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Mansoor’s ‘Universalism’ vs. Harris’ ‘Transnationalism’ Essay

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Updated: Jan 21st, 2021

Distinctions between Jaleh Mansoor’s idea of ‘universalism’ and Clare Harris’ ‘transnationalism’

The transnational theory involves several nationalities reaching out to each other beyond national boundaries. Non-state organizations, for example, Non-Governmental Organizations and Transnational corporations are mobilized to provide direct linkages between trans-border relations across international boundaries. This theory tends to disqualify the traditional theory of sovereign states to be replaced by the exchange and sharing of cultural and political characteristics within nations. It seeks to have a global space where technology, social power, and information are exchanged.

The transnational corporations have grown into positions where they can oppose or play a part in the formation of state policies and affect the thinking of the society (Mansoor 52). Individuals play a major part in making and exchanging national and international ideas. The state is no longer the sole owner of the information and the human labor it owns. The latter is monitored by the external and internal factors of this movement. In addition to this, politics and power have also been affected. These new ideas do not take over entirely but ensure the transfer of the same through social movements and sub-national groups.

However, it is not correct to assume that these actors exercise dominance in these states because the state of a country still plays a central and significant role in managing and running their citizens. The transnational theory has been criticized on grounds that the exchange of information could be a bad influence on the state. Others could be terrorist groups or human rights organizations to undermine the state. The theory does not give a guideline on how to differentiate this from the productive good transnational exchange.

Transnational applies to various fields of society. In this context, we look at transnational in history arts according to Clare Harris. Clare Harris is a teacher in the School of Anthropology. In her article’ The Buddha goes global’, she states that cultures based on ethnicity and nationality will not be bounded in this transnational era with the mobility of artists around the globe. She studies a local Tibet artist, Gyonkar Gyatso, who on completing his studies in minority arts becomes fascinated by the unfamiliar territory he sees in the aerial view on a plane back home. Gyatso decides to focus on art, based on the different experiences he gets through traveling.

He faces a few hiccups where although he stays in the country for a while he is denied sponsorship in the United Kingdom-based on ethnicity. Ethnicity is a major issue among transnational. We see him maintain his ethnicity by keeping a ‘Tibet’ worded tattoo on his arm although he is an international artist who could very well fit into any country including, Berlin, New York, and London among others. Gyatso uses his paintings to highlight the various issues that face Tibetans when they leave home. For example, the box found in the refugees’ rooms expresses that the people should never leave home without scissors for entrepreneurial use. He relied on his tool kit to survive too.

Gyatso goes back home to Tibet after he receives his passport. He finds major changes in the city. The town had undergone a transition under the influence of artists who traveled abroad and learned new cultures during their visits to his gallery events. They would borrow building designs and business ideas in the United Kingdom and adopt them in their town, which undergoes a major transformation.

From the experiences of Gyatso a Tibet artist who grew and developed from a national artist into a global artist but never forgot his roots, Clare Harris states that art should be global to encourage inter-cultural exchange. In this transnational world, art historians no longer dwell on the past but diversify their experiences through traveling in the present.

On the other hand, Universalists assert that by having common features we are all humans who deserve to be treated with equal rights regardless of gender, race, sex, social class, sexuality. This is a demand universality asserts on the state, community, and the law. In the spirit of universality, all human beings should have access to civic duties, political change, or laws that govern the land. Society right now is more informed and free to exercise our universality, unlike our ancestors who were bound by nature, traditions, fate, and community laws.

Some of the critics of this theory question the decision to abandon one’s identity and individualistic or distinctiveness in the spirit of acquiring universally shared human traits. Others also look at it as the white community way of integrating their system into the black community in an attempt to adopt a universal race. Is it right to forego the identities of our society, strengths, and challenges in the process of adopting a universalistic embrace?

Jaleh Monsoor focuses her theories on complicated abstraction, totality, labor, and modernity as a category that is used to highlight universality. While analyzing Mona Hatoum’s work, she notes the use of abstract parallels and a grid to highlight universality in the service of imperialism and colonialism. She says that in a society the pleasure or displeasure of a certain job is based on the monetary value placed on it. Skilled or unskilled labor is based on the monetary value assigned to it.

Art is regarded as the continuous circulation of goods and services. She sees cultural production, which is affected by social and economic situations as a great limitation. She says that if work dissolves the boundaries of labor and leisure, rest, and work, then any action that comes into contact occupies the same fabric (Kim 10). Global movements come with production efficiency and not from its estrangement and scarcity.

Another problem is that of gender. The labor sector was faced with problems of male chauvinists harassing and taking advantage of the females. Many feminist artists in the 70s fought against gender discrimination in certain roles. Violence against women, rape, and prostitution was normal. The woman’s body was referred to as ‘bare life’. These political and social crises faced by the artists according to Jaleh Monsoor are what motivates their work.

They seek to find purification in their lives and turn away from past practices and be part of the globalized society. They display these features in an abstract form through poetry, weaving, and paintings. Although most Universalists tend to copy the western style, according to Jaleh they still use abstraction to describe their experiences in nature and life.

The major difference between Clare and Jaleh is that while the latter wished to dilate scholarship, Clare encouraged it. Mansoor believed that an artist should focus on using the themes of abstractness in their work, while Clare believed that artists needed to diversify into other territories and themes through scholarships, traveling, and borrowing ideas to make their art global and diversified.

Clare is full of praises for Gyatso for his determination to pursue art in the United Kingdom and eventually becomes a professional and goes back to his town to help continue with its transformation. Jaleh on the other hand criticizes Palermo’s take on sculpture and architecture and terms it as ‘idiosyncratic” she says his works appeared artificial, gigantic, and irregular. She appreciates the renewed potential in Palermo’s work on ‘zwirner and with’ saying that he appreciated the past, materialism, and abstraction.

