India pavilion at 54th Venice BiennaleGlobal postgrads converge on ProArt
by Elizabeth Willoughby

Doctoral students from as far away as China and India converged in Munich last month to attend the first summer school of ProArt, LMU's Department of Arts PhD program. It was an interdisciplinary, intercultural and intercontinental exchange about the arts.

Art history is no longer only about architecture, sculpture, painting and art objects, but also about how one perceives the visual world. Advertising, television, theater, opera, music at a concert are all visual experiences. LMU's art faculty recognized that the foundations of a new comparative art discipline would require interdisciplinary work between theatre, music, art and art pedagogy.

But Avinoam Shalem, an LMU professor in art history, points also to the need to address the idea of global art: "The moment you start to speak of global art, you realize that you have to undermine the Eurocentric way that visual arts has been a narrative taking place mainly in Europe and North America. You have to put the whole world into the narrative. Global art means bridging different methods of different art history being taught on every continent. You need the internationalization of the department with its professors, but also with its students."

So ProArt did, for a week. Only four of the 18 students were from Munich.

A grand exchange

This year's theme was art, politics and economics, to shed light into art's dissolving boundaries, how politics and economics are affecting it, and what art's role is in the process.

"The topic was very close to the work that I am pursuing in my dissertation," said Rajdeep Konar, an Indian student who is looking at how 1960s West Bengal theater and politics influenced each other leading up to the turbulent period that followed. "That there would be international participants and professors was important to check what others are thinking. I have gained a lot of ideas and perspectives."

So did attendees of Ranjit Hoskote's lecture that described how, as curator of the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year, he changed the dialogue from nationality to cultural citizenship. The lively question and answer period that followed held discussions of language, geography, nationality, rights, values and politics, as well as the established international system and the paradox of using it to break the confines of tradition.

Traversing boundaries and presenting ideas came not only from the expert guest speakers invited from abroad and the LMU professors facilitating the discussions, but also from the students themselves. As part of the application process, each chose one of five proposed subjects – such as a comparison of the German and US national theatre funding systems or the examination of American music after 1945 – and wrote a paper on it. The respective professors selected the best papers, which were presented by the authors and debated during the summer school week by the postgrads that came from various disciplines including art history, architecture, theatre, media studies, visual arts and even musicology – a discipline not always found under the arts umbrella.

Deemed a success

Students unanimously felt the summer school was a worthwhile experience, and professors were equally pleased, so there are plans for future programs.

"By the very last day, you could feel something had been created," said Dr Shalem. "There was a kind of a discussion space that had developed. Outside of their universities, away from a supervisor, not checking every word he or she is going to say, there was a kind of freedom for these people, creating a better discussion. These PhDs were giving in a generous academic way that is how it should be."

Originally published at insightLMU, September 2011

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