50% of your overall mark)
One 3-hour exam, in December or May diet
Learning outcomes will be tested equally in both components of assessment.
Feedback Students are given feedback on FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT as follows:
You will be asked to prepare an essay plan and a preliminary bibliography. You will receive verbal feedback at a one-to-one meeting afterwards. The formative assessment will contribute to your performance in your summative assessment.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT: There will be an essay and an exam, equally weighted. Written feedback on student essays will be provided, in addition to the opportunity for a one-to-one meeting towards the end of semester.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)3 hour online examination3:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate skills of visual analysis and interpretation by looking in detail at works by modern and contemporary Black Atlantic and Asian artists.
  2. Analyse the ways in which abstraction can be understood in the context of decolonisation, liberation movements and new nationalisms.
  3. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of historical narratives, critical reception and exhibitions as part of Commonwealth internationalism in the 1950s-60s.
  4. Critically examine how and why broader historical changes in society contributed to developments in art.
Reading List
Chambers, Eddie. Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s. London: I.B. Tauris,

Dadi, Iftikar. 'Introduction: Modernism in South Asian Muslim Art' and 'Sadequain and
Calligraphic Abstraction,' Modernism in Muslim South Asia. University of North
Carolina Press, 2010: 1-45.

Enwezor, Okwui, ed. Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi. London: Prestel, 2018.

Mercer, Kobena, ed. Discrepant Abstraction. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Publishing, 2006.

Hall, Stuart. 'Black Diaspora Artists in Britain: Three 'Moments' in Post-War History.'
History Workshop Journal. Spring, 2006, No. 61: 1-24.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Visual and critical analysis; Clear thinking and the development of an argument; Independent research; Presentation and communication skills; Organisation and planning; Teamwork through group discussion
KeywordsBlack Atlantic,postwar Britain,abstraction,Commonwealth,universal humanism,Pan-Caribbeanism
Course organiserDr Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani
Tel: (0131 6)51 5800
Course secretaryMr Nathan Ross-Hammond
Tel: (0131 6)51 5880
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