Empire and the ambiguities of love

Cultural Studies Review 19 (2):193–215 (2013)

Colonialism is not only enforced through violence but facilitated also by economic, religious and social strategies and inducements. Amongst these, love has been exploited as a tool of empire to construct alliances, procure compliance and disguise the conquest of peoples and territories. Love has also, however, been the basis for an ethics and politics that contests imperialism. Friendship, affinity and amorous relations between coloniser and colonised enables a resistance to the ambitions of colonial occupation and rule. In this article, the work of the London-based artist, Yinka Shonibare, is used to examine the operation of love in the colonial context. Focusing especially on his 2007 installation Jardin d’Amour the bifurcation of love into an imperialist strategy on the one hand and an anti-colonial ethics on the other is challenged. Instead, love is conceived as a process of exposure and hybridisation that transforms lover and beloved by introducing otherness into the heart of the subject. Drawing on French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of shattered love, it is suggested that each instance of love involves both violence and caress: each performance of love is an intrusion of otherness that inaugurates the subject as an always multiple and heterogeneous being.
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