Rethinking the Global

Adeena Mey

With documenta11 in 2002, as well as research around what he called the ‘post-colonial constellation’, the late curator Okwui Enwezor signalled the inclusion of postcolonial subjects on the international art scene, until then still mostly Western-centric. What he called ‘mega exhibitions and museums as transnational global forms’ have since then developed and spread to become among the major agent for the blurring of cultural frames, shaping the very notion of a ‘global art world’, offering a terrain for artists from former colonies and the Global South to address and bring local challenges into a dialogue with polycentric, networked, platforms. By the same token, curators faced new political and ethical responsibilities, exhibitions becoming sites of translation of the realities of the non-western world and of experimentation with progressive and emancipatory internationalisms. A further step in the processes of decentring and decolonising the transnational exhibition format, documenta fifteen (2022) made apparent clear lines of resistance towards epistemologies of the South and for subaltern subjects to speak on their own terms, and thus raises the question of the limits and possibilities of the global exhibition form and of globality itself.

Drawing on past and ongoing projects, this seminar proposes a series of points of entries to rethink the question of ‘the global’ in contemporary art. It aims to address the idea of a global identity of contemporary by looking at specific cases studies in exhibition history and art practices which invite us to complexify or go beyond usual historical and conceptual understandings of the modern, the contemporary, and of regional and cultural identities.

Part of Decolonising Identities
This Think.Zone is held in English. Course credit is given based on attendance and participation.


  • Lumbung and a genealogy of the ‘ecosystemic turn’

  • Persistence of the Non-Modern

  • Eurasia as Exhibitionary Space

  • Beyond the East-West paradigm (with artist Han Mengyun, tbc)

  • Spectres of Bandung (with curators Vera Mey and Philippe Pirotte, tbc)

  • Black Atlantic Museum. Contemporary art and the slave trade

Background reading

• Yuk Hui, ‘On the Persistence of the Non-Modern, Afterall, Issue 51, Spring/Summer 2021, pp. 60–73.

• Sun Ge & Naoki Sakai, Universality and Particularity. What is Asianness?, Berlin: Archive Books, 2019.

• David Joselit, Heritage and Debt. Art in Globalization, Cambridge MA and London: MIT Press, 2020.

• Christian Kravagna, Transmodern. An art history of contact, 1920–60, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2022.

• Lucy Steeds, et. al., Making Art Global (Part 2). Magiciens de la terre, London: Afterall Books, 2011.