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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October, 1998 - ... open end

Subject:poverty and folklore
Date:Thu, 17 Dec 1998 11:18
Author:Joana Breidenbach  []

To Juan José and other who commented on poverty:
I disagree with the statement, that the perception of poverty is completely dependent on culture. Of course, there are strong variations as to what people in different societies perceive to be "the good life" and standards and criteria for poverty vary. But how can those of us who live in the west deny, that our relative wealth, high life-expectancy and relative freedom are not desirable for every human being? The life conditions of many indigenous people are far from pretty and many visitors to areas like the amazon region or many parts of Africa have commented on the incessant demands made by the people for western commodities, from watches to medicines. To say that the demand for foreign commodities is some form of "false consciousness" is very paternalistic. Again, the question is one of self-determination. The abolition of poverty and the granting of fundamental rights would constitute a progessive move for every society on earth.

Radical relativism, which holds that societies are so different from one anoher that no concept (such as poverty) can be transferred, is in my opinion wrong. Firstly, it concentrates on differences between people (which exist) at the expense of commonalities (which also exist). Secondly, it completely ignores the long history of interconnectedness which we all can look back on. Originally western concepts, like class, feminism, poverty, human rights etc. are globalized. People in various part of the world adjust them to their own circumstances, use them to make sense of their own worlds, fight for their rights etc. For them it doesn't make any difference where the concept originally came from. Or what do we in the west know of the origins and past uses of many of our key-terms? I suggest that we move on from the search for "roots" and "origins", as in very many cases they are becoming more and more meaningless. Let's have a fresh look at all the new things coming into existance as a result of our interconnectedness.

To Hans:
I agree with your statement, that indigenous artists are very often relegated to producing "folklore" or "ethnic art", while metropolitan mainstream artists are doing "art". This distinction has a long history, nicely traced by James Clifford in "The predicament of culture" (1988). But this western art system is being challenged on many fronts and recent exhibitions (for example on african art) have pointed explicitly to this categorisation and questioned it in intelligent ways (like "art/artifact" at the Museum for African Art in New York City, at least I think thats the name of the institution, or recent aboriginal art exhibitions). Many people are now aware of this discriminating distinction and that alone is already important. A simple dichotomy is even harder to uphold, when on one hand so many artists from so called 3rd or 4th world countries are studying and working either abroad or at western-style academies at home and on the other hand many western artists are also breaking it down. And the chances that a very different picture of global art production will be shown at the next Documenta (not to speak of the forums exhibition!) are great.

Many thanks to Gerhard Haupt for the websites about stereotypes and the other mails concerning the Dresden exhibition. I am a bit short on time (x-mas and my daughter's 6th birthday coming up) and haven't had a chance to look at the suggested websites nor to give out more information on the Dresden exhibition to those of you who asked. But I'll be back.

Joana Breidenbach

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