Society of the Query#2 Talk: The Institute of Network Cultures hosted a conference on Society of the Query #2 on the Politics of Search. It was co-organized by Geert Lovink and René König. My talk drew from my book, particularly the chapter on cybercafes in Almora.
My talk titled ‘Chinese Cowboy Paintings as Western Art? The Making of Art Knowledge via Google Images in Rural India’ was about how youth at a rural cybercafé in India browse through Google Images for their school project on ‘Western versus Indian’ art. Images of cowboy paintings by Chinese artists surface, and gets demarcated as Western painting. While Mona Lisa is selected, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is not. Raja Ravi Varma wins a place in the Indian art portfolio due to his depiction of classic Indian themes. Drawing from eight-months of fieldwork on digital engagements by youth in rural India, I ground current enthusiasm on e-learning and global knowledge making through a postcolonial lens. As 600,000 villages are currently being connected in India through cybercafés, this serves as an opportunity to delve into how youth in villages are taking to search engines and facilitating online knowledge circulations. Specifically, I ask what constitutes as ‘classic’ Indian and Western art in this novel context. Search tools allow for new opportunities for learning; yet, it is seen that this is subject to mediations that are historical, political and technical. Informal learning appears to be liberated from formal curriculum; yet, such freedom brings deep and persistent (mis)education. Faith in search engines often triumphs over local teachers, serving as new authorities on art critique. Understandings on art through Google Images are locally designed and not necessarily in line with global curricula on classic art, creating cosmopolitanisms in global education. Overall, I found that digital learning is creative but not necessarily ‘correct’ by formal education standards nor always compatible with global understandings.
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