Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future

By Carlos Garrido Castellano

Subjects: Art, Postcolonial Studies, African Studies, Latin American Studies, Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series, Praxis: Theory in Action, SUNY Press Open Access
Hardcover : 9781438485737, 348 pages, October 2021
Paperback : 9781438485720, 348 pages, July 2022

Alternative formats available from:

Open access edition available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations


Part I: Undisciplining Socially Engaged Art

1. Art Biennials and Postcolonialism's Politics of Discourse

2. The Lexicon of Social Practice and Socially Engaged Art's Futures

Part II: Radical Affinities and the Horizon of Decolonization

3. On Experience, Land Use, and the Threats of the Bourgeoisie: Learning from Amílcar Cabral

4. Art, Engagement, and Popular Imagination: Around the "Missed Encounter" between Theodor Adorno and C. L. R. James

Part III: Legacies

5. The Boda Moment: Repositioning Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary Uganda

6. Art and Politics in Times of Reform: The Collective and the Contemporary in Indonesia

7. Agency and (Street) Art Politics in Beirut: On Temporary Art Platform's Guide for Urban Intervention

Part IV: Enclosures, Apertures, and the Performative

8. Utility, Multispecies Agency, and Speculative Study: On Ensayos

9. Activism and Performance in the Age of Intellectual and Artistic Witch Hunting

Open Coda: Black Lives Matter and/for the Genealogies of Subversive Artistic Creativity


Analyzes socially engaged art practices worldwide, linking them to decolonial struggle and critique.


Analyzing the confluence between coloniality and activist art, Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future argues that there is much to gain from approaching contemporary politically committed art practices from the angle of anticolonial, postcolonial, and decolonial struggles. These struggles inspired a vast yet underexplored set of ideas about art and cultural practices and did so decades before the acceptance of radical artistic practices by mainstream art institutions. Carlos Garrido Castellano argues that art activism has been confined to a limited spatial and temporal framework—that of Western culture and the modernist avant-garde. Assumptions about the individual creator and the belated arrival of derivative avant-garde aesthetics to the periphery have generated a narrow view of “political art” at the expense of our capacity to perceive a truly global alternative praxis. Garrido Castellano then illuminates such a praxis, focusing attention on socially engaged art from the Global South, challenging the supposed universality of Western artistic norms, and demonstrating the role of art in promoting and configuring a collective critical consciousness in postcolonial public spheres.

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to Knowledge Unlatched—an initiative that provides libraries and institutions with a centralized platform to support OA collections and from leading publishing houses and OA initiatives. Learn more at the Knowledge Unlatched website at:, and access the book online at the SUNY Open Access Repository at

Carlos Garrido Castellano is Lecturer in the Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies Department at University College Cork in Ireland. He is the author of Beyond Representation in Contemporary Caribbean Art: Space, Politics, and the Public Sphere.


"Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future is breathtakingly original in its proposal of a historically grounded decolonial lens; one that reanimates socially-engaged art practice as global, heterogenous, and context-specific." — Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, the Museum of Modern Art

"As neoconservatives and progressives vie over the shape of the future, Carlos Garrido Castellano beckons readers into an urgent, unfinished dialogue among active practitioners of decolonization. From sustained encounters with the 1960s anticolonial thought and praxis of Cape Verdean and Guinea Bissauan Amílcar Cabral and Trinidadian C. L. R. James to contemporary socially engaged Chilean, Indonesian, Latin American, Lebanese, and Ugandan aesthetic collectives, we enter into the unpredictable processes of specific collaborative experiments in radical Global Southern creative imagining. Giving material shape to how colonial 'pasts'—and those of brutal, civil conflict—haunt the present, such insurgent cultural workers refute empty claims to the demise of art’s potential for social transformation. They and Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future urge us to join in reigniting the collective, socially led aesthetics that framed producing radically emancipated culture, human relations, institutions, and networks as nothing less than the creation of a new society. A fascinating, galvanizing, and important read!" — Jane Anna Gordon, author of Statelessness and Contemporary Enslavement

"Boldly interrupting academic and mainstream art world attempts at normalizing socially engaged art, Carlos Garrido Castellano re-envisions its complex, historical narrative as an anti-colonial project that stretches from Beirut, Jakarta and Kampala, to Havana, Santiago, and Rio de Janeiro. Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future points us to an important re-theorization of this influential contemporary art practice, making his book essential reading for all those seeking to map-out the transformative potential of cultural politics now, and in the decades to come." — Gregory Sholette, author of The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art

"Carlos Garrido Castellano's Art Activism for an Anti-Colonial Future is a groundbreaking work. Castellano's book points the way for the future development of socially engaged art scholarship, as it expands beyond the geographic parochialism of Europe and North America and comes to terms with the rich complexity of artistic practice, and resistance, beyond the institutional artworld. The question of the post- and anticolonial is one of the most pressing issues in engaged art theory today, and Castellano is clearly at the cutting edge of this important research." — Grant Kester, author of Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art

"Carlos Garrido Castellano's new book is both timely and timeless. Grappling in a most fluid and elegantly expressed way with social, aesthetic, and political problems of 'socially engaged art' across the planet, he is able to illuminate and suggest solutions to longstanding problems that have beset artists, writers, and intellectuals of all stripes in our globally connected world. He writes in a completely accessible way about deeply concerning issues. This book is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary art and culture." — Edward J. Sullivan, New York University

"This is a capacious and nuanced discussion of the power and capacity of socially engaged art to carry forward the still unfinished task of decolonization, and offer an alternative way to visualize humanity. Garrido Castellano shows that artists from Indonesia to Lebanon, Uganda to Latin America, are extending the legacy of Amilcar Cabral, CLR James and other radical anti-colonialists through their heterogeneous art practices. In the process, they are offering urgent critiques of capitalism while also forging new anti-racist transnational connections." —Ania Loomba, University of Pennsylvania

"Carlos Garrido Castellano's Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future poses the following question: How should we think through the relation between socially engaged art practices and traditions of decolonial criticism? In an elegant and wide-ranging argument, routed through the agonistic temporalities of the global South, Garrido Castellano urges us to recast our conventional understandings of histories of art and activism in such a way as to enable us to recognize those moments and conjunctures in which a creative visual labor disrupts and displaces the regulative norms of our neoliberal age. Like all generative provocations, this book will challenge us to unlearn as well as relearn the conceptual lexicons of contemporary aesthetic theory." — David Scott, Columbia University

"I began this book with interest and continued with mounting excitement. Exploring alternative genealogies of socially engaged art, Garrido Castellano rescues artists' located emancipatory practices from the jaws of Western European and U.S. theories, bringing attention to how/where we begin: with collaborative, experimental and creative acts meant to dismantle, precisely, hegemonic histories." — Suzanne Lacy, Professor of Art and Design, University of Southern California