After the Missionaries



2009 will feature a number of forums for thinking about the role of art in a new bilateral world. The Selling Yarns conference in March will include workshops for artisan-design collaborations. In June, at Craft Victoria, the World of Small Things: An Exhibition of Craft Diplomacy will feature the fruits of dialogue between first and third worlds. And at the same time, an issue of Artlink will be published to air the complex questions in the new bilateral global order.



Here’s a call for expressions of interest for the Artlink issue: After the Missionaries: Art in a Bilateral World

Movements like Make Poverty History reinforce a vision of the world divided between helpless victims and those able to save them. Divisions between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations, ‘advanced’ and ’emerging’ economies, ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds, assume a singular path of history, on which the West happens to be ahead.

But the world is changing. Old hierarchies are challenged now by the growth of China and India as ‘superpowers’. They are more than victims of colonisation and Western imperialism. They have their own ambitions to be seen as leaders on the world stage. Over the past two years, China, India and Japan have all held summits for the leaders of the African nations.

Climate change forces us to reconsider the relations between North and South. A major challenge of climate change is to establish a plan that has support of both rich and poor nations. The global impact of carbon emissions requires a global consensus for action. While the first world focuses on carbon reduction, the third world argues that it should not be made to suffer for sake of the rich nations. Negotiations around this are critical for the future of the planet.

Australia has been positioned as a key mediator between first and third worlds. Though a rich nation by world standards, Australia does not have the reputation of an imperial power and finds itself amongst the countries of the South, at least geographically. As potentially the ‘most Asia-literate country in the collective West’, Australia has been granted the role of mediator between USA and China.

Art has an important role to play in this.

The history of Western cultural engagement with the third world has been shadowed by primitivism. The energies and traditions of the colonised world have provided fuel to modernist and post-colonial movements in rich nations. Such dialogues have been relatively unilateral. What do the subjects of the primitivist gaze gain from this attention? How do we engage with cultures of the third world in a way that is reciprocal? While politicians go through the formalities of global summits on climate change, what role can artists and makers play in stitching together a fabric of artistic exchanges between rich Australia and poor nations?

This issue of Artlink is intended as a forum for difficult questions demanded by our time:

  • On what basis can artists from the first and third worlds work together?
  • On what terms can an artist or designer engage traditional artisans?
  • Is visual art the exclusive domain of global elites?
  • Is world craft a version of ‘noble savage’?
  • Are human rights and environmentalism the thin end of the Western wedge?

We are looking for articles about:

  • First world artists working in collaboration with artists and communities in the third world
  • Designers engaging in product development with traditional artisans
  • Australian artists and designers working in the galleries and studios of the third world
  • Art practices that involve critical dialogue between first and third world experiences

Articles are due by 1 March 2009. Payment is $300 per thousand words. Please send expressions of interest to Kevin Murray at

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