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.
“On 2 March 2012, the precincts of the City Civil Court in Bangalore, erupted into mayhem as a pitched battle broke out between members of the judiciary and local media groups. These skirmishes quickly degenerated into acts of vandalism and the local police force waded in with a lathi-charge — or baton charge — to restore order. Three months before these events, the same judicial advocates had staged a boycott of the courts, following an unprovoked attack on one of their members by police. This attack was part of a pattern of intimidation and harassment that, as far as the judiciary were concerned, was impeding their ability to carry out their duties. Infuriated by police harassment and, at the time, the adverse media coverage of their strike (which they considered both legitimate and necessary), the judiciary turned their anger towards the media”.
“Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, is a catalogue essay published on the occasion of Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, November 2017.
An edited version of this essay, also titled “Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, was included in the exhibition catalogue for Sheela Gowda’s retrospective show, Remains, at Fondazione Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, April 4th to September 15th, 2019, with other critical essays by art historian Geeta Kapur and writer and curator Pablo Lafuente, a text on the show by the curators as well as well as contributions by Roger M. Buergel, Grant Watson, Abhishek Hazra, Jessica Morgan, Zehra Jumabhoy, Marta Kuzma and Tobias Ostrander.
In October 2019 an adapted version of this show will travel to Bombas Gens Centre d’Art, Valencia.
Join us on Wednesday 25 October for a conversation between Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and writer and academic Anthony Downey. On the occasion of Ai’s first monographic exhibition in Belgium, they will talk about pressing issues including privacy and surveillance, the global refugee crisis and the critical potential of photography in the age of social media. The exhibition at FOMU runs from 27 October 2017 until 18 February 2018.
A full transcript of the conversation will be available in February, 2018, from Third Text.
For tickets and information: https://www.facebook.com/events/120248605322937/
To coincide with new video installation Purple, John Akomfrah will be in conversation with academic, editor and writer, Anthony Downey.
Staged across a variety of disappearing ecological landscapes, from the hinterlands of Alaska to desolate, icy Arctic Greenland and the volcanic Maquesas Islands in theSouth Pacific, Akomfrah’s new film prompts the viewer to meditate on the complex relationship between humans and the planet.
The Barbican Presents: On Photography and Politics Today
Featuring renowned photographers who critically address history, conflict and the issue of representation, this discussion revolves around photography’s role and responsibility within our current political climate. Including artists Edmund Clark, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen and Ahlam Shibli. Moderated by Anthony Downey (writer, Birmingham City University). Curated by Alona Pardo (The Barbican) in close collaboration with Unseen Amsterdam.
1014 DD Amsterdam
The workshop brings together theorists and practitioners to highlight the diversity of critical and theoretical perspectives. The workshop will focus on justice, journalism, documentary film, and art as overlapping sectors of the activist media ecology, each of which produces different kinds of public concern in regard to image activism in the Middle East.
Professor Downey will present a paper on the 8th of September in the Image Activism and Artistic Practice panel.
Prompted by factors such as globalization, digitization and mediatization, the role and impact of archives are currently undergoing decisive changes.The changing role of the archive as political technology has impacted the understanding and conduct of contemporary warfare. Whereas military and states used to control the production of information about – and thus also mainstream news’ media coverage of – warfare, different actors now leak, mass-produce, circulate, and mobilize information across various media platforms. Professor Downey will be presenting his paper “The Archive as Alibi”, an abstract of which is include below.
To learn more about the conference please click here
Conference Paper Abstract
The Archive as Alibi
The photographic archive has been increasingly represented as an example of how visual “evidence” can be deployed for political, historical, ethical and economic ends. As a result, image-based archives have become associated with interrogative, critical, and juridical gestures: they are expected to do something, even if that is largely concerned with providing, to paraphrase Harun Farocki, a form of testimony against the archival image. In turn, there has been a critical and legal investment in the idea (if not ideal) of the photographic archive as an evidentiary form of witnessing that will in time answer to, if not ameliorate, present-day injustices. This is all the more evident in the wake of an unprecedented refugee crisis — one that now far exceeds the number of displaced refugees in Europe post-1945 — and revolutions across the Middle East. Images, in these contexts, are often positioned as proof of engagement and confirmation of responsibility; their archival potential apparently representing a bulwark against future forgetfulness. However, is it possible, this paper will ask, that the ongoing production and subsequent archiving of these images — specifically those of migrants and other displaced communities — are being submitted as compensation for the political and legal representation that is both withdrawn from, and thereafter denied to, refugees in the first place? Is it conceivable that photographic archives are not only becoming complicit in neutralizing political effect, but also in co-opting the political affect surrounding the figure of the refugee and the principle of justice? As models of visual representation, finally, what historical value will contemporary images of refugees — and their status as future-oriented archives — have as a tool for retrospectively enquiring into what occurred in an era defined by short-sighted protectionism, political exceptionalism and opportunistic extremism?
Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K Edited by Anthony Downey. Contributors: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Aneta Szyłak, and Bakir Ali. Publisher: Walther König Verlag. Publication Date: May 31, 2017. 244 pp. Colour illustrations.
Last time I saw my mom before my farewell, I said, “Mom, I am leaving for good. I don’t know… maybe I will not make it like the other 28 people who got shot last week” . She said “Son, if death comes, don`t panic. It is just death”.
Hiwa K, “Don’t Panic”, 2016
Covering over decade of projects, Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K provides the first comprehensive account of the artist’s practice to date. Edited by Anthony Downey, with a foreword by Heike Catherina Mertens and Krist Gruijthuijsen, the volume includes essays by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Aneta Szyłak, and a conversation between the artist and Bakir Ali. A series of texts have been prepared and revised by the artist, and he has also included a collection of anecdotes that recount gossip, stories, jokes, personal insights, conundrums, and aphorisms garnered from multiple sources. These have all been translated into Kurdish for the first time. The volume is fully illustrated and will contain extended notes on the works.
To read Anthony Downey’s essay, “Unbearable States: Hiwa K and the Performance of Everyday Life”, see here
A series of talks and panel discussions in response to Edmund Clark: War of Terror. The programme will bring together artists, lawyers, eyewitnesses, writers and academics to discuss how art may contribute to informing social attitudes on matters of justice in a time of global conflict in which laws are sometimes absent.
Welcome address: Dr Christopher Stewart, Programme Director of Photography, London College of Communication
Art and Justice I 11am – 1.30pm
How can art help bring justice to those directly affected by war? Can art question accountability? How might art manifest in the law itself? This morning session focusing on Art and Justice starts with a keynote by Professor Anthony Downey and features talks by Reprieve lawyer Cori Crider, former detainee and campaigner Moazzam Begg in conversation with Edmund Clark, and artist David Birkin. A consecutive panel discussion with the speakers is moderated by Max Houghton, Senior Lecturer at London College of Communication.
How can art represent a domestic experience of terror as a consequence of distant war? How can it help us to understand legal procedures enacted upon individuals for reasons of international security, which can in themselves be acts of terror? This afternoon session focusing on Art and Terror starts with a keynote by leading US writer Professor Fred Ritchin and features talks by IWM research curator Hilary Roberts, counter terrorism researcher Raffaello Pantucci, Professor Eyal Weizman, and photographic artist Diana Matar. A consecutive panel discussion with the speakers is moderated by Stephen Mayes, Director of the Tim Hetherington Trust.
How We Respond I Conversations – Artists on Conflict
Drop in, free I 11.30 – 4pm
How are contemporary conflicts represented by artists, poets, photographers and in drama? What impact can their work have on our understanding of conflict? This is a unique chance to join artists and creatives whose work explore, represent or question our understanding of contemporary conflict for a conversation; to hear their views and to ask questions.
Installations and performances appearing throughout the galleries include Imogen Piper’s artwork Encoded Revolt, which translates Syrian airstrikes into music, as well as exclusive live presentations of BBC Media Action’s radio drama Hay El Matar, translated from Syrian to English for the first time, and first-hand accounts of conflict and exile through Amir Darwish’s live poetry performances.
Discussions will feature artists from each of the day’s installations and performances, including artist Imogen Piper, BBC Media Action Producer Boz Temple-Morris, poet Amir Darwish and photographer Edmund Clark.