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Alternative representations and engagements: On the agency and political power of contemporary arts


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Arts and Culture: Museum Studies / Art History, research master Arts and Culture, research master Arts, Literature and Media. Students of the MA Arts and Culture: Art History take priority.
Students of the Humanities faculty who are interested and who are not enrolled in the Master Arts and Culture should contact the Coordinator of Studies in order to enroll, only possible if there are places left.


In the 21st century, the debates around the changing roles and purposes of contemporary arts are highlighted by the impact of new socio-political and environmental urgencies, shifts in cultural policies, and innovative multidisciplinary practices. The combination of these elements creates new localities, audiences, and forms of agency for contemporary art worlds and their on-going decolonisation. The rise in the importance and visibility of contemporary arts has been noteworthy in recent decades across the globe. These unseen patterns bring forward a range of demanding challenges, but also potential opportunities for artists, institutions, foundations, art market and scholars alike. Whereas politics and practices of representations are redefined, the contemporary arts are characterised with alternative engagements beyond the art institutions too. At the same time, new questions are voiced: How to create sustainable contemporary art or maintain artistic integrity? What kind of art is politically meaningful? What social responsibilities artists and art institutions should have?

In the light of the ongoing paradigm shifts, this course examines the current conditions and discources on the multiple forms of contemporary arts and how they may instigate permanent societal or political change. Through selected readings and examples of recent artistic practices from varied socio-political and cultural contexts, we will investigate how not only professional artists but also designers, activists and citizens are exploring new methods of arts to work under (semi-)liberal and (semi-)authoritarian circumstances and how transcultural networks disseminate (im)material manifestations beyond the national borders.

The students are expected to actively participate in the discussions and small practical assignments during the seminar series. More in-depth analysis and contextualization of a selected case study is developed in a research-based podcast and a written final paper.

Course objectives

  • to gain understanding of the major paradigm shifts of contemporary arts in a global perspective

  • to learn to consider, compare and apply varying conceptual and theoretical framings of contemporary arts

  • to examine the possible positive and negative impact of contemporary arts in local, national, regional, and international conditions

  • to critically analyze and contextualize artworks and related curatorial practices taking into account the local and global trajectories

  • to formulate a meaningful conceptual and theoretical framing in order to investigate a selected case study


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is compulsory. Students can miss a maximum of two seminars, provided they present a valid reason beforehand. Students who have missed more than two seminars will have to apply to the Examination Board in order to obtain permission to further follow and complete the course.

Assessment method


  • Active participation (passed / failed)

  • Podcast (a groupwork; 30%)

  • Final paper (70%)

ResMa students taking this course will write a paper that reflects the demands of the Research Master. That is, they will have to formulate a more complex and original research question and include a critical positioning towards the state of the art of its subject.


The final grade is established by determination of the weighted average and should be a 6.0 or higher. Marks under 5.0 for the paper are not allowed.


There is a re-sit for both assignments.

Inspection and feedback

Students will receive ample feedback on their presentation and paper. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The reading list will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through My Studymap Login | Universiteit Leiden is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal