Decolonizing the Anthropocene: an ecocritical reinterpretation of visual culture

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This thesis is an ecocritical, art historical inquiry into colonization, globalization, climate change as well as perceptions of American nationalism and Manifest Destiny through the overarching concept of the Anthropocene.

This thesis is an ecocritical, art historical inquiry into colonization, globalization, climate change as well as perceptions of American nationalism and Manifest Destiny through the overarching concept of the Anthropocene. The focus is on the United States specifically and entails an analysis of American society and culture from a global standpoint. First, an overview of origins and impacts of the Anthropocene concept is given. The thesis then explores works of visual culture by ten different artists through diverse subconcepts. Colonial history, neocolonialism, and globalization are examined through the Roanoke watercolors (1585) by John White, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (May-July 2014) by African American artist Kara Walker, and the Insertions into Ideological Circuits series (1970-ongoing) by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles. In a further step, anthropogenic environmental destruction as part of visual and conceptual art is traced over a period of 130 years. The works Lower Manhattan from Communipaw, New Jersey (1880) by Thomas Moran, Erosion No. 2 - Mother Earth Laid Bare (1936) by Alexandre Hogue, and HighWaterLine (2007) by contemporary artist Eve Mosher provide a basis for this analysis. Finally, The Consummation of Empire and Destruction from The Course of Empire series (1836) by Thomas Cole, Emanuel Leutze’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1862), John Gast’s American Progress (1872), and Amy Balkin’s Sell Us Your Liberty, or We’ll Subcontract Your Death (2008) are examined to reveal how American exceptionalism and nationalism have influenced domestic policy as well as foreign policy in the past and the present. Visual works have agency while, on the one hand, functioning as a means for propagandizing Anthropocene symptoms and consequences. On the other hand, they can serve as leverage for ecocritical readings and as catalysts for social change.