Issue #93 Transforming Whiteness in Art Institutions

Transforming Whiteness in Art Institutions

Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez

Saddie Choua, Am I the Only One Who Is Like Me?, 2017. Installation view at Show Me Your Archive and I Will Tell You Who is in Power, KIOSK, Ghent. Photo: Tom Callemin.


Issue #93
September 2018

What are we supposed to prioritize as the most important struggle right now? Struggles are taking place on multiple levels. We should be able to engage with them on concrete levels and in the places in our proximity.
—Nacira Guénif-Souilamas1

On veut des complices, pas des alliés. [We want accomplices, not allies.] Now you know how to use your privileges.
—Filmmaker and activist Amandine Gay2

In a recent lecture at the Kaaitheater in Brussels, decolonial feminist Gloria Wekker analyzed what she calls the phenomenon of “white innocence” in contemporary Dutch culture and the importance of accountability in response.3 In Wekker’s conception, white innocence refers to the denial of colonialism, where the presupposed ignorance of the country’s colonial past ensures white Dutch speakers a place where they cannot be held accountable. And yet, as Wekker asked in her talk, how could one seriously believe that centuries-long imperialism would not leave its traces in the institutions, languages, and ways in which those in the Global North look at one another?

“If you want to decolonize knowledge,” said Wekker in a recent interview, “how are you going to do that with the current workforce who do not even have the vocabulary to talk about it?” She goes on: “The thing that makes it so difficult, with respect to academics, to people in media—who regard themselves as very progressive, ‘We are non‐racist by definition’—is that it is harder to hold them accountable for racist behaviour if it is all over the place.”4

Alongside political and social institutions, the institutions and professionals of contemporary art across Europe have been coming under increasing pressure to hold themselves accountable when confronted with structural racism, the continuing coloniality of power, growing social and environmental inequalities, right-wing populism, and sexism.5 Accountability can be enabled by conscious and reflexive work, which art institutions should be doing (and some are doing) more infrastructurally. In addition to programming, accountability should have a prominent place on the level of teamwork as well as in situations of exchange and mediation with the publics. During previous decades in the social sciences, especially in anthropology and feminist studies, the reflexive turn toward accountability has led researchers to the systematic and rigorous disclosure of their methodologies and their own subjective and situated views. Employing and learning with this method, institutions can enable accountability, which is a powerful weapon against co-option in the fields of social and environmental justice especially. It can also be a tool for institutional reorganization. Specifically, in the field of contemporary art, it can be a tool for reforming institutional ethics, teamwork methods, and internal diversity policies, and for repeatedly redefining who the institution intends to address.6

In an earlier text on the notion of “slow institutions,” I offered some proposals for how institutions of contemporary art can counter the imperatives of late-capitalist and neoliberal progress-driven modes of living and thinking.7 I discussed the non-innocence of the white cube paradigm, suggesting that all art institutions in the Global North are a result of a process of the coloniality of power and racial capitalism, which, as we well know, has accumulated wealth through the mechanisms of racialization and dispossession resulting from the centuries-long slave trade and, above all, through the “bellies of African women.”8 In this essay, however, I would like to explore if and how the co-option of feminisms can be countered in art through incorporating intersectionality as a way of living and looking at the world.

Late-capitalist societies of the Global North have co-opted the struggle for the liberation of all women embodied by the legacies of European and North American second-wave feminism. Establishing a legal basis for women’s right to abortion, equal economic status, and equal participation in the political sphere are a few of the battles that have been appropriated by corporate feminism.

The type of corporate and state feminism present in many organizations, companies, and throughout society aims to assure equality without forcing any real structural change. This is only one example of the depoliticization of feminist legacies. “Femonationalism” is a term that Sara R. Farris proposes to describe the political exploitation of feminist themes by both ultra-right-wing politicians and neoliberals.9 Conservatives take up these issues by elevating traditional values, such as supporting a work-family balance, as a new ideal for women, while neglecting the issues that have historically preoccupied feminists, such as equality, liberation, and social justice. Considering that the unacknowledged domestic and care workers who enable professional women to strive towards “balance” in their lives are less privileged and are often women of color, this omission is not surprising. And neoliberals increasingly generalize, stigmatize, and criminalize Muslim populations—women and men alike—under the banner of gender equality.

