Models and Practices of Global Cultural Exchange and Non-aligned Movement. Research in the Spatio-Temporal Cultural Dynamics

ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS AND DESIGN / ALUO (Ljubljana) 

INSTITUTE OF ART HISTORY (Zagreb)              

This research on the models and practices of global cultural exchange from the beginning of the 1960s, when the Non-aligned Movement was first established, to the end of the 1980s when it faced a serious crisis, follows two parallel axes of investigation. 


The first hypothesizes that processes of decolonization framed by the articulation of cultural needs and cultural policies of recently liberated African, Asian, and Latin American countries, resulted in new visual regimes, and new models of cultural exchange, the effects of which can be described in terms of a radical intervention in the dynamics of global Cold War artistic and visual culture(s?). 


The second, focused on exploring the internal dynamics of NAM, seeks to address the economic, social and political framework of such interventions, providing the context for an explanation of their socio-cultural consequences.
The notion of cultural exchange, as used in the observed period, encompassed the entire field of cultural production and a wide array of cultural activities. In order to gain an accurate insight into the models and mechanisms of cultural exchange, well-grounded in the available archival sources, the scope of the research has been narrowed down to exchange programs in visual arts and design. It also includes architecture and urban planning as integral to both national and UN (UNESCO) programs of technical aid to Africa and Asia. These were led by networks of UN experts, serving - already from the mid-1950s - as an international, and transcontinental platform for articulating the most urgent challenges of developing countries. The proposed solutions, that were often innovative but also controversial regarding their treatment of local cultures and local building traditions, are exemplary of the complex inter-relations between three very different forms of post-war globalization projects: one linked to the United States and the capitalist West; one to the Soviet Union and other forms of statist socialism; and the third linked to the growth of the Non-Aligned Movement. 


The consequences of these encounters in the realm of visual arts have been well-researched, and described in terms of global Cold War artistic culture. The basic question posed by this project is: what was the position of NAM within that culture? How, and under what terms and conditions did African, Asian and Latin American arts reach the international art scene in the Cold War period? What about those segments of their visual arts which did not comply to the notions of modernity emerging from the interplay of the Western and Eastern Blocs’ visual orders? Where was such art produced, for whom, in which social and institutional framework, and whose interests was it (re)presenting? Why were the models of its exchange and circulation disruptive of the cultural dynamics of the global art scene, and what we can learn about the postcolonial visual regimes framing that scene by following multiple, interlocking, and simultaneous spatio-temporal trajectories of images, people and ideas circulating within NAM's geopolitical space during 1960s and afterwards? 


Our intention is to provide answers to these and a range of other questions on the artistic and visual cultures of NAM member countries by cutting across the range of current theoretical explanations, and focusing on the political, aesthetic, and linguistic particularities of visual orders encompassed by this project. Concerning the complexity of the object of the research, the methodological approach of art history will strongly benefit from cross-fertilization with cultural studies, sociology, human geography, political science, economics, and history. However, the involvement of social sciences in the research on models of cultural exchange does not seek, in any deterministic way, to ‘read off’ cultural and artistic production from the political economy of NAM and its member states. At the same time, a failure to link the cultural dynamics of artistic field to prevailing social, political and economic tendencies, would be to attribute a false notion of the complete autonomy of art and culture. 


Given that the focus of our research is on the transnational, global circulation of objects, persons, and ideas, the development of an experimental, innovative digital interface for dynamic representations of spatio-temporal data correlations, as well as an interface for multidimensional network visualizations, are very important project tasks. Both interfaces are planned as integral to the already developed, modular CAN_IS database, and along with new insights within the topic of our research, it is our intention to examine whether and how the experience of conducting analytic operations in an immersive, virtual, environment affects both the way we use data, and our understanding of its cognitive value.

Anti-magazine Gorgona, 1961-66

Cover of the anti-magazine published in Zagreb by art group Gorgona. Each issue edited by the individual artist.