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Why is colonisation related to art?

By Contact

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

When states and groups are conquering and dominating, to them, more or less foreign territories it is called colonisation. Most countries in the world have been colonised and many countries and states existing today are created through colonialism. How’s this related to art?

World empires and colonies 1936. Illustration: CC BY-SA 3.0

Colonialism can be hard to define and limit. Colonial expansions through history have often taken form of conquests, robberies, slavery and massacres. In some cases the population of the conquered territories have died due to new diseases brought by the colonisers. A common form of colonisation is also cultural, political and technical impact that more or less erases the indigenous culture. This process of erasure of culture in favour for another dominant culture can also be defined through the expression cultural imperialism.

The most know cases of colonialism through history is the colonisation of Africa, United States and Australia, but there are colonisation wherever you look in history. Even a small and harmless country like Sweden practised colonialism in some ways, for example through the embarrassing New Sweden existing 1638-1655 by the Delaware river in North America and Sápmi, the historical land of Sami people, that was conquered through colonisation.

Traces of colonisation exists in how society, art and mainstream culture produces images of what the ‘usual’ human looks like, acts like, moves like etc. and positions this in contrast to the ‘unusual’ human, when actually us humans could all be super usual and unusual at the same time.

One idea towards a solution is to try to conflict and erase the normative structures that repeats and creates images of whats included or excluded in a social group. Artist and art institutions are in a great position to put some work in to this process towards making several worlds, terretories and life stories be co-existing on equal premisses.


Horvath, Ronald J. (1972). A Definition of Colonialism. Current Anthropology, vol 13(1):45-57.
Nationalencyklopedin, online, 3th of november 2009, headword: kolonialism.

About Graziella Loyrette

Influential Art Critic writing for Gallery Extra Magazine, Sun Times News and Gallery Extra TV.