Further recent co-options have occurred in the context of the #MeToo movement, which has been concerned with sexual harassment and violence against women, especially in the various spheres of popular culture and the arts.10 As outrage spread widely following the public disgrace of the film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, the movement took over the #MeToo name that had been introduced in 2007 by Tarana Burke, an African-American survivor of sexual assault and an activist who created a nonprofit organization to help victims of sexual harassment and assault.11 Burke’s activism can be understood in the context of the legacy of black women who helped fuel anti-rape activism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as scholar Crystal Feimster has recently argued.12 Feimster shows how, in the days after slavery ended in the American South, black women were particularly important in the rise of the nonviolent movement against sexual violence. Following the belated recognition of Burke’s pioneering care work, Feimster encourages current #MeToo activists to recognize their allyship with the historic struggle of black women against issues of rape and racism.

The term “intersectionality” was famously coined in 1989 by the law professor and theoretician Kimberlé Crenshaw. She defined it as the “view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”13 As Crenshaw sees it today, “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.”14

An intersectional worldview was already present in various art disciplines prior to Crenshaw’s coining of the term. For example, the groundbreaking collection of essays, poems, and artworks This Bridge Called My Back was first published in 1981. This testimony to feminist women of color that was coedited by poet and activist Cherríe Moraga and poet and theorist Gloria Anzaldúa. In the preface to the fourth edition, published in 2015, Moraga precisely defines the importance of the book: it shows the “living experience of what academics now refer to as ‘intersectionality,’ where multiple identities converge at the crossroads of a woman of colour life. The woman of colour life is the crossroad, where no aspect of our identity is wholly dismissed from our consciousness, even as we navigate a daily shifting political landscape.”15 Alongside poems, letters, testimonies, and manifestos by women of color from all over the world—among them the foundational intersectional manifesto of the Combahee River Collective from 197716—are reproductions of artworks by Ana Mendieta, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Celia Herrera Rodríguez, and Betye Saar.17

Pamphlet published by the group Coordination des Femmes Noires (1978).

Another prehistory of the term can be found in a 1978 manifesto-pamphlet by a group of feminist activists who had recently immigrated to France from West Africa and the Antilles. The group, which organized in Paris under the name Coordination des Femmes Noires, wrote: “Where we are colonized or put in ghettos, we, black women, declare that we struggle against all forms of racism, against structural segregations that guarantee murder, against imperialism, patriarchal power, and all practices of torture inflicted on our bodies and our thoughts.”18 The membership of Coordination des Femmes Noires included several writers and playwrights, such as Awa Thiam, the Senegalese author of the seminal La Parole aux Negrèsses (1978); and Gerty Dambury, a poet, dramaturge, and theater director from Guadeloupe. The group was active until 1982, organizing demonstrations and writing pamphlets on anti-imperialism, class struggle, and the lack of rights afforded to immigrant women in France. The members also denounced the instrumentalization and repression of women under dictatorial regimes in Africa.

Françoise Dasques, Conférence des Femmes—Nairobi, 1985. Film stills. 1’05”, sound, color. This work documents a parallel ten-day meeting to the official UN Governments Conference attended by 14 000 women. See .

The film La Conférence des femmes—Nairobi (1985) by Françoise Dasques also exemplifies intersectionality in the arts before Crenshaw’s theorization. This exceptional one-hour documentary, commissioned by the feminist video documentation and archiving institution Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris, depicts the proceedings of Nairobi’s seminal 1985 NGO Forum of women’s groups from all over the world.19 The intense polemical speeches at the event address topics such as the Palestinian struggle, female genital mutilation, transnational alliances of LGBTQI communities, and the various significations of veiling women’s bodies in postrevolutionary Iran. These topics are all debated exclusively by women—across races, classes, and sexual orientations. In one scene activist, writer, and educator Angela Davis speaks about the need for feminists to join hands across races and classes while nonetheless acknowledging the specificity of each person’s oppression.20 In other moments, we see discussions with the decolonial feminist scholar Paola Bacchetta and the transnational feminist Nawal El Saadawi. Renowned ecofeminist writer and activist Vandana Shiva appears in another accompanying video by Françoise Dasques about Nairobi.

