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VISUALITY / ALTERITY WORKING GROUP

The Visuality and Alterity Group at the University of California – Berkeley, consisting of graduate students and faculty from the Departments of Ethnic Studies, Art Practice, Anthropology and Performance Studies is developing an interdisciplinary conversation on theories and practices of visual experience and production in the context of multiple sites of alterity, including culture, race and gender. While our group seeks to further understand the terms visuality, alterity and transnationalism, we are working with the following definitions: Visuality is defined as encompassing the study and practices of visual experience, including intentional practices, such as art and visual culture, as well as informal, quotidian visual experience of human environments. Rather than visual culture, we use visuality because it promotes an interdisciplinary discussion of the visual, and leads us towards what W.J.T. Mitchell would call “showing seeing” across broad spectrums of geo-political and philosophical sites.1 Our inclusion of the concept of alterity, from philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ work on knowing “the Other” reflects our commitment to decolonial readings of cultural and aesthetic difference.2 Alterity is rooted in the different geo-political locations of people and their visual and artistic languages. Thus, we are working on understanding the embedded epistemologies of different ways of seeing that exceed Western discursive formations. Transnationalism refers to this commitment to creating analytical frameworks that cross geo-political borders of nation-states and nationalist discourses. We seek to understand visuality in the context of writers and thinkers who write a wide range of disciplinary, national, cultural and trans-local sites. The disciplines that we draw from include post-colonial studies, comparative ethnic studies, sociology, gender and women’s studies, queer studies, art history, art education, visual culture, philosophy and aesthetics. Our interest is in pluralizing the understanding of visual practices in alternative cultural formations in order to facilitate new, intersectional and relational connections between communities, histories and discourses. We are putting different scopic regimes, the systems that culturally code the visual and their embedded epistemologies, in new, comparative conversation with each other. This is a transnational discourse on visuality that recognizes and theorizes new global circuits of information exchange and power. The group is currently engaged in a monthly reading and discussion group; work in progress paper presentations by group members; video screenings and discussions; and a fall and spring visiting lecture, which will be open to the public.

Main Contact: Dalida Maria Benfield, Ethnic Studies
Advising Faculty: Laura E. Perez, Ethnic Studies

Active Members:
Lindsay Benedict, Whitney Independent Studio Program
Annie Fukushima Ethnic Studies, UCB
Rose Khor, Art Practice
Luis A. Campos De La Garza, Ethnic Studies
Jenifer K.Wofford, Art Practice