Masks of Authenticity: Visual Representation of the Self, Self-stereotyping, and the Question of Visibility in the Age of Neo-Imperialism

Mohsen Biparva

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is about Third World artists, the way they are represented in the neo-imperialist core and the way they re-subjectify themselves to fit into its symbolic order. It is particularly about Muslim artists and their way of representing Islam or Islamic cultures in the West.
In the last thirty years, neoliberalism through the triumph of free market has influenced the meaning of art by its tendency to commodify almost everything. In this situation, an artist from the periphery has to commodify his/her indigenous culture, which is mainly done by what is called the ‘commodification of difference’. The indigenous artist then is included and entered into the neo-imperialist symbolic order where he/she is not ‘invisible’ anymore.
To do this, the artist needs to redefine his/her subjectivity according to the already existing stereotypes; since the ‘core’ could only see what is comprehensible according to its symbolic order. ‘Others’ are simply invisible. I use concepts of stereotype, ambivalence and the anxiety of the colonialist to show that the periphery artist can only be included by accepting and affirming the hierarchical symbolic order of the core (its stereotypes, preconceptions, etc). The picture of a child-like, immature, irrational and savage subaltern is among the most desirable fantasies of the coloniser, especially when it provides the crucial sense of moral superiority.
What I argue is that the authenticity of these native artists is only a facade, a mask, to hide the reality of neo-imperialism’s inability of comprehending the ‘Other’. The Other which will remain invisible, without a face, that can only be seen as a ‘bare life’ (in contrast to a ‘political life’) and consequently the subject of humanitarian interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Townsend, Christopher, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


  • Photography, Middle East, Third World, Imperialism, neoliberalism, art, media, Authenticity, Michel Foucault, Edward Said, postcolonial, theory, post-structuralism, Representation

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