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#nationalism[aesthetics]: initiating conversations on identity

by Sarah Rost

Yesterday, on the 10th of March, a private viewing of the exhibition took place at The Exchange. Here a few words on the show as a whole, the process of putting it together, and the meanings it entails…

During multiple workshops, students were guided in their creating and curating of art around the topics of nationalism and identity by artists Ella Jones and Matvei Matveev, who also contributed to the exhibition with their pieces, and curator Tally de Orellana. From the very first workshop onwards, this process materialized into a discussion that turned out to be a central aspect of the exhibition: what do we, and what should we, make of nationalism and identity, as individuals that are affected by it and that study the heavy implications these concepts carry? 

The exhibition constitutes a multi-layered and -faceted attempt at answering these questions. The fact that all pieces were created by different artists is a testimony to the subjective nature of identity. Nationalism is an attempt at dictating how identity should be defined, but this array of works goes to show that identity is something that is lived, and that can be lived in a very large variety of manners, some of them in complete contradiction with the rigid norms set by nationalism.

Walking into #nationalism[aesthetics], you will thus find yourself surrounded by artworks of different mediums and meanings. Some tap into a very personal, even intimate part of the respective artist’s relationship with their identity. Others will take you by the hand and guide you towards a reflection on the nature and implications of a specific constructed national identity, its contemporary trends and evolution. A stroll around the space will enable the artists to confront you, through their works, with personal narratives on citizenship and identity, individual and intergenerational impressions of American identity, or the alienation of women that comes hand in hand with nationalist identity constructions. 

Some works that may appear more politicized and less personal at first glance retrace Russian expansionist policy, the colonized construction of Filipino female identity, symptoms of British nationalism, or points of contention in Spanish identity building. The artists’ diverse and sometimes mixed feelings of belonging, as well as the confronting of their impressions on these themes during the workshops are crucial here. Indeed, these influences on the creative process that resulted in #nationalism[aesthetics] contributed to the exhibition’s attempt at not only making a statement about what nationalism means, how it expresses itself, and its consequences, but also about the fact that it is a construction, and consequently that we can deconstruct it, even rebuild a framework in its place that is not based on exclusion, together. Hence the title:

#nationalism[aesthetics]

      (Be)Longing

Rediscovering

Rebuilding Identities

This project would not have been possible without the Department of War Studies Extracurricular Fund, Jayne Peake and the Exchange Fund, and artist Ella Jones, who designed the project with Dr. de Orellana. Their intent was to share their passion for art and identity with students, a goal that has certainly been achieved!

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