Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Difficult Freedom: The Social Imaginary in Contemporary Art

ENGL 266.601
crosslisted as: ARTH 297, ARTH 697
instructor(s):
Tuesday 4:30-7:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

  How do you perform freedom? Is it something you have, or is it
something you aspire towards and struggle to achieve? What role does
art play in this process? This course will explore how artists in the
21st century have constructed newly creative and critical spaces of freedom
through art, and how art functions as a mechanism for reflecting on
contemporary identity and society.  We will be attentive to how our
understanding of freedom can change over time, and what happens when our
personal and collective definitions come into conflict with others.
Emphasis will be given in the syllabus to visual and performance art from
the 1960s era to the present.  Each week we will engage artists that
explore the possibility of freedom in different ways, including William
Pope.L, Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon, Ai Weiwei, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Allan
Sekula, Laura Poitras, Laura Kurgan, and Fazal Sheikh. In learning about
these artists, we will also engage the extensive digital archives of
Slought (slought.org), a cultural organization located on campus. Finally,
in conjunction with a Spring 2016 exhibition at Slought of the work of
photographer Fazal Sheikh, we will engage the artist in conversation about
the themes explored in the course. Course requirements also include weekly
participation in a discussion forum, two papers, and occasional attendance
at cultural events on campus.