by Irene Martínez Marín, Aesthetics PhD Candidate (Uppsala University/Visiting researcher KCL)

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (Sculpture)

Dom Lopes presented at the annual Mark Sainsbury Lecture a novel and promising framework from which to better understand cases of aesthetic injustice: the cosmopolitan theory. The goal of this theory is to capture what is special and sometimes problematic about our engagement with other aesthetic cultures. Lopes started the talk by characterizing justice as goodness in the arrangement of social life. From there, social arrangements of social life are aesthetically unjust when they harm people or communities in their capacity as aesthetic agents, which capacities serve two interests: value diversity and social autonomy. A well-known scenario of aesthetic injustice is cultural appropriation. Lopes’ strategy was to apply his theory to this form of injustice in order to show how there is more to cultural appropriation than “violation of the source culture’s property rights, misrepresentation, disrespect or assimilation”. Using the example of a Haida artwork, ‘Black Canoe’ Lopes convincingly showed that aesthetic cultures also ask for “recognition of the right kind”.  By focusing on how the members of an aesthetic culture coordinate and collaborate around their aesthetic profiles, Lopes concluded that this expertise and interaction can be undercut and harmed. And, that is precisely why cultural appropriation is problematic, because it prevents such capacities. The talk was followed by a lively discussion. Some of the issues that came up in the Q&A: how to draw the line between insider/outsider of an aesthetic culture? Who is aesthetically responsible for acts of aesthetic injustice? Are some artistic developments (those that made other artistic forms disappear) to be characterized as cases of aesthetic injustice? How are we to understand ‘aesthetic value’ within the cosmopolitan theory? The conference was attended by an international audience of over one hundred people, including KCL staff and students.


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