Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Fine Arts

Committee Chair

Jarosi, Susan

Author's Keywords

New York City; Britain


Art criticism--21st century


This paper explores issues of identity and difference in art and its institutions through a historiographic study of two landmark exhibitions, "The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain" (1989) and the 1993 Whitney Biennial. These exhibits intended to bring recognition to a marginalized group of artists, but were largely seen in critical literature to have perpetuated the binary distinctions and terms of difference that originated and maintained that marginalization. In order to fully understand the historical significance of these two exhibitions, in terms of their critical aims and reception, this thesis examines the specific social contexts in which they took place. By examining contemporary critical responses to each exhibition, it also highlights common issues that prevented these exhibitions from being viewed as successes at the time they were staged. The limitations and contradictions inherent in art institutions will be explored in depth, since they appeared in the terms, narratives, and criteria that were used to frame and organize both exhibitions. In exposing them, this thesis claims that the framing conditions of the exhibitions prevented them from achieving their stated aims. Particular attention will also be paid to the problematic articulation of difference that manifested itself as a fetishization of difference or a "burden of representation" in "The Other Story" and the 1993 Biennial. Kobena Mercer used the term "burden of representation" in 1990 to refer to the expectation placed on black artists, and exhibitions about black artists, to stand as representative of a cultural group or its contributions. In "The Other Story" and the 1993 Biennial, this burden is placed on the exhibitions as a whole and the artists featured, not only to represent black art, but the art of other marginalized groups as well, and this burden leads to the reification and fetishization of external difference. These two products of the articulation of difference are related and, in these exhibitions, serve to perpetuate binary distinctions, limit interpretations of artworks, reduce complex social problems, and affect the understanding of the exhibitions and the artists they feature. Finally, this thesis explores the historical legacy of these two exhibitions and relates the questions of identity and difference they illuminate to broader struggles for cultural pluralism at the end of the twentieth century.