Decolonization, International Organizations, and the Remapping of French Colonial Arts Expertise

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:40 AM
Room 402 (Colorado Convention Center)
James P. Mokhiber, University of New Orleans
In the colonial era, French officials in North Africa literally sought to map arts and crafts production, ostensibly to demonstrate the regional limits and characteristics of particular carpet, embroidery or ceramic styles.  At the same time, this colonial practice sought to make visible officials’ growing knowledge and control over a “traditional” sphere of economic production with deep cultural importance.  Chronicled internationally at scholarly conferences and colonial exhibitions in the inter-war period, French efforts in North Africa came to be integrated into ever wider scholarly and museological networks, acquiring prestige that made them a model for similar initiatives in other imperial contexts.  In the postwar era, colonial arts administrations in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia – faced with challenges posed by the nationalist rise and nascent globalization – sought to expand, professionalize and coordinate their efforts in ambitious new ways, through new conferences, research projects and scholarly publications.  Decolonization, however, accelerated French efforts to reframe colonial initiatives in more universalizing terms.  At independence, some displaced French officials rejoined post-colonial/metropolitan scholarly and museum worlds, while others took their expertise in new directions, via the International Labor Office and UNESCO.  Based in part on interviews and private archives, this paper looks at continuities and disjunctures in the transfer and transformation of this arts expertise. It examines how resulting “world” heritage discourses and cultural policies are best understood through a matrix of colonial, nationalist, post-colonial and “global” levels of analysis.  
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