A form of political writing often called advice literature shared by Christian and Muslim lands, during the Middle Ages, mirrors for princes attempted to elevate statecraft (dawla) to the same level as faith/religion (din). These guides for future rulers- Machiavelli’s The Prince being a widely known example- addressed the delicate balance between seclusion and society, spirit and state, echoes of which we continue to find in the US, Europe and the Middle East several centuries later.
Today, we suffer from the very opposite: there’s no shortage of political commentary but a notable lack of intelligent, eloquent discourse on the role of faith and the immaterial as a valuable agent in society or public life.
Mirrors for Princes brings together the writing of pre-eminent scholars and commentators using the genre of medieval advice literature as a starting point to discuss contemporary politics in Turkey, Indian television dramas, fate, fortune and governance, and advice for female nobility.
Why are contemporary artists increasingly engaging with some of the most pressing issues facing our world today, from globalisation, migration and citizenship to conflict, sustainability, gentrification, terrorism and social activism?
Join Anthony Downey, author of Art and Politics Now, and artist Renzo Martens for a conversation addressing the implications of these developments and how they invite us to rethink what we mean by the terms ‘political’, ‘engagement’, and ‘activism’.
Anthony Downey is an academic, editor and writer. Recent and upcoming publications include Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014); Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2014); and Archival Dissonance: Contemporary Art and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (forthcoming, 2015). He is the Director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London, and Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz, a publishing and research initiative on visual culture in the Middle East. He is currently researching Zones of Indistinction: Performative Ethics and Late Modernity (forthcoming, 2016).
Renzo Martens is an artist living in Brussels. His work Episode III: Enjoy Poverty was exhibited at the 6th Berlin Biennale, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, La Vireinna, Barcelona, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, and screened at Tate Modern, London and Centre Pompidou, Paris. Currently he works on the Institute for Human Activities and its five-year Gentrification Program in the Congo. The Institute held its opening seminar in the Congolese rainforest, as part of the 7th Berlin Biennial, with presentations at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Wiels, Brussels. He studied Political Science at the University of Nijmegen and art at the Royal Academy of Ghent and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Martens is the Artistic Director for the Institute of Human Activities (IHA) and was the World Fellow at Yale University, New Haven in 2013.
The evening will be chaired by Elvira Dyangani Ose (Lecturer Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, University of London)
Following the discussion, there will be an opportunity to purchase a copy of Art and Politics Now and have it signed by the author in the Starr Foyer from 20.00–20.20.
This event has been developed in partnership with Thames & Hudson
Top 3: Event Images, Credit Lauren Mele, 2015
Last image set: Left, Cover of Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014); Right: “Impression of CPWAL Inaugural Meeting, Institute for Human Activities, undisclosed location, DR Congo, video still, 2014 “
Please note that any information sent, received or held by Tate may be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
From photographers and filmmakers to the creators of immersive installations, today’s artists are engaging with some of the most pressing issues of our time – opening up new areas of discussion and debate and expanding our understanding of contemporary art as well as the role of those who create it.
Art and Politics Now is a richly illustrated and compelling survey of more than 200 contemporary artists whose works address the political. Themed chapters explore how, since the turn of the twenty-first century, artists have addressed real-world issues such as globalization, terrorism, conflict, the environment and knowledge, often using radical approaches and techniques to communicate their ideas.
Anthony Downey’s clear and insightful discussion of the major issues and themes is closely interwoven with detailed analysis of the artworks, which include projects by Ai Weiwei, Chantal Akerman, Harun Farocki, Omer Fast, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carsten Höller, Steve McQueen, Teresa Margolles, Adrian Paci, Walid Raad, Doris Salcedo and Santiago Sierra.
In 2010, the Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal had a camera surgically inserted into the back of his head. The process involved implanting a titanium plate onto which a camera was mounted and, from the outset, his body rebelled against this foreign object by cutting of blood supply to the area. Through his own unwavering commitment, Bilal persisted with the project and for one year used the embedded camera to record one image per minute of his daily life. The results, covering a period dating from December 14, 2010, to December 18, 2011, or 369 days in total, were streamed live to a global audience via a dedicated website.¹ Presenting acute angles and unexpectedly vertiginous views, the images look arbitrary, distant, lopsided and yet disconcertingly intimate.
