top of page
  • Writer's pictureSarica Robyn

The Aesthetics of Media Representations

Aesthetics is commonly understood as the philosophy of art, culture, and nature and is part and parcel of representation as a mode of communication. When aesthetic feelings, experiences, and perceptions come to be explored, a specific form of social consciousness develops as aesthetic experiences appear not only in confrontation with works of art, but also in contact with social life.

Aesthetic forms of expression of media representations in particular – such as music, photographs and film – directly deliver information. In contrast to text or verbal narrative techniques which require a conscious act of transcoding, these aesthetic forms stimulate a more direct, emotional response.

Interestingly, communication in these media forms is more than a language: like semiotic processes, it is grounded in material reality. The aesthetic qualities of media representation present three forms:

(i) The aesthetic

(ii) The medium of technology

(iii) The aesthetic experience

The very mediation of the experience through a technological medium adds an additional element as it provides a way of recognising the very existence of the medium itself and observing how meaning flows through the senses of seeing, hearing and touch. The aesthetic consciousness itself can appeal to the fact that the media technology communicates itself.

So what is the relation between aesthetic qualities of media representations and their effects on consciousness and society?

The aesthetic in fact politicises representation by mobilising history and ethics, imbuing a media form with agency – allowing it to speak and, even more importantly, to suggest. An assertion of politics is expressed via aesthetics, which in turn, affects and shapes social and political consciousness and society in general.


A good example of the social and political consciousness arising in music forms has been explored in ethnographies by Tomas (2013) and Moorman (2014) on Kuduro as a media representation.

Kuduro is a contemporary genre of music and dance produced and consumed in Angola; the expression of young urban Angolans. Born of the dislocation and violence of war, musicians break down and speed up beats and dancers break down the body in order to reconnect the parts.

Kuduro dancers look like “they have no bones”. This element of the dance form is particularly pertinent as during the civil war the bodies of young people, particularly young men, were the sites of violence. When Angolan youths dance Kuduro they “remake themselves corporeally and perform their survival”, producing a novel aesthetics (Moorman, 2014).

Hence, the aesthetic quality of the music form – the lithe movements – affects and shapes political consciousness in its ability to allow dancers to turn their dire material conditions into cultural raw materials. Dancers who are missing limbs turn their physical liabilities into tools of performance.

Kuduro is the medium rather than the message, but interestingly, the medium is the message itself. Kuduro becomes a technological device mobilised by youths as a tool of social mobility and visibility. This avenue of social mobility is viewed as a way to traverse class divide.

So what does this example tell us?

What this ethnographic material presents is the idea of aestheticised politics. If we were to wrongly consider aesthetics as simply the study of the affective, the sentient, and the emotional – in other words, that which functions as art – then such modernist discourse would relegate aesthetics to outside of the realm of rationality.

Yet what we can see here is that media forms are in fact central to the repositioning of aesthetics, and by extension politics. Precisely because of the postmodern fluidity of contemporary culture to which these media forms contribute greatly, the aesthetic is no longer marginalised from the realm of politics. Rather, the aesthetic acquires agency in postmodernity and becomes indispensable in terms of its impact.

Aestheticised media representation acts as an agent that repositions politics on the edges of rationality. In so doing, the aesthetic allows for the binary opposites of reason and sentience to meet.

The aesthetic is hence an invitation to engage. The boundaries between aesthetics and politics become blurred as one is led to envision an aesthetic rearrangement of the ideological structures within which one approaches the media.


Moorman, M. (2014). “Anatomy of Kuduro: Articulating the Angolan Body Politic after the War”. African Studies Review 57(3): 21-40.

Tomás, A. (2014). “Becoming Famous: Kuduro, Politics and the Performance of Social Visibility”. Critical Interventions 8(2): 261-75.

183 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Digital Selves Podcast Series

Digital Selves Podcast Series I collaborated with Claro Partners on a podcast series on digital selves. Listen to us discussing the nature of digital identity, algorithms, and the ramifications of the


bottom of page