In turbulent times, artists have had various social roles and commitments to history, politics and ideology. These roles and commitments went far beyond the notion of their traditionally conceived role as visual entertainers, and as providers of pure aesthetic pleasure and contemplation.
The course will focus on modern, 19-21st century European history (with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe and also Russia) through the lens of art. Participants will gain an understanding of how history is written through and/or created by images, how does it serve state propaganda, manifested in monuments and memorials in public space and how they are put into the service of a canonized historical narrative. In parallel, we will explore how this same history is interpreted or uncovered by socially committed, contemporary artists.
The debated issue of cultivating, manipulating and erasing collective memory by changing place names, or by raising and demolishing monuments, will be scrutinized in connection to their historical roots. Radical and provocative artists’ interventions as well as the healing power of art and its ability to empower invisible or marginalized actors throughout history will also be part of the course. The narrative evolves around such significant dates as 1917, 1937, 1989 and 2017.
Totalitarianisms and their culture will be discussed. The collapse of Socialism, and the recent process of re-nationalization of post-Socialist countries will be explored via collective close reading of artworks, and interactive analyses of videos. The visual nature of ideologies, including Socialism, Nazism and Nationalism, will be unveiled using both bottom-up and top-down
perspectives. Thus, not just state-nationalism, but also everyday “private nationalism” will be considered.
The course will provide an interdisciplinary approach, combining the methods and perspectives of history, area studies, art history, visual, cultural and gender studies, as well as memory and nationalism studies, in order to provide a deep and nuanced understanding of specific historical phenomena, and how they operate behind the dry facts and dates.