The (Networked) Image in Conflict: Digital Archives, Cultural Activism, and the Dilemma of Evidence
Anthony Downey (Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa, Birmingham City University)
Have artists and cultural institutions realigned how we look at and engage with political activism, historical events, and revolutionary conflict? The extent to which the visual arts reflected upon and promoted social and political change during and after the Arab Spring gives rise to this and other questions about digital archives, cultural activism, and the dilemma of evidence in an age of networked communication systems. Throughout this time, digital archives — produced through video- and film-making, performances, and numerous media platforms — and their evidentiary contexts became closely associated with activist practices, leading to a number of prevailing assumptions about both cultural production in the region and the effectiveness of digital and social media as tools for enabling political transformation. In light of these conjectures, and revelations concerning the on-going role of social media in surveillance and the proliferation of disinformation, this keynote will propose a critical framework for artists, cultural institutions, and policy-makers alike to engage with both the potential and, crucially, the shortcomings of cultural activism during this period.
The 2018 International Conference of Photography and Theory (ICPT 2018) interweaves the ideas of the conflictual and the archival in relation to the photographic image.
Artist Akram Zaatari will be in conversation at the New Art Exchange, on the 14 July, 2018, with academic, editor, and writer Anthony Downey. Drawing from his research into vernacular photography, Zaatari explores the ways in which individuals experiment with performative narratives that start with studio photography and extend to YouTubing, with a strong focus on how Muslim communities are presenting online counter-narratives to negative depictions in the media.
For further information and to book tickets, see here.
Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (2017) edited by Anthony Downey
Rawan Sharaf Khatib
This volume is an extensive anthology that investigates the history and current politics of cultural institutions and production in the Middle East. It is the latest addition to the series ‘Visual Culture in the Middle East’ published by Ibraaz, and was preceded by Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (2014) and Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015). The series, which is based on questions raised in Ibraaz’s ‘Platforms for discussion’, attempts to interpret and comprehend how the accelerated regional upheaval, with the social and economic breakdown caused by revolutions, counter-revolutions and civil wars, has echoed in visual and cultural practices in terms of responses to the specific antagonisms, and the developing of alternative structures and models of production while operating in precarious political conditions. And how, simultaneously, cultural production in the region is influenced by the global cultural economy, and perhaps even co-opted, or at least driven by, the politics and parameters of a globalised art market.
For the full review see Third Text online review here.
On the occasion of their show “Unconformities” at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige will be in conversation with Anthony Downey to discuss the work relevance to Athens, Beirut and Paris, and their broader practice as researchers and film-makers. The event is an Onassis Culture international co-production as part of the Onassis Fast Forward Festival 5.
The following edited transcript of a conversation between John Akomfrah and Anthony Downey took place at the Barbican Centre’s Curve Gallery on 12 October 2017. The event coincided with Akomfrah’s installation of his six-channel film Purple in the gallery (6 October 2017 – 7 January 2018) and begins with a discussion of the film’s main ideas and how the artist’s interest in ‘clearing the stage’ enabled him to invite new elements into both the film and into his working practice. Although Purple has a starting point in aspects of Akomfrah’s biography, its subject matter is much broader and far-reaching taking in, as it does, the so-called Anthropocene epoch. The latter term is being widely used to designate a period in which human activity has shifted from being a ‘biological agent’ ‒ impacting on a specific and largely localised environment ‒ to becoming a ‘geological agent’; capable, that is, of radically altering the world’s relatively stable climate patterns.
If the disavowal or absence of legal and political representation before the law is a feature of being a refugee in an era of political exceptionalism, then what happens when artistic representation is inserted into this already compromised regime of visibility? In an all too amenable substitution that can often reconfirm the apparent absence of legal accountability, this lecture will suggest that cultural forms of representation are increasingly compensating for — if not replacing — the very systems and procedures of political and legal responsibility that are being denied refugees in the first place? This culturalisation of political debate has, in turn, effected one of the key aims of neoliberalism: the de facto co-option of culture so that it ultimately answers to and performs, rather than opposes, political debate.
BAR is a live-work space for artists/collectives looking to develop projects in a stimulating environment. The goal of the program is to facilitate collaboration between international as well as local artists. During their time, residents are encouraged to diverge from their usual practice and experiment with new ideas with the comfort of knowing that they are not expected to produce finished work at the culminating Open Studio event. The BAR team hold weekly meetings with artists to help them locate materials, connect with local art figures and generally find their bearings in this multifaceted city.
The jury for choosing artists for 2019 included Fouad Elkoury, Anthony Downey, Ziad Antar, Sandra Dagher, and Bernard Khoury. For more information, see here.
Bringing together artists, therapists, critics and criminologists, the symposium will consider how prisoners and the criminal justice system are perceived by the public, politicians and media and the potential for artists to influence these perceptions. Presentations and discussion will address the following: the representation of prison(ers) in the media and discourse about criminal justice; the representation of prison(ers) in art and cinema; the role of art and creative therapies in prison and rehabilitation.
Anthony Downey will be in conversation with Edmund Clarke at 16:00 on the 11 March. For further details, see here.
The Future of Image Production in the Middle East: Critical Practices and Digital Networks
In this workshop, Anthony Downey will address how images circulate within the context of the Middle East today. He will examine how computer generated images are not just replacing the “real” of events in the region, but determining the means by which history is been represented and archived. A key element here is the extent to which new and social media are being presented as transparent means for political ends in contemporary art practices and how cultural production is made to stand in for political action and social commentary. These processes have given rise to politicized archives and interpretive anxieties about virtual evidence and image-based historiographies, nowhere more so than when social media and digital platforms are being used as evidentiary tools to explain conflict across the Middle East.
Who Benefits from the Work of Art: Political Exceptionalism and the Refugee Condition
A lecture by Anthony Downey
If the disavowal or absence of legal and political representation is a feature of being a refugee in an era of political exceptionalism, then what happens when artistic representation is inserted into this already compromised regime of visibility? In an all too amenable substitution that can often reconfirm the apparent absence of legal accountability, this lecture will suggest that cultural forms of representation are increasingly compensating for — if not replacing — the very systems and procedures of political and legal responsibility that are being denied refugees in the first place? This culturalisation of political debate has, in turn, effected two of the key aims of neoliberalism: the depoliticisation of debate and the de facto co-option of culture so that it ultimately answers to, rather than opposes, political debate.
The conversation will be in English with simultaneous translation into Russian. For further information, see here.