It has recently become clear that some women in the cultural sphere today think very differently about feminism than Angela Davis and the other revolutionary women depicted in La Conférence des femmes—Nairobi. In France earlier this year, in reaction to the #MeToo movement, around one hundred women from the fields of film, contemporary art, and literature (including, most notably, Catherine Millet and Catherine Deneuve) published an open letter in the French newspaper Le Monde expressing concern over the alleged puritanism of the movement and its “witch hunt” against men. The letter infamously stated that “men should be free to hit on women.” In a response to this letter entitled “Can Feminists Speak?” seven intellectuals criticized its manipulation of the notion of liberty and its unacceptable universalization; rather than acknowledging that certain groups are racialized and subjected to unequal treatment on a daily basis, the letter places the blame on those who are suffering.21 Art critics Elisabeth Lebovici and Giovanna Zapperi published another response to the letter, drawing attention to the danger of conflating human rights, artistic freedom, and personal freedom as understood by the (French white) women who wrote the letter.22

In response to these debates, many progressive institutions of contemporary art in both the northern and southern hemisphere are struggling to operate structurally against racism, sexism, and homo- and transphobia, not only on the level of programming but also on the level of transforming the administration and the hierarchies among employees. Several exhibitions, and increasingly also biennials, proclaiming intersectional methods have been organized in recent years. Examples include an exhibition simply entitled “Intersectionality” at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami in 2016, and the 2018 Berlin Biennale, entitled “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” There are also groundbreaking examples of whole institutions from the Global North attempting to reorganize.

One is Centro Cultural Montehermoso Kulturunea in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, which was run by Xabier Arakistain between 2008 and 2011. In 2005, Arakistain published “Manifiesto Arco 2005,” demanding that administrators at publically funded art institutions adopt practical measures to implement equality between the sexes in the art field. Then, as head of Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Arakistain not only turned the center into a notable institution for contemporary art and culture; he also restructured Montehermoso along feminist lines, turning it into a pioneering institution for gender-equal employment policies.23 Gender quotas were instituted for every activity and program, ensuring that half of the participants were women. Salaries and public budgets were apportioned on the basis of gender, which Basque law requires but which is rarely implemented. Furthermore, the artistic program of the institution actively promoted contemporary feminist thought in art and theory.24

Arakistain, along with Ewa Majewska, Giovanna Zapperi, and Luba Kobová, recently contributed to a remarkable charter, “Code of Practice,” which was put together after a 2017 seminar in Prague hosted by tranzit, a network of autonomous art initiatives. The seminar was about what feminist art institutions could be. The charter reflects on power, work, human relationships, quotas, and forms of oppression.25 It states, for example, that “a feminist art institution is receptive to those of its workers who have responsibilities as carers. It makes every attempt to create a working environment that includes space for care activities.” It continues:

A feminist art institution refuses to abide by the unwritten criteria of the culture industry as we know it today. The art world is based on a system of competition, in which only those who demonstrate the requisite endurance, ambition, strength, assertiveness succeed. A feminist art institution advocates other values and virtues. It takes into account human weakness, frailty, and fatigue, and prioritises human relationships over “performance.” It sets itself different rules within the framework of its possibilities.

In a similar vein, Lina Džuverović and Irene Revell of the London-based feminist and grassroots curatorial collective Electra published an essay assessing the more than decade-long existence of the organization. They highlighted Electra’s anti-patriarchal model of resisting dominant structures: “Notions of care, long-term commitment, attention to detail, and slow, well-developed outputs all stem from the socially undervalued realm of unpaid, traditionally female labour (the domestic) in which well-being emerges from process, not grand gestures and bombastic events.”26

Saddie Choua, I’m sorry I can’t offer you tea, my hands are a little tight (2014) and Am I the Only One Who Is Like Me (2017). Installation view at Show Me Your Archive and I Will Tell You Who is in Power, KIOSK, Ghent. Photo: Tom Callemin.


