New at Leuphana: Prof. Ph.D. Karen Benezra - Rethinking Marx

2021-11-01 The junior professor of Art - Theory - Critique combines political philosophy, art theory and Latin American studies in her research. She will soon publish an anthology on capitalism and subjectivity in Latin American critical theory and culture.

Karen Benezra ©Leuphana, Marie Meyer
Marxism is alive because it’s also incomplete, says Karen Benezra, junior professor of Art - Theory - Critique.

Karl Marx knew relatively little about Latin America. Nevertheless, his writings are widely read there and have given rise to highly creative ways of thinking about political economy. One thinks of Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution, but perhaps less so about José Aricó or René Zavaleta Mercado. This coming March, SUNY Press will publish the anthology Accumulation and Subjectivity: Rethinking Marx in Latin America. Editor Prof. Dr. Karen Benezra, Junior Professor of Art - Theory - Critique, wants to rediscover Marx and Marxist theory in Latin America with this work: "Latin American social and political thinkers reinterpreted Marxian concepts and categories in light of their own historical and political contexts. The volume tries to illuminate these kinds of intellectual genealogies. But it’s not a museum; it also tries to do this work itself, for example, by asking how concepts like primitive accumulation get rethought at the U.S.-Mexican border.” Marxism is alive because it’s also incomplete. By combining reflections on political philosophy, intellectual history, narrative, law and film from the colonial period to the present day, a changed narrative emerges that can also be applied to other historical contexts. "We can go back to theories from Latin America that have been overlooked and find tools of understanding contemporary capitalism," explains Karen Benezra.

Another area of research for the specialist in twentieth-century Latin America is contemporary art and, more specifically, the concept of dematerialization. The researcher examines the intertwined experimental practices and critical discourses of art and industrial design in Argentina, Mexico and Chile in the 1960s and 1970s: “The conceptual and semiotic turns of the 1960s represent a watershed moment in the history of visual art and industrial design. Artists and theorists tried to redefine modern art and architectural form. But the dominant history of this shift, especially in post-60s art, is a parochial one.” The story of conceptual art, Benezra explains, is one told by a handful of New York-based artists who inscribed this moment in a history of avant-gardist experimentation they also claimed to inherit. She is concerned, by contrast, with the connection among art, aesthetics, and ideology—and with exploring art and politics as cauldrons for thought. Her first book, “Dematerialization: Art and Design in Latin America”, examines how the so-called dematerialization of art and design emerged as a concept thanks to the radical social changes brought about by the accelerated capitalist development of the preceding decades. Benezra expounds on how artist-theorists like Argentinean Oscar Masotta configured a novel materialist approach to art, opening the door for critics and theorists to do the same today.

Karen Benezra received her Ph.D. from the renowned Cornell University/USA and was most recently an assistant professor at Columbia University. She was particularly interested in the advertised professorship at Leuphana: "The institute is unique," says the scientist: "Art-history from the global south is very trendy now, but here at Leuphana they wanted to engage this world on the level of thought," explains Karen Benezra.

In 2014, she co-edited "The Act: Psychoanalysis and/in its effects", a special journal issue that explored psychoanalysis and the impact of the unconscious on culture. Karen Benezra is currently working on two other books: one on the relationship between property and collectivity in Latin American social and political thought the mid- 20th century, and another on the relationship between art and hegemony in Chile during the country's extended period of Popular Front politics in the works of muralists, graphic artists and intellectuals.

Karen Benezra received her Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies with a minor in Comparative Literature from the prestigious Cornell University. She is the author of “Dematerialization: Art and Design in Latin America” (University of California Press, 2020) and editor of “Accumulation and Subjectivity: Rethinking Marx in Latin America”, to be published by the State University of New York Press in early 2022. Karen Benezra has been editor of the journal ARTMargins since 2012. Before her time at Leuphana, she was Assistant Professor at Columbia University. In 2021 she took over the assistant professorship for Art - Theory - Critique at the Institute for Philosophy and Art Studies at Leuphana University Lüneburg.

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