University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Some of the most horrific chapters in human history have involved an ethnic dimension, notably the centuries-long obliteration of traditional Nigerian cultures by European colonizers, the attempted destruction of European Jews in the Holocaust, and the World War ll decision to assault the Japanese with atomic bombs. The consequences of the above atrocities are not contained within temporal or cultural barriers, but hold profound and pervasive ramifications within contemporary society in its entirety. More recent conflicts in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Balkans reemphasize the horror and suffering brought about by cultural collisions. One of the most potent reactions to ethnic exploitation, persecution and brutality is the aesthetic response, art as the product of atrocity. To demonstrate the powerful implications entailed within the realm of aesthetics, this study explores three contemporary artistic responses to cultural atrocity (Art Spiegelman's Maus, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, and Hijikata Tatsumi's Buto ), and focuses on the concept of art as a refutation of (or resistance to) the aesthetic of the oppressor. Each response probes the tenability and function of art as a means of cultural, social, and political resistance in three ethnically and geographically disparate settings, and attempts to illuminate the potent ramifications entailed within today's society. This paper serves as an overview and summation of my Honors senior thesis, which considerably extends and expands the ideas presented here. The larger study examines the history of the cultural atrocity in question and the biography of each artist and offers an analysis of the respective artistic pieces. The greater effect of each work is also assessed--for example, whether the art is viewed by elite or popular audiences, serves to facilitate individual understanding, vindicates an entire ethnic group, or pursues a global objective.