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
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?
The Mosaic Rooms, in association with Shubbak Festival 2017, presents Survival of the Artist, a one day conference of talks and performance which asks how art can survive and respond in times of civil and political conflict.
Artists, curators, collectors, cultural commentators and institutions in the region are at increasing risk. We hear from individuals, institutions and commentators about these challenges and how some artists and art spaces endure and continue to thrive in the most
challenging conditions. From Palmyra to Mosul, the destruction of ancient sites through armed violence has been widely reported in the media; the day ends with artists who are responding to these threats to cultural heritage.
The conference is divided into three sessions, looking at the themes of censorship, artists at risk and heritage destruction. Sessions will include presentations from each of the participants, panel discussions and audience Q&As.
A special art performance will take place in the lecture theatre for all conference ticket holders. The performance is repeated three times during the day. Delegates will be assigned a time slot upon purchasing tickets.
Join us for for the first in a programme of lively talks and debates at the Barbican Centre in partnership with Magnum Photos, leading up to the celebration of Magnum’s 70th anniversary in 2017. The Magnum Photos Presents series opens with an evening of discussion between Magnum photographers, writers and curators as they consider recent critical and photographic approaches to documenting migration.
The world is currently experiencing the largest migration of people since the Second World War, with an estimated 60 million people on the move fleeing from war, persecution and poverty, according to the UN. Since September 2015 Magnum has been commissioning its own photographers to cover the migrant crisis across Europe, through the Middle East and into North Africa.
Four expert panelists will reflect on the role of the image in this current crisis; how documentary practice can represent, analyse and challenge, connecting the public to the lived experiences of a political and economic crisis. The panel will include:
Mark Power – Magnum Photographer
David Kogan – Magnum’s Chief Executive
Steve Symonds – Programme Director for Refugee and Migrant Rights, Amnesty International
Sophie Henderson – Director, The Migration Museum Project
Anthony Downey, academic, editor and writer, will chair the panel.
Anthony Downey: If I understand correctly, the genre of ‘Mirrors for Princes’ involves a form of political writing or advisory literature for future rulers on matters both secular and spiritual. The genre was shared by Christian and Muslim lands, in particular during the Middle Ages, with Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532) and Speculum Regnum (ca 1183) or fürstenspiegel being two of the more well-known examples. Could you talk about this as an idea and how it manifests itself in the context of current work being produced by Slavs and Tatars?
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest public celebration of the written word in the world. Every August they bring over 800 writers and thinkers from across the planet together to rub shoulders with their readers.
“Visual art needn’t just be nice to look at or confusing to behold, it can also be politically aware. For Art and Politics Now, Anthony Downey searched the globe for ambitious, daring and socially engaged artworks. He describes the work of contemporary artists who are creatively reflecting upon the Middle East, the financial crisis, migration, terrorism and social activism.”