Center for Global Studies and the Humanities

Duke University

Decolonial Aesthetics /Estética Decolonial

Decolonial aesthetics refers to ongoing artistic projects responding and delinking from the darker side of imperial globalization. Decolonial aesthetics seeks to recognize and open options for liberating the senses. This is the terrain where artists around the world are contesting the legacies of modernity and its re-incarnations in postmodern and altermodern aesthetics.

Aesthesis or Aiesthesis, generally defined as “an unelaborated elementary awareness of stimulation, a ‘sensation of touch,’” is related to awareness, sense experience and sense expression, and is closely connected to the processes of perception.  Aesthetics, instead, is defined as a philosophical theory of what is beautiful as a rational investigation about existence, knowledge, and ethics. Thus, aesthetics was concerned with the appreciation of “beauty” and “good taste” – the domain of the artist. This definition emerged in eighteenth century Europe and can be described as modern aesthetics. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, postmodern aesthetics contested the principle of modern aesthetics and argued that postmodernist aesthetic practices may adopt any form, outlook, or agenda, new or old, and allow for other (than postmodernist) practices and alternative approaches. More recently, in the past few years, altermodern aesthetics entered into the Western debate. Altermodern aesthetics claims postmodernity is passé and that a new modernity is emerging reconfigured by globalization. Accordingly, artists are supposed to engage with this new globalized perception by means of translating values from their respective cultural backgrounds in order to be legitimized in global circuits. Identity is sacrificed in the name of globalized artistic parameters. Decolonial aesthetics continues moving in a radically different direction enabling the re-existence of decolonial aesthetics/aiesthesis.

The Argument (as a manifesto in decolonial terms) 


  • In September of 2009, MACBA inaugurated the exhibition “Modernologies”. This exhibition took place three months after the inauguration of
  • Altermodernity”, at the Tate Britain.
  • In November of 2010, an exhibit on “ESTETICAS DECOLONIALES” opened in Bogotá, Colombia. In May 4-7, 2011, a follow up of “+DECOLONIAL AESTHETICS” (exhibit and workshop) was organized at Duke University

See some discussions about the exhibit in Bogotá (Colombia) at: esferapublica.  See some discussions about the workshop and exhibit in Durham (USA) at: Transnational Decolonial Institute, TDI.

This meeting and exhibit aimed at creating a collective discussion on how decolonial transmodernity and aesthetics are bringing coloniality to the foreground, unveiling the darker side of modernity that continues to be a blind spot of postmodernity and altermodernity. The events at Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Bogotá and Duke University are conceived as a response to the current European concern with modernity. However, the concern beyond Western Europe’s and the US’ discourses is “coloniality”, the darker side of modernity, and its subsequent incarnations in post and alter-modernity. Although modernity/coloniality (and its variations) originated in Europe it was (violently) imposed throughout the world. In a parallel and reversed direction, decoloniality, which originated in former European colonies and then later also in those regions subject to US’ imperialism and interventionism, has been steadily speaking back and challenging the hegemony of the modern/colonial matrix and its territoriality. The subjects of “coloniality” (the colonized) are voicing their concerns on the devastating consequences of modernity/coloniality, consequences that are perennially hidden by and embedded in notions such as ‘progress’, ‘development’ and ‘innovation’. As witnesses, components and thinkers of this state of affairs, our vision is to reach a trans-modernity, to move towards a future where coloniality will finally be eradicated, where we cease to engage in the normalized Euro-centered conceptions of human existence and socio-political dynamics. Decoloniality and decolonial aesthetics are moving in the direction of democratic futures beyond Western concepts of democracy. In order to accomplish this, it is imperative to establish that human dignity is embedded in different forms of identity and identification, this dignity is radically incompatible with homogenizing notions of ‘culture’ and the ‘universality’ of artistic discourses and practices so extensively theorized in modernity, postmodernity and now in altermodernity.

In spite of the contributions from Non-hegemonic thinkers and art practitioners that have questioned these paradigms for decades, for altermodernity the complexity of identity issues in the arts is still not considered relevant. What continues to count is the ‘universality’ of art and artistic productions are profiled and analyzed solely with regards to their contributions to the modernist normative universe of ‘aesthetics’ and ‘art’. That ‘universe’ and those norms were not originated in Zimbabwe, Bolivia or Serbia. Therefore the arguments of altermodernity are based on a self-explanatory, invisible and pervasive (white-male-Christian-Western) European identity. This silenced Norm offers the epistemic foundation for altermodern critique of identity issues while at the same time conceals its own identity as a (white-male-Christian-Western) construction. Accordingly, the Norm remains as in the most ‘productive’ moments of early European colonialism and subsequently in modernity/coloniality, as well as in imperialism/interventionism, untouched, unquestioned…

Coloniality does not operate anymore on tobacco production or on the slave trade but on the control of global finances, public opinion and subjectivity in order to perpetuate and magnify the salvationist rhetoric of modernity. For the decolonial option, identities, identification and de-linking are crucial because they assist constructed Others in unveiling the hegemonic legitimacy of ‘knowledge’ intrinsic to modernity, which denies agency and validation to the identities it constructed in the first place. Nationalism did not originate in China or the Arab World but in Europe. Nationalism beyond Europe is a derivative phenomenon—a direct consequence of coloniality. It is a two-edged sword because on the one hand, nationalism in the Non-European world provides a tool to confront Western encroachments; it is instrumental in counteracting those neo-liberal ideologies that are conveniently chastising nationalism in the name of globalization and free trade for the benefit of corporations.  On the other hand, nationalism in Non-European countries could also lay the discursive foundation for the political and financial elite that would allow them to alienate and exploit their own population. Furthermore, it could also justify imperial expansion in other Non-Western countries. Emerging in between the monoculture of globalization and regional nationalist cultures, the decolonial establishes itself as an option of delinking from both globalism and nationalism by means of promoting transnational identites-in-politics beyond the globalized market, the state, institutional religions and normalizing aesthetics.