When the ancient Greek Herodotos firstly used the word Other to describe non Greek speaking tribes along the coasts of the Black Sea it was a synonym for barbarian. As for him the language of those others sounded as “bar bar bla bla bar”, all non Greeks were suddenly labeled as barbarians, as fearsome Others with whom one should not intermingle. The Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski for decades the sole Polish correspondent in the wars of decolonization, was a fervent reader of Herodotos’ “Histories”. Not only to remind himself he was travelling in the footsteps of travelers before him, but to remind him never to treat the other as the Other. All others for him are people like himself. People that love, people that care, people that share their lives with him. His books read as instruction manuals for dealing with differences, for accepting the fact that life is a mess sometimes, and as a fierce reminder history knows no end.
One day Insiders can become Outsiders, those once civilized can become barbaric. But power structures prevent such changes as long as they can. And with a reason: Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these 'inferior' others. See the Dutch filmmakers Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers project ‘Framing the Other’ for an artistic ‘framing’ of this process.
The idea of the other was first philosophically conceived by Levinas, and later made popular by Edward Said in his well-known book Orientalism. Despite originally being a philosophical concept, othering has political, economic, social and psychological connotations and implications. One artist who understands this very well is the Australian Gordon Bennet. His works centers around the notions of Insider / Outsider in Australia, and pays tribute to the original inhabitants of that continent, the Aboriginals. As most of us know almost nothing about their world views, their songlines, their art, Bennet walks on ice. Would his art be to radical, he’d be considered ‘Other’, would it be to gallery like, it would be exploitative to the
As one of the participating artists at Documenta he is more on the European radar than ever. In Australia, and in some art circles, he is one of the contemporary art angels. So there is a certain pride in the announcement of Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art www.aamu.nl : In Outsider / Insider: The art of Gordon Bennett, the AAMU Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art will present a selection from the wide-ranging oeuvre of Gordon Bennett, who is regarded as one of Australia's most significant contemporary artists. Gordon Bennett (57) has had over sixty solo exhibitions and his work was shown at the Biennales of Venice, Sydney and Shanghai.
At the website of the National Gallery of Victoria Bennet is quoted on his mode of working: “I began to use illustrations out of old social studies and history textbooks by way of critical intervention in the seamless flow of images that I plainly saw was designed to reinforce the popular myths and ‘common sense’ perspective of an Australian colonial identity and ‘pop’ history. I had in mind to create fields of disturbance which would necessitate re-reading the image, and the mythology.” And in a letter written to Basquiat after his death, Bennett writes: “To some, writing a letter to a person post humously may seem tacky and an attempt to gain some kind of attention, even ‘steal’ your ‘crown’. That is not my intention, I have my own experiences of being crowned in Australia, as an ‘Urban Aboriginal’ artist – underscored as that title is by racism and ‘primitivism’ – and I do not wear it well. My intention is in keeping with the integrity of my work in which appropriation and citation, sampling and remixing are an integral part, as are attempts to communicate a basic underlying humanity to the perception of ‘blackness’ in its philosophical and historical production within western cultural contexts. The works I have produced are ‘notes’, nothing more, to you and your work …”
With History moving on to no end in particular, this is the only logic Outsiders have at their disposal to change the tables, changing Insiders’ and Outsiders’ positions.