Research Project


A (self-)critical research project of the Academy of the Arts of the World, Cologne,
including symposia, artistic program and a publication.

October 2017 - November 2018 (publication: July 2019)

Perverse Decolonization is an international research and discussion project addressing the current crisis of postcolonial studies and identity politics and its possible appropriations in new nationalisms emerging on a global scale. It proposes to look closely at how the decolonizing agenda we support is enlisted in reactionary projects, and what new forms of solidarity and common action one might propose to resist these new dangers. The project convenes an international working group of researchers including artists, writers, curators, and theorists from different regions (East Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, US). Together, they explore the notion of “perverse decolonization”, in the sense of an emancipative process gone wrong, but also bent to fit the rage of new, transgressive appetites.

Looking at the rhetoric of today’s right-wing movement, resurgent on a global scale, one often recognizes the uncanny return of rhetorical elements from the context of decolonization, which become arguments of new nationalist agendas insisting upon the right to essentialize their ways into a parallel dimension. Now is the time to look more closely at the background of “perverse decolonization”: at how postcolonial identities reproduce colonial violence, how identity politics deny the political dimension to postcolonial subjects, how “silent” majorities rise against cosmopolitan elites, and how alternative colonial projects export non-Western versions of progress no less brutal than the original European prototype. Can alternative notions like statelessness, “subaltern cosmopolitanism”, global socialist modernity, or dirty universalism lead a way forward out of a deadlocked postcolonial field?

The project commenced with an initial research meeting in autumn 2017 in Cologne, followed by a meeting in Warsaw in February 2018, both accompanied by public lectures and panel discussions. It will continue in a series of research symposia and public events throughout 2018 in the partner institutions, culminating in a symposium in autumn 2018 in Cologne. As a lasting contribution to today's urgent discourse on the subject a book will be produced (in German and English editions) in July 2019. Besides several theoretical texts it will as well document the artistic projects commissioned in the course of the project.

Institutional partners:
Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw (Poland)
Para Site, Hong Kong (China)
The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon (Israel)
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago (USA)
Tensta Konsthall, Spånga (Sweden)
Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (Germany)

Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation

Research meetings, Perverse Decolonization

October 26-27, 2017, Academy of the Arts of the World, Cologne

The project commenced with an initial research meeting in October 2017, lasting two days in private session. A wide range of topics was discussed, from the basic theoretical underpinnings of the project ranging to more specific cases in which one could use the term. These included historical examples, such as the anti-Western imperialism practiced by Imperial Japan in the 1930s-40s in the puppet state of Manchuko, or the history of Zionism’s lost alternatives and the perversion of its universal, non-localized agenda, but also about the present implications in East Asia or the current Middle East. We also spoke about a lot about present cases, such as the current application of identitarian arguments and decolonizing rhetorics in Poland on the right, and how that reflects back into cultural production, as well as the situation in Germany and other Western European countries. The two-day seminar ended with a public lecture by Vivek Chibber on the critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, and a panel discussion with some of the project participants.

Vivek Chibber (New York), Saddie Choua (Brussels), Cosmin Costinas (Hong Kong), Hans D. Christ (Stuttgart), Ekaterina Degot (Cologne), Iris Dressler (Stuttgart), Udi Edelman (Holon), Renan Laru-an (Manila), David Riff (Berlin), Aneta Rostkowska (Cologne), Konrad Schiller (Warsaw), Janek Simon (Warsaw), Joshua Simon (Tel Aviv), Jan Sowa (Warsaw), Mi You (Cologne)

February 8-9, 2018, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw

The project continued with a two-day workshop in Warsaw. The guests here were invited by the Polish partners for a more focused discussion of the situation in Poland, where the resurgence of xenophobia and the formation of a new Islamophobia run parallel to purported argumentations in favor of “decolonizing” Poland from harmful Western or Russian influences. The discussion delved into the history of Poland and its educated elite, its self-awareness as “self-colonizing” force, and the role of Western “colonization” through consumer culture. The central concern was to elucidate the background of the current rightwing shift and its use of decolonizing rhetoric. There were public events on both evenings: a talk by Monika Bobako on Islamophobia in Poland, and a panel discussion about the project and its intellectual context.

Monika Bobako (Warsaw), Ekaterina Degot (Graz), Andrzej Leder (Warsaw), Joanna Rajkowska (London/Warsaw), David Riff (Berlin), Aneta Rostkowska (Cologne), Konrad Schiller (Warsaw), Jan Sowa (Warsaw), Magda Szcześniak (Warsaw), Tomasz Zarycki (Warsaw)

Further meetings are planned for Holon, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Stuttgart.
The project culminates in a symposium and artistic program in autumn 2018 in Cologne.

October 26-27, 2017: Academy of the Arts of the World, Cologne (Germany)
February 8-9, 2018: Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw (Poland)
May 19-20, 2018: Para Site, Hong Kong (China)
June 19-20, 2018: The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon (Israel)
presumably September 2018: Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart (Germany)
5. October, 2018: Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Chicago (USA)
November 16-17, 2018: Academy of the Arts of the World, Cologne (Germany)