In “Manifesta 8 and the Problems of Sincerity,” Louise O’Hare’s analysis of the 2010 incarnation of the wandering biennial, O’Hare proposes an understanding of sincerity. Taking a note from Lionel Trilling, O’Hare suggests that “sincerity is socially defined–it is related to what we aim to be and how we would like others to see us.” Predictably, as Trilling pointed out (over 40 years ago), invoking sincerity turns the concept from the idea of “an absence of…feigning or pretense” into a quaint performance that comes off as ironic. Trilling’s example is that to “sincerely believe”is less convincing than the simple declarative of “I believe.”
O’Hare’s point is that Manifesta 8 could have benefited from some forms of sincerity in undertaking its exhibitions. O’Hare’s critique focuses on its stated intention “to engage with the north-south divide, specifically with Europe’s present-day boundaries with northern Africa and its interrelations with the Maghreb region” and the stark fact that only 10% of the artists involved in the biennale were born or now live in Africa, and precisely one artist is from the Maghreb region. Since sincerity is socially construed, and given that we all must come to terms with how we want to be perceived, actually embodying those characteristics surely is an effective way to behave. O’Hare does not say as much outright, but the three curatorial teams of 2010’s Manifesta probably could have engaged in more nuanced ways with the region they were inhabiting by way of an international art festival.
I did not attend Manifesta 8, so I cannot comment on O’Hare’s argument in relation to the events it comprised. However, I am curious how sincerity and empathy can relate to each other as curatorial imperatives.