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.”
Dissonant Archives launched in Istanbul alongside a panel discussion with contributions from Vahap Avşar, Burak Arikan, Meriç Algün Ringborg and Basak Senova.
Edited by Anthony Downey and published by IB Tauris, Dissonant Archives is the first book to consider the various ways in which contemporary artists from North Africa and the Middle East utilize and disrupt the function of the archive and, in so doing, highlight a systemic and perhaps irrevocable crisis in institutional and state-ordained archiving across the region.
Often viewed as ordered collections of historical documents that record information about people, places and events, this perception of the archive nevertheless obscures a crucial element: although subject to the vagaries of time and history, the archive is primarily concerned with determining the future. This feature of the archive has gained urgency in modern day North Africa and the Middle East, where it has come to the fore as a precarious and performative site of social, historical, theoretical and political contestation.
In addressing these issues, this volume enquires into a number of imminent questions. How, for one, do we understand the speculative forms of archival knowledge that are being produced in contemporary art practices in North Africa and the Middle East? Do these practices foster a nostalgic fetishization for the archive or suggest an ongoing crisis in institutional and state-ordained archiving? And what, moreover, do artistic practices that engage with archives reveal about the contemporary politics of global cultural production?
Where to Now?: Shifting Regional Dynamics and Cultural Production in North Africa and the Middle East
Ibraaz Platform 010, which marks our fifth year of research and publishing, will consider the following question: what can the regional politics of cultural production across North Africa and the Middle East tell us about the politics of global cultural production today? Underwriting this research platform, we will ask an all too pertinent question: what are the most urgent issues affecting cultural production and where do we go from here? To explore these questions and outline potential horizons for further investigation, we have invited internationally renowned and emerging writers, artists, curators, activists and filmmakers to respond to the issues raised.
Nida Sinnokrot, As in Those Brief Moments, 2014, 16mm film loop, 3 modified projectors, motor, sensors, Steenbeck parts, amplifier, carpet, midi-controller, screens, dimensions variable.
These themes are considered throughout Shuruq Harb’s essay on Amal Kenawy’s now seminal work Silence of the Lambs/Sheep, 2009, and its legacy within discussions of participatory art and its relationship to shifting social and political landscapes. The historical significance of art and its social practices is further underscored in Elizabeth Derderian’s ‘Critique as Infrastructure’ where she considers the problematic of how ‘scholars have established the pivotal role of arts and culture in forging the modern, cosmopolitan nation-state’. Within this framework, David Birkin explores a world forged within the context of an on-going ‘war on terror’ and considers whether we need to rethink or abandon the distinction between art and activism. In Barrak Alzaid’s essay performance, as a set of conditions in which the potential for transformation is possible, is explored in relation to a number of key events in Kuwait’s recent history. These and other themes will be further considered, in the coming months, in essays by contributors including Pamela Karimi, Goksu Kunak, Tirdad Zolghadr, Patricia Triki and Christine Bruckheimer, Heba Amin, Nancy Demerdash, Ryan Inouye, Samah Hijawi, Shiva Balaghi, Reema Salha Fadda, and Hamid Dabashi.
In interviews, we consider Platform 010′s question in conversations with Christine Tohme – Director of Ashkal Alwan and the newly appointed curator for the 13th Sharjah Biennial, opening March 2017 – and her views on the challenges that institutions face in the current climate of under-development and political uncertainty. In a conversation between Natasha Hoare and Nida Sinnokrot, the question of what it means to be making art in the midst of occupation and precarious state security is examined through practice. Reem Fadda, curator of the recent Marrakech Biennale, talks about the work of decolonization that has gone into putting such an exhibition together; whilst in Amira Gad’s conversation with Nathan Witt, there is a broader discussion about the relationship between research-based practices and performative installations. Elsewhere, Louis Hendersontalks about the ‘allegory of revolution’ in Logical Revolts (2012), a 42-minute film in search of the traces of Egyptian civilian resistance, from 1952–2012, against colonial and military oppression.
Throughout Platform 010, we find ourselves at various points in history and, Janus-faced, we can look forward and backwards from the shifting grounds of the present. This involves not just a radical reappraisal of the past and the present, but also a questioning of potential futures. As Tarek Abou El Fetouh notes in the conversation with Stephanie Bailey, the framing of his exhibition project The Time is Out of Joint concerns three singular events, namely, the 1974 First Biennale of Arab Art in Cairo; the 1989 China Avant/Garde Exhibition in Beijing; and the 2022 Equator Conference in Jogjakarta. The reasons for such a temporal stretching, as Abou El Fetouh elaborates, is to challenge and reject the narrative of Arab nationalism. This gesture alerts us to two more questions that will remain key to Platform 010: What have we learned about the politics of global cultural production through the regional circumstances of the Middle East and North Africa in the past five years and, contiguously, what is the efficacy and function of cultural institutions. We may also want to consider the future for cultural activism in a region beset by rapidly shifting politics and, through these concerns, rethink what an alliance of cultural producers might look like. It is with these points in mind that we will publish conversations with, amongst others, Ahmet Ogut, Hajra Waheed, Younes Bouadi, Farah Al-Nakib, Todd Reisz,Kim Beamish, Morehshin Allahyari, Ahmed El Attar, Rania Stephan, Nora Razian, Mario Rizzi, and Hussam Alsaray.
Khalil Rabah, Art Exhibition, 2011. Wallpaper, mixed media, 699 x 298.5 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation
The future, as we know, lasts a long time, and in Projects we have invited a number of artists to respond to the question of where we might go from here. Larissa Sansour and Soren Lind offer an online iteration of a recently completed project, In the Future they Ate from the Finest Porcelain, where a ‘narrative terrorist’ is questioned by an anonymous interlocutor in a sci-fi landscape that exists in a process described as ‘manufactured history’. TandemWorks offers ‘a rumination on a proposed project that may or may not exist, for a river that may or may not be a river’. Written by Mayssa Fattouh, this project highlights a larger focus forPlatform 010: how do we consider the state of knowledge production in visual culture today and how we might review its function. This approach takes on a historical leaning in Tom Bogaert‘s online presentation of pepsi, cola, water?, 2016, which forms part of a research project the artist has been working on around Sun Ra’s legendary visit to Egypt in 1971.
Going forward, we will be also publishing platform responses by Talinn Grigor, Alex Dika Seggerman, Octavian Esanu, Iftikhar Dadi, Burcu Pelvanoğlu, and Sabrina DeTurk; projects by Basma Alsharif, Nile Sunset Annexe, Lara Baladi, Samah Hijawi, Anahita Razmi, Rayya Badran and Bisan Abu Eisheh. In ourChannel section we will be launching a number of collaborations, including one with the Temporary Art Platform Residency programme, as well as with Vikram Divecha’s Warehouse Project Talks, which were staged at Alserkal Avenue’s Warehouse 82 in March and April 2016.
The broader concerns underwriting Platform 010 over the coming year will include an extensive investigation into what has happened to visual culture – its reception, dissemination and management – in the aftermath of global financial upheaval, regional conflict, civil war, and revolution. Much of the content that informs both this platform, and a conference around the same title (to be held at the Middle East Centre, Oxford University, in 2017), has been developed in collaboration with both Reema Salha Fadda and Ibraaz’s editorial team, alongside its editorial correspondents and broader networks. This platform will, we hope, represent a collective and collaborative account of the urgencies affecting cultural production across the region today. We will continue to publish our findings in the coming months.
Has culture, finally, become increasingly sidelined or, conversely, all the more instrumentalized by political and economic forces within the region? Moreover, if cultural production has become complicit in the accumulation of capital – be it cultural, private, economic, or social – as a result of neoliberalism, global forms of gentrification, and the relative absence of state and private funding, how might we explore the potential for productive cultural alliances that can effectively address these concerns? A central tenet to this enquiry is a reflexive consideration of Ibraaz‘s role in these processes: Is there, we will ask, a neutral position for critique and how do we rethink the institutionalisation, instrumentalisation, and commercialisation of cultural production whilst also critiquing our own complicity, as cultural producers, in this process?