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Alana Chloe Esposito: Art- A Seductive Tool of Diplomacy

Émeric Lhuisset

Émeric Lhuisset

My former student, Alana Chloe Esposito, has an outstanding post over at Streaming Museum. Part of a her series of posts on the relationship between art and international affairs, Esposito discusses her recent interview with artist Émeric Lhuisset.  Esposito writes:

When I meet someone new in a social setting in Paris, where I have been living for the past year and a half, I am usually asked what brings me here. The first part of my answer – that I am pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Sciences Po, one of France’s renowned educational institutions — pleases and impresses my new acquaintance. Yet, when I add that I also intern at Christie’s, that initial smile fades into a quizzical expression. Although most admit that working at Christie’s has a certain cachet, “why would a student of international relations (with a concentration in international security to boot) work in the arts?,” my new acquaintance wonders. Having worked at a contemporary art museum in New York after graduating from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where I took classes in international law, comparative political systems, foreign policy, and conflict resolution, my resume comes across as incoherent to some. Expressing a disconcertingly common reaction, an employee of a prestigious global think-tank where I applied for a summer position even went so far as to ask why I am “wasting” my respectable international relations degrees working in the arts. Professional interviews aside, often I simply defend my choices in terms of personal interest: On one hand, art allures me and ever since childhood art classes and visits to museums, I have enjoyed being around art and its creators. On the other hand, the idealist in me wants to learn as much as possible about the issues that propel the great game of international politics in hope of contributing to a more secure (in the broadest sense) world.

But, that is not the whole story. Art and geopolitics hardly present a case of “either/or”. The two hands stem from the same body.

It has been said that artists have a seismographic ability to grasp and express the ideas, sentiments, frustrations, and desires running through their society before the general public succeeds in processing and codifying them. Think of how artistic movements such as Dadaism or iconic paintings such as Munch’s The Scream reflect the spirit of their respective eras, giving us insight into the sense of nihilism caused by the First World War and the sheer horror caused by the Second. As happens in every epoch, much of the art created today will fade into obscurity, but future generations will recognize a few among the myriad works as iconic images of the early 2000’s. Who is to say that Jihadi Gangster by the Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi (mentioned later in this article and featured in a future article in this series) won’t help someone understand the currents running through Afghan society as the war drags on? A painting or installation, doesn’t contain an absolute truth, it merely offers a glimpse into the particular reality of its creator. Yet, this insight, coupled with a grasp on history, geography, social issues, and politics allows the viewer to connect the image to the bigger picture and perhaps derive some meaning from it. Might not such insight not bring added value to public discourse and benefit a policymaker struggling to resolve conflict at home or abroad?

Émeric Lhuisset thinks so. Meeting this week in the courtyard of his alma mater, l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts de Paris to chat about his work, the 28-year old artist mused over the links between art and geopolitics:

I constantly wonder about the extent to which an artist can make an impact on wars and other important events. I like to think they can help solve conflicts, but I am not convinced. Still, art is powerful. I remember how it struck me when the UN covered the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica at the entrance to the Security Council when Collin Powell addressed the Council seeking authorization for the United States to enter Iraq (See Slate article).

Aiming to spark a process of exchange between the realms of art and geopolitics, last year Émeric launched a series of public conversations called “contemporary art + geopolitics” in collaboration with Isabelle de la Maison Rouge, art historian and NYU in France professor and Caroline Ibos, political science professor at University of Rennes. The monthly program invites an artist sensitive to current events to present his or her work and a geopolitical specialist to react to the artwork, eliciting some food for thought. Émeric moderates the discussion between the two guests who would otherwise unlikely find themselves in each other’s company. The idea is to foster “original dialogue and exchange of ideas to open new perspectives.” Implicitly, the program poses fundamental questions: Is it conceivable that analysis of contemporary art could shed light on the major geopolitical trends of the future? Can artists play a role as barometers in our societies? What link can exist between two disciplines that are similar in certain respects, but that nevertheless seem to ignore one another? As it develops, Émeric would like to expand the project beyond the confines of academia, letting it evolve into “more of a research lab that seeks not only to explore an approach to art through geopolitics, but also to reflect on geopolitics by way of art”.

Fascinating! But this is just the beginning of Esposito’s piece. Check out the complete piece.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.