In her essay “How to Install Art as a Feminist,” art historian and curator Helen Molesworth proposes a new model of museum display. She argues for a feminist method of exhibition that “allows us to think about lines of influence and conditions of production that are organized horizontally, by necessarily competing ideas of identification, attachment, sameness, and difference, as opposed to our all too familiar (vertical) narratives of exclusion, rejection, and triumph.”27 As an alternative to chronological installation and thematic exhibition methods, Molesworth proposes a generational model based on the idea that women artists form intergenerational alliances. She makes the case for what she calls her exhibition “fantasy room,” with works by Joan Snyder, Cindy Sherman, Amy Sillman, Wangechi Mutu, and Dana Schutz. By establishing a mother-daughter relationship between these artistic legacies, she points to the creation of intergenerational feminist genealogies between artists. She calls this exhibition mode “horizontal display,” based attachments and alliances, as opposed to a vertical model of history characterized by narratives of exclusion, rejection, and colonization of the other.

Molesworth, along with several other female curators and museum directors such as Laura Raicovich and María Inés Rodríguez, have resigned or been fired from their institutions in recent months—is anyone surprised? In an inspiring conversation published in ARTnews, Laura Raicovich and the writer Aruna D’Souza explore the notion of “infrastructural critique,” a phrase coined by D’Souza and Paul Chan. Raicovich and D’Souza discuss how to decolonize museums so that they operate in accordance with a value system that challenges the biases inherent in their structure. They note that museums are happy to invest temporarily in artists of color, but when it comes to funding real resources that provide long-term support for such artists (i.e., space in the permanent collection, long-term installations, diversity within museum teams), the money can’t seem to be found.28

Art critic Genevieve Flavelle has written about another inspiring feminist institution, the Toronto-based Feminist Art Gallery (FAG).29 In collaboration with Toronto’s queer and feminist art communities, artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue founded FAG in 2012. Drawing on generations of queer and feminist institutional critique and the lived experience of queer and feminist artists, they assembled a feminist art collection with works by local and regional artists, collected in a decentralized way. The gallery aims to serve feminist artists, queer artists, artists of color, indigenous artists, trans artists, and artists with disability/ies who make politicized art and who have been failed by the art system. FAG stands as a vital example of how to resist from within oppressive systems, such as the art market, the institutional art world, and the cycle of fame.

“Who keeps the cube white?” is a crucial question asked by activists at Goldsmiths who are currently protesting for better working conditions and pay for cleaners at the school.30 For the generation of art professionals coming up now, the activism of groups such as Decolonize this Place and Gulf Labour Artist Coalition is of immense importance.31 The art organization Khiasma, based in the town of Les Lilas in the suburbs of Paris, aims to decolonize social relations through art by presenting challenging exhibitions and programs that pose questions about what and who produces space.32 Today, with neofascism acquiring greater visibility and power, intersectionality is a crucial framework for dismantling the existing power structures of whiteness within institutions. Practices of accountability, care, and mutual respect across hierarchical departments and job positions should be at the forefront of art institutional discourse today. At the same time, we must be wary of the appropriation of intersectional methodology by the very power structures it is intended to combat; as sociologist Sirma Bilge has written of the academic appropriation of intersectionality in the US, it can easily fall prey to the neoliberal “management of neutralized difference in our postracial times.”33 Institutions must work to realize intersectionality’s political potential today, transforming themselves profoundly in the process.


Talk at the conference “Global 68,” Paris, May 3, 2018.


Gay posted this comment to social media on July 27, 2018 in response to an act of civil disobedience carried out by the young Swedish activist Elin Ersson on July 23. Ersson refused to sit down on a flight from Gothenburg to Istanbul because another passenger on the plane was being deported to Afghanistan via Turkey.


Gloria Wekker, lecture at Kaaitheater, Brussels, March 7, 2018 . See also Gloria Wekker, White Innocence (Duke University Press, 2017).


Rivke Jaffe, “Reflections: A Conversation with Gloria Wekker,” Development and Change, Forum 2018 49, no. 2 (2018) .


