Mechtild Widrich
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Drawing pain
Political art in circulation
in Monumental cares
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Building on the analysis of transparency and realism in the previous chapter, and on our analysis of site-directedness in the preceding chapters, this chapter is an intensive analysis of a controversial work of contemporary art, Ai Weiwei’s photographed re-enactment of the drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. Placing this work in the complex networks of influence inhabited by its photographer, photojournalist Rohit Chawla, and its initial audience, the India Art Fair, the chapter moves outward, reading Ai’s emphatic gesture in terms of the powerful indictment of politically motivated suffering in Daumier’s 1834 lithograph Rue Transnonain. Showing how both works depend for their aesthetic and political efficacy on networks of publicity and commercial distribution, the chapter returns to the question of the circulation of images and artworks today to argue that a committed realist aesthetics necessarily combines truth-telling with the artist’s subjective involvement. In the final analysis, it is Ai’s emphatic realist identification of his own distinctive body with the political struggles he has documented and lived through that turns out to pose an obstacle to his embodiment of a victim of the Mediterranean refugee crisis.

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Monumental cares

Sites of history and contemporary art

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