The artists in Mansoor regarded their work as ‘a set pure singularity’, the transnational, on the other hand, believe in the art of functioning and not interpretation. According to them, the rules of their art changes during the gradual development of the same. Mansoor dismisses Palermo’s art as gigantic and irregular and refers to them as idiosyncratic. The transnationals on the contrary appreciated creativity, sculpture, and architecture.

The main point in Clare Harris’ paper on transnationals is to emphasize the enrichment of local art into a global piece by encompassing the various methods used by different communities. Gyatso highlights his art in a gallery that was full of British methods but at the same time maintaining his original art identity of Tibet. The Universalists disregarded any form of work that used lines and color and pictorial codes. They termed such pieces of work as modern.

The artists in Mansoor’s error did not embrace the changes that were taking place in global art. They were ignorant in learning the various systems of the transnational because their methods and art practices entailed brushes, paint, and easel. They were content with their old systems and ignored any new method that came along not even bothering to know the meaning and use of the various styles (Chang 10).

Consequently, these Universalist artists deny Schwitter a chance to participate in their exhibitions and general performances. On the contrary, when Gyatso’s compatriots visit his gallery shows in the United Kingdom, they appreciate the diversity of art and the culture of the state. This is evident when he goes back home and finds a new transforming town, full of borrowed ideas from other nations. The artists in Claire Harris’ transnationals are open to change while those in Jaleh Mansoor’s’ universalism are adamant to accept and borrow new ideas.

Clare’s transnational appreciates the efforts of the labor force (Harris 698). We see Gyatso’s art being appreciated since his gallery openings are well attended and eventually he obtains a British passport. In Mansoor’s articles, we experience the torturing and harassment of human labor especially the women. For instance, an older Chinese man who later pays for these services sexually violates a teenage girl.

The men are also mistreated when paid to form a line and have a tattoo drawn on their backs for the exhibition. The people brand the system suffering in universality. Transnationals on the other hand have their efforts appreciated as seen in the case of Gyatso and his fellow citizens. The fact that the town grows economically and socially translates to a concurrent growth in the people (Lionnet and Shumei 15).

Gyatso’s architectural work on the ‘Buddha’ is highly recognized and appreciated in his local country. The piece is showcased in major galleries. The Mansoor’s artists however shunned any form of sculptural works. These pieces were regarded as irregular, ugly, and gigantic. For example, Schwartz’s piece is a major piece of art, which is a combination of sculpture, collage, and any modern poetry of similar preference to western art.

This was looked at as betrayal in an attempt to replace the local art with western ways. The modernization wave, which was washing the entire local art replacing them with the new contemporary ways, was a major threat to these Universalists. The transnationals on the contrary were eagerly embracing the modernity wave and only managing to hold on to the little reminders of their ethnicity like the tattoo Gyatso had.

In Clare’s transnational, the artists are a group of young artists fresh from college. Gyatso is fresh from college when he decides to land in the United Kingdom. The artists who come to view his artworks in gallery events are young Tibetans. On the contrary, the artists in Mansoor’s theory of universality are men of the age. This could probably explain their conservatism nature in embracing the new ideas in art. The difference in age of the artists in this school of thought explains their difference in ideology, styles, and methods of art. The younger more vibrant generation is eager to learn and understand new ideas while the older generation insists on upholding the old ways and is scared of exploring new ideas and getting out of their comfort zone (Lynch 175).

Both Mansoor and Clare exploit the ideas of identity and authenticity. Their artists maintain their original images and are not so fast to abandon their identity to adopt the western image. Gyatso for instance achieves his success and goes back home to his roots. The artists in Mansoor are conservatives who are scared of losing their identity at some point bordering ignorance on their part. This is an important factor given the effects of globalization, in which countries are losing talents due to brain drain. Similarly, some cultures stand vulnerable to be lost in the effect of abandoning Universalism’s singularity nature and adopting the modernity propagated by transnationals.

Gyatso still presents pieces of arts-based on his hometown of course in comparison with the British ways. The Universalists work hard to maintain their values and old ideas even in the way they present their arts. In this way, the community is assured that their ethnicity, identity, and uniqueness are maintained. Clare describes Tibetan art as a product for the global market, which is produced via the local ideologies by the young Tibetans.

In conclusion, both professors clearly outline their themes hence it is hard to prefer one school of thought. The transnationals who dwell on the exchange of artistic ideas across boundaries to breed a rich blend of artistic works are highly preferred in contemporary society. This is with a little hint of the universalism school of thought where an artist employs the Universalists styles of art in an attempt to maintain the identity of the artist and not lose it completely. The Universalist aspect of abstract and totality can still be applied in modern art accompanied by poems, which explain the art.

Works Cited

Chang, Michael. Racial Politics in an Era of Transnational Citizenship: The 1996 “asian Donorgate” Controversy in Perspective. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004. Print.

Harris, Clare. “The Buddha Goes Global: Some Thoughts Towards a Transnational Art History,” Art History 29.4 (2006): 698-720. Print.

Kim, Samuel. East Asia and Globalization. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. Print.

Lionnet, Françoise, and Shumei Shi. Minor Transnationalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Print.

Lynch, Katherine. The Forces of Economic Globalization: Challenges to the Regime of International Commercial Arbitration. The Hague: Kluwer Law Internet, 2003. Print.

Mansoor, Jaleh. “A Spectral Universality: Mona Hatoum’s Biopolitics of Abstraction,” MIT Press Journals, 12.1 (2010): 49–74. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Mansoor’s ‘Universalism’ vs. Harris’ ‘Transnationalism’." January 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/mansoors-universalism-vs-harris-transnationalism/.


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