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Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology

Decolonizing Nature (Sternberg Press, 2016) investigates how concern for ecological crisis has entered the field of contemporary art and visual culture in recent years. While ecology has received little systematic attention within art history, ecology’s visibility and significance has only grown worldwide in relation to the pressing threats of climate change, global warming and the environmental destruction of ecosystems. To address these imperatives, this book considers creative proposals from speculative realist and new materialist philosophy, indigenous cosmology, climate justice activism, and Earth law as critical resources for how to model just forms of life that bring together ecological sustainability, postcapitalist politics, and radical democracy, at a time when those proposals are needed more than ever. By engaging artists’ widespread aesthetic and political engagement of environmental conditions and processes, and doing so in relation to an expansive global scope of investigations—looking at developments in the global South as much as the North—this book offers a significant and timely contribution to the intersecting fields of art history, ecology, visual culture, geography, and environmental politics, and fuels the emerging development of the environmental arts and humanities.


Decolonizing Nature presents a timely critical analysis of the parameters and limitations of philosophical, artistic, and curatorial models responding to anthropogenic climate change. Rich and informative, the book makes an impassioned argument for a post-anthropocentric political ecology, in which the aesthetic realm enjoins with Indigenous philosophies and environmental activism to challenge the neoliberal corporate-state complex. It invites us to confront tough questions on how we might collectively reimagine and realize environmental justice for humans and nonhumans alike.”

—Jean Fisher, Emeritus Professor in Fine Art and Transcultural Studies, Middlesex University


“Astute and ambitious. Essential reading for anyone interested in the arts, activism, and environmental change. Demos moves with impressive ease across national boundaries, cultural forms, social movements, and ecological theories.”

—Rob Nixon, Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Family Professor in Humanities and the Environment, Princeton University


“Demos breaks new ground in art criticism. In an expansive analysis of polyvocal artist-activist practices in the Global South and the North, Demos eschews environmental catastrophism, scientific determinism, and techno-fixes to highlight collaborative resistance to neocolonial violence and neoliberal collusion-to-plunder. He is also searching for what the path forward might be. Rigorous, accessible, and rebellious, Decolonizing Nature is an inspiring and indispensible contemporary art manifesto.”

—Subhankar Banerjee, Lannan Chair of Land Arts of the American West and Professor of Art and Ecology, University of New Mexico


“With Decolonizing Nature, Demos extends his formidable intellectual project to a realm that has until recently often been characterized by varying degrees of naïveté, obscurantism, and indeed green-washing: the relationship between art and ecology. The first systematic study of its kind, Decolonizing Nature is an exemplary combination of militant research and contemporary art history that will resonate with activists on the front lines as much as those working in the art field, reframing the latter as a site of struggle in its own right as we come to terms with the so-called Anthropocene.”

—Yates McKee, author of Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition


“Demos’s ability to distill and interrelate heterogeneous discourses, practices, and eco-political contexts, without flattening them in the process, is a breathtaking feat and, moreover, one that rises to the demands of his complex and urgent subject. As clear in its argumentation as it is dense with information, the meat of this book lies in its detailed discussion of specific artworks and the environmental struggles from which they emerge and to which they ambitiously, and often brilliantly, respond. Decolonizing Nature makes a forceful case for why and how art matters, now more than ever.”

—Emily Eliza Scott, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich, and coeditor of Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics