The Future of a Promise is the catalogue for the largest pan-Arab exhibition of contemporary art at the 54th Venice Biennale, published by Ibraaz. From Tunisia all the way to Saudi Arabia, this landmark exhibition curated by Lina Lazaar brought together more than 25 recent works and commissions by some of the foremost artists from the Arab world, including, Ziad Antar (Lebanon), Fayçal Baghriche (Algeria), Yto Barrada (France), Taysir Batniji (Palestine), Ayman Yossri Daydban (Palestine), Mounir Fatmi (Morocco), Mona Hatoum (Lebanon) as well as three Abraaj Capital Art Prize Winners, Jananne Al-Ani (Iraq), Kader Attia (France), and Nadia Kaabi-Linke (Tunisia).
The Future of a Promise examines how a promise opens up a horizon of future possibilities, be they aesthetic, political, historical, social or critical. With the events currently unfolding in the Middle East, the question of the future and the promise inherent within culture has assumed an even more acute degree of pertinence. The exhibition enquires into the promise of visual culture in an age that has become increasingly disaffected with politics as a means of social engagement. The artists included in The Future of a Promise seek to engage with a singular issue in the Middle East today: who gets to represent the present-day realities and the horizons to which they aspire?
The catalogue is edited by Ibraaz’s Editor Dr. Anthony Downey and Associate Editor Lina Lazaar and includes essays by the editors, Samir Kassir and Rachida Triki, and an interview with Muslim scholar Mohamed Talbi.
Tunisian protesters demonstrating beneath a poster of Mohamed Bouazizi.
‘There exists a specific sensory experience – the aesthetic – that holds the promise of both a new world of Art and a new life for individuals and the community.'
A slap. An act of violence visited upon an individual that proved to have an afterlife that exceeded anything imaginable in the moment it was both delivered and received. On the morning of 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed Tunisian residing in Sidi Bouzid, a small town south of Tunis, was attempting to make ends meet by selling vegetables from a cart when, at 10.30am, he was harassed, slapped in the face by a municipal official, had his wares and scales confiscated and, upon complaining to the local governor’s office, was denied a fair hearing to air his grievances. These are the known facts of the matter according to eye-witnesses but it is what happened next that would give rise to an unprecedented revolution throughout the Middle East: at 11.30am, almost one hour after being harassed and slapped in the face, Mohamed Bouazizi purchased a can of gasoline (or possibly paint thinner), doused himself with it in front of the governor’s office, and set himself alight. These are the brute facts of the matter: a slap translates into an unforgiving act of self-immolation and thereafter into a conflagration that has brought with it both unforeseen freedoms and brutal repression in equal measure. (more…)
In an era defined by a widespread suspicion with journalistic means as a way of generating both discussion and open enquiry, it would seem that artists are engaging with issues more commonly associated with journalistic discourse. Whilst this is not necessarily a complete departure from previous practices, the imbrication of both art and journalism has produced a different series of questions about the ethics and politics of representation. What, for one, are the implications of artworks employing the apparent objectivity associated with journalism? Does the use of an investigative methodology within contemporary art shift our understanding of spectatorship and our relationship to truth and forms of subjectivity? And what challenges—to the viewer and curator alike —are being made by these works in the broader context of current institutional and exhibitionary practices? (more…)
Changing attitudes to Islam profoundly influence political cultures and national identities, as well as policies regarding immigration, security and multiculturalism. Given that the majority of relevant scholarly works have either adopted monocultural perspectives, or approached Islam in its general, non nation-specific dimension, the need for in-depth, multi-nation studies is urgent. Islam itself, and responses to its rise, are becoming increasingly internationalised. It is therefore important that analyses of Islam-related phenomena are sensitive to the particular cultures in which they are encountered. This volume does precisely that. Contributions, some explicitly comparative, others implicitly so, cover perspectives from across Europe, the USA and the Middle East, along with new treatments of the rich diversity to be found in Islamic art, and discussions of inter-faith exchanges. They also represent a range of disciplinary approaches. Among the many issues addressed are: the challenges posed by the rise of Muslim radicalism to multicultural societies; various media treatments of the War on Terror ; the national specificities of Islamophobic xenophobia; contemporary visual arts in Islamic societies; differing attitudes to the translation of religious texts. The authors include authoritative, international experts, balanced by promising, younger scholars.
Chapter authored:The Burden of Representation: Contemporary Visual Arts in the Middle East.
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Susan al-Khatib, Sofas: A Series, 2007–08, and Doors: A Series, 2005–08. From How Beautiful Is Panama! A photographic conversation from Burj al-Shamali camp, 2008.
To a rock-hewn chamber of endless durance, In a strange cold tomb alone to linger Lost between life and death forever
In the late 1970s, during a drawn-out house move, my parents sent us to holiday camp. This was no ordinary holiday camp, but the renowned and much-loved Butlin’s holiday camp in Mosney, a small town forty-five kilometres north of Dublin. Butlin’s holiday camps were the brainchild of one William “Billy” Butlin, an entrepreneur who had set up his camps throughout the British Isles with the expressed wish of providing affordable holidays for all. The motto of Butlin’s was “Our True Intent Is All for Your Delight,” and that was precisely what our family believed. We spent a halcyon week there unaffected, as we later recalled, by the fact that the camp itself was rather makeshift, the chalets substandard, the facilities inadequate for purpose, and the swimming pool an accident waiting to happen. Moreover, the maritime-themed restaurant was nothing more than a chipboard facade with some plastic seagulls suspended from the ceiling and, bizarrely, an underwater view of the swimming pool complete with the unwholesome sight of submerged, sunless-white legs and torsos. Needless to say, all of this would remain largely anecdotal and the stuff of family lore were it not for the fact that, as I recently found out, the Irish government subsequently saw it fit to turn Butlin’s Mosney—after a period of decline in its fortunes—into a holding centre for immigrants. (more…)
‘Conspiracy Dwellings: Surveillance in Contemporary Art’ brings together nine illustrated essays of theorists and art practitioners about artworks made in the midst of conflict or from the position of commentary and critique in topics that span from the 70s to the present day. The contributors Anthony Downey, Christine Eyene, Liam Kelly, Verena Kyselka, Robert Knifton, Outi Remes, Maciej Ozog, Paula Roush, Matthew Shaul and Pam Skelton consider the practical and theoretical status of surveillance from a variety of positions that include surveillance and its impact on urban space, architecture, citizenship and civil liberties. These essays also provide the opportunity to consider artworks that address conflict and resistance as a lived experience alongside strategies of counter-surveillance that propose new spectatorial positions, individual empowerment and entertainment. Today, in post 9/11 times of economic difficulties, political uncertainty and suspicion, the subject of patriotism, freedom and democratic rights are once again high on the agenda, raising questions such as where do we draw the line – how far does surveillance have to go before it worries us – and at what point is the citizen regarded as a threat to the state?
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Downey, Anthony. “The Lives of Others: Artur Zmijewski’s Repetition, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the Ethics of Surveillance.” Conspiracy Dwellings: Surveillance in Contemporary Art. Ed. Outi Remes and Pam Skelton. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010. 67-82.