In this groundbreaking book, a range of internationally renowned and emerging academics, writers, artists, curators, activists and filmmakers critically reflect on the ways in which visual culture has appropriated and developed new media across North Africa and the Middle East. Examining the opportunities presented by the real-time generation of new, relatively unregulated content online, Uncommon Grounds evaluates the prominent role that new media has come to play in artistic practices – and social movements – in the Arab world today. Analysing alternative forms of creating, broadcasting, publishing, distributing and consuming digital images, this book also enquires into a broader global concern: does new media offer a ‘democratisation’ of – and a productive engagement with – visual culture, or merely capitalise upon the effect of immediacy at the expense of depth?
Featuring full-colour artists’ inserts, this is the first book to extensively explore the degree to which the grassroots popularity of Twitter and Facebook has been co-opted into mainstream media, institutional and curatorial characterisations of ‘revolution’ – and whether artists should be wary of perpetuating the rhetoric and spectacle surrounding political events. In the process, Uncommon Grounds reveals how contemporary art practices actively negotiate present-day notions of community-based activism, artistic agency and political engagement.
Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East is Volume 01 in Ibraaz’s Visual Culture in North Africa and the Middle East Series. Volume 02, Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, will be published in May 2015.
Sarah Abu Abdallah | Sophia Al-Maria | Fayçal Bahgriche | Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi | Wafaa Bilal | Sheyma Buali | Anthony Downey | Maymanah Farhat | Azin Feizabad | Ganzeer | Hans Haacke | Hamzamolnár | Timo Kaabi-Linke | Dina Kafafi | Amal Khalaf | Omar Kholeif | Tarek Khoury | Gulf Labor | Jens Maier-Rothe | Laura U. Marks | Dina Matar | Mosireen | Rabih Mroué | Nat Muller | Philip Rizk | Roy Samaha | Nermin Saybasili | Annabelle Sreberny | Tarzan and Arab | Derya Yücel | Maxa Zoller
For centuries artists have both responded to and reflected on political actions and events that shape society. Now they have risen to the challenge of questioning the moral ambiguity and culpability of governments waging the war on terror, whose methods may, according to this writer, have done more to weaken democracy than any terrorist.
Language Arts (17 March – April 17, 2014) at The Third Line, Dubai, was Slavs and Tatars’ first solo exhibition in the Middle East. In this interview, Ibraaz Editor-in-Chief Anthony Downey talks to Slavs and Tatars about the group’s interest in language, its history and humour, and the central role that language plays in the research, development and manifestation of their artwork. (more…)
Lamia Joreige, Under-Writing Beirut – Mathaf (2013). Mixed-media installation, commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation. View of exhibition at Art Factum Gallery, Beirut. Image courtesy of Art Factum Gallery.
On her recent project, Under-Writing Beirut – Mathaf (2013), Lamia Joreige wrote: ‘When excavating specific instances or locations, whether from the past, present, or projected future, intertemporal continuities and ruptures surface via what persists, what has vanished, and the promise of knowing and imagining inherent in both.’ Mathaf, the Arabic word for museum, Joreige continues, ‘is a historically significant area that is home to the National Museum of Beirut.’ It is also the neighbourhood where Joreige lives, which explains why the artists chose to conduct an archaeology of sorts that explored the many layers and foundations that constitutes this museum’s form, content and function, which in turn reflect on the history of Beirut – or Beyrouthe – itself. This underwriting is an approach Joreige has taken in many of her projects. Beirut, Autopsy of a City (2010), is an installation that ‘proposes possible reconciliations between the task of the archaeologist and that of the poet, between modern images and ancient texts.’ As Joreige writes, ‘In the middle of tales of conquest and defeat that shaped (and disfigured) Beirut, one wanders amidst narratives that point out to the impossibility of constructing a grand history.’ In this interview, Joreige discusses the logic behind her investigations. (more…)