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.
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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.
To read Anthony’s introductory essay “Future Imperfect: Critical Propositions and Institutional Realities in the Middle East”, click here
Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East critically examines the role played by cultural institutions in producing present-day and future contexts for the production, dissemination and reception of contemporary art in the Middle East and North Africa. It offers critical contexts for a discussion that has become increasingly urgent in recent years – the role of culture in a time of conflict and globalization – and an in-depth critique of the historical state of cultural institutions in an age of political upheaval, social unrest, exuberant cultural activity, ascendant neoliberal forms of privatization, social activism, and regional uncertainty.
Organised around three key areas, Future Imperfect draws attention to the ongoing demands and antagonisms that have affected cultural production across the region, both in historical and more recent post-revolutionary contexts. In doing so, it offers an in-depth discussion of how cultural producers have developed alternative institutional models to negotiate the constraints placed upon their practices. How cultural institutions operate within the conditions of a global cultural economy, and alongside the often conflicting demands they place on cultural production in the region, is likewise an over-arching point of reference throughout this volume.
While the politics of contemporary cultural production and institutional practices in the Middle East can tell us a great deal about local and regional concerns, one of the cornerstone ambitions of this volume is to enquire into what they can also impart about the politics of global cultural production. This involves exploring the multiple ways in which contemporary art practices are being reduced, willingly or otherwise, to the logic of global capital. What, in sum, is needed in terms of infrastructure for cultural production today, and how, crucially, can we speculatively propose new infrastructures and institutions in the context of present-day realities?
Future Imperfect contains essays, interviews, and projects from contributors including Monira Al Qadiri, Hoor Al-Qasimi, Anahi Alviso-Marino, AMBS Architects, Stephanie Bailey, Eray Çaylı, Rachel Dedman, Elizabeth Derderian, Anthony Downey, Karen Exell, Reema Salha Fadda, Wafa Gabsi, Hadia Gana, Adalet R. Garmiany, Baha Jubeh, Suhair Jubeh, Amal Khalaf, Kamel Lazaar, Jens Maier-Rothe, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Doreen Mende, Lea Morin, Jack Persekian, Rijin Sahakian, Gregory Sholette, Tom Snow, Ania Szremski, Christine Tohme, Toleen Touq, Williams Wells, Ala Younis and Yasmine Zidane.
The publication is accompanied by a collection of special projects on the Ibraaz website from Leila Al-Shami, Wided Rihana Khadraoui, Lois Stonock, Nile Sunset Annex, Alia Rayyan and Husam Al-Sarray.
From the opening of Richard Mosse’s Incoming (2016), it is evident that we are looking at something disturbingly vivid. Abstract images, grounded in a resounding radar-like echo, give way to the supersonic pitch of a strident, purposeful engine. A tenebrous image of a fighter jet strafing a town with laser-like intensity, its nose incandescent with heat as it fires round after round of needle-like missiles, appears almost languid and disconcertingly graceful in its livid ambit.
Museum of Islamic Arts, Doha, Qatar. Copyright: Andrea Seemann/Shutterstock
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Instrumental Visions: Neoliberalism, Cultural Institutions and Cultural Policy in the Middle East
Neoliberalism, in conjunction with the policies that enable its ascendancy, co-opts cultural institutions into the realm of a decidedly politicized, and ultimately privatized, ethic of production, exchange, and consumption. Increasingly, and nowhere more so than in an age of deregulation, real estate speculation, cultural expansionism, labour exploitation, financial speculation, and capital accumulation, institutions in the Middle East have become defined by these policies. The manifestation of a neoliberal ethos can be readily seen, to take but some of the more pertinent examples, in the instrumentalist models of promotion, marketing, merchandising, entrepreneurship, sponsorship, community-based programmes, educational courses, and corporate expansionism that underwrite these institutions. In the UAE, specifically, but also in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Turkey, cultural policy seems preoccupied with statist forms of centralised management that have, moreover, largely resulted in the building of sepulchral testaments to the expansionist cultural policies of western institutions.
The ongoing manifestation of so-called “mega-museums”, alongside government-prescribed forms of “soft power” and the privatization of culture, have not only affected the future evolution of cultural institutions in the Middle East but have also predetermined what forms cultural production can assume under the rationalizing ethos of institutionalized neoliberalism. These activities foreground a fundamental concern: does neoliberalism, in these contexts, predicate cultural forms that answer to (rather than oppose) the political and economic agendas that underwrite cultural policies in the region? If we accept that neoliberalism invariably reduces institutions and cultural policies to the divisive imperatives of economic reasoning and political didacticism, can art as a practice critically respond to and inform the development of cultural policy in the region? Who, moreover, benefits from the work of art in the region? What, moreover, can the neoliberal politics of cultural production and cultural policy in the region tell us about the politics of global cultural policies regarding arts institutions and art practice in the early part of the 21st century?
There is a momentous process happening across the Middle East and North Africa today. It is an insidious development, partly surreptitious but mostly blatant in its operations. It is an evolving phenomenon that affects numerous people and communities, albeit to different degrees, and yet remains, with a few exceptions, unobserved. This development, if allowed ascendancy, will present an insurmountable obstacle to social, political, economic and cultural progress across the region. It will also hinder and obstruct relations between individuals and within communities for generations to come.
Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East launched on 22 February 2017 at Delfina Foundation, London.
Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East
ALAN CRUICKSHANK: Ibraaz launched its inaugural Platform 001 in June 2011, in response to regional developments across North Africa and the Middle East, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and its effects upon the visual culture of the region. In your Ibraaz 5th year anniversary editorial, ‘Return to the Former Middle East’,1 you stated that this was premised by a “relatively straightforward question: what do we need to know about the MENA region today?” The objective was to understand what was happening to art practices under certain political, social, economic, and cultural conditions and how this relates to global developments. And given that these conditions of unrest, as real economic, social, historical and political facts of life, you further considered what the politics of contemporary cultural production in the Middle East can tell us about the politics of global cultural production…