Forced Displacement, Suffering and the Aesthetics of Loss

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This article investigates how artists have addressed shocking experiences of displacement in different political contexts. Drawing on the notion of ‘the aesthetics of loss’ (Köstlin, 2010), it examines and compares the different aims, desires and strategies that have shaped the histories and social lives of paintings, memorial statues, installations and other artefacts. The analysis identifies a mode of artistic engagement with the sense of a ‘loss of homeland’ that has been commonly felt amongst Sudeten German expellees, namely the production and framing of visual images as markers of collective trauma. These aesthetics of loss are contrasted with the approach taken by the Dutch artist Sophie Ernst in her project entitled HOME. Working with displaced people from Pakistan, India, Palestine, Israel and Iraq, she created a mnemonic space to stimulate a more individualistic, exploratory engagement with the loss of home, which aimed, in part, to elicit interpersonal empathy. To simply oppose these two modes of aesthetic engagement, however, would ignore the ways in which artefacts are drawn into different discursive, affective and spatial formations. This article argues for the need to expose such dynamic processes of framing and reframing by focusing on the processual aspects of aestheticisation with attention to the perspective of loss.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-156
Number of pages20
JournalOpen Arts Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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