Originally used in a military context during the 18th and 19th centuries to refer to a junior officer, the word “subaltern” has evolved over time. Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) used the term to describe an inferior class of people like peasants and workers denied access to hegemonic powers. It has also been widely used in the theories of Marxism, feminism, nationalism and postcolonialism to talk about subordination in social, political and economic hierarchies.
Subaltern studies emerged as a discipline in India in the 1970s with the purpose of reexamining Indian national and post/colonial historiography from the point of view of the ‘bottom layer of the society.’ The focus was on the role of peasant consciousness; its connection to the material conditions and different modes of resistance. Now, subaltern studies is a global phenomenon known for its advocacy of the underclass people in general, regardless of their affiliation with the history of colonialism.
This exhibition, curated from the UAMA permanent collection, examines various forms of subalternity across class, race and gender from different time periods and locations. The fifteen European and American artworks spanning two centuries shed light on the subtleties of disempowerment and subordination that are often overlooked. In the 21st century, it has become common knowledge that no form of subordination can be understood in isolation. We must develop an intersectional awareness among categories such as gender, class and race. Therefore, this exhibition also aims to find a thread of intersectionality across the various shades of subalternity depicted in the artworks.
This exhibition is curated by Thir B. Budhathoki, PhD student in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English.
Images: Adrian Piper, Forget It, 1991, Offest Lithograph; George Grosz, Waiting for a Job, 1934, watercolor; Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Spam, 1995, Acrylic/Mixed Media on canvas
University of Arizona Museum of Art & Archive of Visual Arts
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Tucson, AZ 85721-0002