The notion of the coloniality of power is used by Aníbal Quijano, and is, as described by Françoise Vergès, “a category that includes relations between the dominating and the dominated, sexism and patriarchy, … relations between public and private, and above all between civil society and political institutions. ” Françoise Vergès, Le Ventre des femmes: Capitalisme, racialisation, féminisme (The Bellies of Women: Capitalism, Racialization, Feminism) (Albin Michel, 2017), 21.


Important writing has called for the necessity of decolonizing art institutions and for anti-racist curatorial practices. Two recent publications on these topics include Kuratieren als antirassistische Praxis (Curating as an Anti-Racist Practice), eds. Natalie Bayer, Belinda Kazeem-Kamiński, and Nora Sternfeld (De Gruyter, 2017); and Décolonisons les arts! (Let’s Decolonize the Arts!), eds. Leïla Cukierman, Gerty Dambury, and Françoise Vergès (L’Arche Éditeur, 2018).


Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, “For Slow Institutions,” e-flux journal 85 (October 2017) .


“Indeed, it is by having organized in an industrial way a drain on African societies for several centuries that capitalism could be built. The invisible source of this drain was nothing other than the bellies of African women, whose children were captured to be deported … Later, at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the United States, the industry of the reproduction of enslaved bodies managed to impose itself on all the territories the were opposed to the politics of the import of slaves. The work of the female slaves-reproducers became essential for the expansion and enrichment of the United States … The bellies of female slaves were capital; their bodies served as machines and constituted thus an essential element of the global circuit of commodities, such as cotton and sugar.” Françoise Vergès, Le Ventre des femmes, 98. Translated by the author.


Sara R. Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism (Duke University Press, 2017).


In the field of contemporary art, the informal group We Are Not Surprised was formed in autumn 2017 and soon published an open letter with signatures from seven thousand art professionals from all over the world. The letter asserted that sexual violence was a pervasive problem at all levels of the art world. The publication of the letter led to the formation of many individual working groups in various cities, as well as actions and legal support for victims of harassment. See .


Sandra E. Garcia, “The Woman Who Created #MeToo Long Before Hashtags,” New York Times, October 20, 2017 .


On Crystal Feimster’s talk from earlier this year “The Longue Durée of the Anti-Rape Movement and Why it Matters,” see .


Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, ” in University of Chicago Legal Forum, special issue: Feminism in the Law: Theory, Practice, and Criticism (University of Chicago Law School, 1989).


“Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later,”, June 8, 2017 . Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge recently published a critical inquiry into the way intersectionality functions in the world, including within global movements. Examining concrete cases, they identify social equality and social justice as intersectionality’s central preoccupations. See Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality (Polity Press, 2016).


Cherríe Moraga, “Catching Fire: Preface to the Fourth Edition,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, fourth edition, eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (SUNY Press, 2015), xxii.


The introduction to this historic statement reads: “We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.” Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement,” in This Bridge Called My Back, 210.


In the preface to the fourth edition Moraga writes: “Ana Mendieta … ‘fell’ from a window to her death in 1985 … There had been strong evidence in and out of court to convict Mendieta’s husband, a world-renown artist, of her murder, but he was exonerated. Of Mendieta’s ‘Body Tracks’ Celia Herrera Rodríguez writes ‘the bloodied hand and arm tracks descending to the ground (are) a reminder that this path is dangerous and many have fallen.’” This Bridge Called My Back, xxiii, including footnote 11.


Coordination des Femmes Noires, July 1978, author’s translation. For more information see .


For the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, see .


For an excerpt from Angela Davis’s speech at the NGO Forum, see . See also a recently published interview with Davis where she talks about the importance of the forum .


See .


Élisabeth Lebovici and Giovanna Zapperi, “Miso et maso au pays des droits de l’homme,” Mediapart, February 22, 2018 . For the English version, see e-flux journal 92 (June 2018) .


In Women, Art and Power and Other Essays (Westview Press, 1988). Arakistain specifically quotes Griselda Pollock in pointing out that “recognizing the hierarchies of power which rule the relationships between the sexes, lending visibility to the mechanisms on which male hegemony is founded, untangling the process of social construction of sexual difference and examining the role played by representation in that articulation of difference.” Vision and Difference (Routledge Classics, 1988).


