Confidence in Ignorance — the Museum and the Paradox of Inquiry

CIMAM 2018 Stockholm, Day 1: Perspective 02, Loulou Cherinet, Artist, Professor, Konstfack University of Arts, Craft and Design, Stockholm.

Confidence in Ignorance — the Museum and the Paradox of Inquiry

My perspective—situated within diaspora experience—aims to address the contexts of discovery and disregard that tend to dominate interactions between European museums of modern art and African contemporary art. I would however like to steer away from the politics of representation in art, and the geographical scope of public art collections and exhibitions serving the diverse constituencies of European capitals, to the question of how research outside welltrodden grounds is conducted by the museum. What epistemic assumption lies behind a museum of modern art posing to the theme of ‘a larger world’? How is the nature of knowledge and knowledge production imagined? It seems to me that, more often than not, such institutions operate in accordance with an ancient objection to inquiry, also known as ‘Meno’s Paradox’. The argument can be reformulated as follows: If you know what you are looking for, inquiry is unnecessary. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, inquiry is impossible. Therefore, inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible. To see the ambiguity, consider the question: Is it possible for a museum to know what it does not know? In one sense the answer is no. You can’t both know and not know the same thing. In another sense, the answer is yes. You can know the questions you don’t have the answers to. What research strategy should the ‘the global museum’ adopt in order to make inquiry possible, beyond anecdotal recollections from out-of-the-way biennials, occasional survey exhibitions, and exhausted secondary sources?


Loulou Cherinet is an Artist and Professor of Fine Art at Konstfack University of Arts, Craft and Design in Stockholm. She studied at the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Art and Design in the 1990s and has since then been based alternately in Stockholm and Addis Ababa. In Cherinet’s work, film and installation are tools for explorations within social science, philosophy and fiction. Her work engages storytelling and spatial montage to think through abstract concepts such as ‘citizenship’, ‘the state’, ‘public and private’, ‘knowledge’ or ‘development’ and how these notions entail a universal vision of the human. Emerging from the cities she lives in Cherinet’s critical practice traces history and politics as a lived sense of place. Her films often bring gestures of ‘thinking from nowhere’ and particular ways of being in the world into an humorous and productive tension. Recent commissioned work includes Touchstone for the exhibition Territories at Havremagasinet, Statecraft for the exhibition Who Learns My Lesson Complete? at Moderna Museet, Axis for the Biennial of Moving Images and House of Words with Elvira Dyangani and Recetas Urbanas for GIBCA and Public Art Agency Sweden.

Loulou Cherinet has participated in travelling survey shows such as Africa Remix and Divine Comedy curated by Simon Njami and Nexus curated by Konjit Seyoum, as well as numerous international group shows such as Momentum 9, Manifesta 8 and biennials in Dakar, Bamako, Venice, São Paulo, Gothenburg, Geneva and Sidney.