Art and Research: A Portrait of a Humanities Faculty as an Inclusive Workspace
At a time when monuments are falling, learning processes and discourses accelerating, it seems apposite to pay attention also to artworks commissioned by established institutions in order to give form to good intentions. This essay focuses on a commissioned portrait of female professors, on art (history) education, Dutch art policy / politics and the former colonial (VOC) site that the University of Amsterdam occupies, in order to aide this institution’s desired process to become more inclusive. It proposes Art(istic) Research as a realm that can contribute a differentiated and thoughtful positioning of research and universities in visual and public domains: a necessary ally.
Since the essay was written in Summer 2019 (with later additions), much has happened: the Faculty in question has been found to be the locus of ongoing sexual harassment. The student victims did not feel that the (internal) complaints procedures were safeguarding them sufficiently. They went to the media. The university’s ombudsperson asked to investigate found no systemic deficiencies. Since George Floyd’s death, such a conclusion is no longer possible, and the Board of the university has admitted shameful and systemic failures. We now know better what “systemic” means.
This essay’s case study is meant to show that art (history) and philosophy can jointly analyze systems and organizations as a basis for necessary conversations, followed by a broad range of people taking responsibility and acting accordingly.
In Covid lock-down times, it became deceptively obvious how unimportant art is. Through an essay such as this (and the Faculty’s “art committee” that I established), it is hopefully also evident how art can be an indicator of institutional culture: e.g. in relation to how embedded the principle to consult specialists is, even if this seems to be unimportant. And that is a matter of life and death.