See Xabier Arakistain, “Reflections on a Feminist Model for the Field of Art: Montehermoso, 2008–2011” .


See .


Lina Džuverović and Irene Revell, “‘We falter with feminist conviction’: Notes on Assumptions, Expectations, Confidence, and Doubt in the Feminist Art Organisation,” On Curating 29 (May 2016) .


Helen Molesworth, “How to Install Art as a Feminist,” in Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, eds. Cornelia Butler and Alexandra Schwartz (MoMA, 2014).


Andy Battaglia, “The ARTNews Accord: Aruna D’Souza and Laura Raicovich in Conversation,” ARTNews, May 14, 2018 . In the same conversation Laura Raicovich says: “The idea that museums are neutral is an absurdity, because all ‘neutral’ means is that the museum is reinforcing the values of the dominant culture … The museum has never been neutral. It was designed to convey a lot, like colonial prowess by nations. Collect enough stuff and you look really powerful. When you start thinking in those terms, you have to contend with that. You have to ask yourself: do we dump it or do we deal with it?”


See Genevieve Flavelle, “‘We Can’t Keep up/We Won’t Keep Down: Feminist Praxis in Art Institutions,’” January 31, 2017 .


According to one of the activists, “the aims and objectives of the campaign are fairly uncontroversial among staff and students because most people are naturally disgusted by the fact that the lowest paid staff, overwhelmingly BME (Black or minority ethnic) and/or migrant, and predominantly women, could be treated so poorly at Goldsmiths.” Quoted in Jasmine Weber, “Protesters at Goldsmiths University in London Demand Answers for ‘Who Keeps the Cube White?,’” Hyperallergic, September 6, 2018 .


Decolonize this Place is a group of artists and activists in New York who organize around indigenous struggles, black and working-class liberation, and de-gentrification; see . Gulf Labour Artist Coalition is a group of international artists and art professionals organizing to protect the rights of the migrant workers who are building the museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi; see .


See .


“Counter-hegemonic knowledge projects do not come with built-in guarantees against hegemonic recuperation; they can sustain hegemony’s operations through their incorporation … Knowledge capitalism under neoliberalism does not exclude or obliterate differences, but operates through them, while absorbing and neutralising them. Academia incorporates black women and intersectionality as material (bringing a new flavour to research projects, course material and publications), and as actors joining academic ranks, without altering its structure. This incorporation implies conformity, through pressures, incentives and sanctions, to disciplinary conventions both in a theoretical and embodied sense.” Sirma Bilge, “Whitening Intersectionality: Evanescence of Race in Intersectionality Scholarship,” The Du Bois Review 10, no. 2 (2013): 405–24.

Colonialism & Imperialism, Museums, Feminism, Contemporary Art
Whiteness, Decolonization, Racism
Return to Issue #93

An earlier version of this text, entitled “Practice Intersectionality,” was first published in the essay collection Feminisms (L’Internationale Books, 2018) .

Instead of a bio: “Following the decolonial feminist scholar Paola Bacchetta, who has written about the importance of situating oneself before beginning to write or talk (see ), I will briefly situate myself: I am a white, Eastern European, cis, heterosexual woman from a mixed working- and middle-class family, born in the former Yugoslavia. I am able-bodied, but have had an autoimmune disease since childhood and was recently diagnosed with another chronic illness. I have a university degree and have been working in the arts for many years. As a child growing up in Slovenia—the northernmost of the former Yugoslavian republics—I often heard people make racist remarks about countries from which my father’s family originates, Bosnia and Ukraine. In the white European imaginary today, these and many other neighboring regions belong to the racialized territories of the Global South. In the Global North, I constantly receive comments about the Slavic accent noticeable in any of the foreign languages I speak. These comments range from exoticizing to degrading. Hearing them over and over again, I remember a discussion about contemporary art and Europe from many years ago in which philosopher and artist Marina Gržinić said, ‘I am very proud of my Eastern European accent.’”
—Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez


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