chapter  5
Victimhood in reverse
Art in the age of apology
ByLieke Wijnia
Pages 16

Social justice movements, governments debating the relevance of political apologies, and courts ruling over reclaimed rights constitute the public spheres in post-colonial societies. While activists aim for continued attention to their causes, apologies and court rulings suggest a state of resolution. However, it remains to be seen to what extent post-colonial times are characterized by resolution at all. Artistic practices play a pivotal role, both in demands for social action as well as questioning the assumed state of resolution. Demands and questions alike were at the heart of the exhibition ‘Bell Invites’, hosted by the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) in the spring of 2016. After the invitation to exhibit at SMBA, Aboriginal artist Richard Bell (1953) in turn invited several artists to join him in a collaborative effort, reinforcing the widespread character of post-colonial issues in Australia, the Netherlands and the United States. This chapter approaches victimhood as a cultural concept, in order to analyse its multi-layered manifestation in artistic practices. The first layer is grounded in identification with victimhood resulting from a sense of social injustice, the second advocating a rejection of, and resistance to, the label of victimhood, and the third pinpoints the uncomfortable privilege of the inability to claim any kind of victimhood at all. Ultimately, this chapter argues for the relevance of artistic practices in understanding cultural constructions of victimhood in the age of apology.