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Where to Now?

An Introduction to Platform 010

010_00 / 29 January 2017

Ibraaz Platform 010 marks our fifth year of research and publishing and considers 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? An over-arching question underwrites this body of research and remains central to its concerns: what are the most urgent issues affecting cultural production within the region 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.
Nida Sinnokrot, As in Those Brief Moments, 2014, 16mm film loop, three modified projectors, motor, sensors, Steenbeck parts, amplifier, carpet, midi-controller, screens, dimensions variable.

Shuruq Harb's essay on Amal Kenawy's now seminal work Silence of the Lambs/Sheep (2009) explores its legacy against contemporary discussions of participatory art and the latter's relationship to shifting social and political landscapes. Patricia Triki and Christine Bruckheimer's essay on performativity is likewise developed through an in-depth enquiry into the legacy of the events of 2011 in Tunisia on contemporary artists and participatory practices, whileLara Baladi's far-reaching evaluation of the post-revolutionary landscape examines the events of 2011 in Egypt and is accompanied by an online presentation of the artist's 'Tahrir Archives' project. Elsewhere, 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'. In Barrak Alzaid's essay, performance as a set of conditions in which the potential for transformation is expanded upon with specific reference to a number of key events in Kuwait's recent history.

 

Other essays also revisit certain historical practices in light of present-day events and critical developments, including Sarah-Neel Smith's investigation into how Fahrelnissa Zeid's oeuvre has moved through various institutional settings, and Shiva Balaghi's insightful reflection on how the work of Shirin Neshat and its often questions the ideals of market value. Hamid Dabashi, meanwhile, considers the work of Kamal Aljafari by adopting the same poetic tone as the artist and filmmaker, who presents as part of this reading the opening scenes to two of his films, Port of Memory (2010), and Recollection (2015), as well as an Ibraaz project in which Aljafari reconstitutes Recollection for the online space. In a broader context, David Birkin explores a world forged within an on-going 'war on terror' and considers whether we need to rethink or abandon the distinction between art and activism. Nat Muller, meanwhile, explores the legacy of Catherine David's staging of Contemporary Arab Representations through Marwa Arsanios's contribution to the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam's 25th Anniversary project, What Representations? for which Arsanios considers in particular the Beirut/Lebanon chapter of the project. Contributors including, among others, Ryan Inouye, Doa Aly, Natasha Hoare, Ala Younis, and Khaled Ramadan will further consider these and other themes in essays we will publish in the coming months.

 

In interviews, we continue to explore Platform 010's research remit across a broad range of conversations, including a conversation with Koyo Kouoh founder of Raw Materials Company in Dakar, and the curator of the 2016 EVA International  where she discusses curatorial strategies and how they can reframe global artistic practices. Fadi Bardawil, in conversation with Zeynep Oz, offers a broad view of the rise of the New Left in the Arab world in the 1970s and beyond, while Farah Saleh in conversation with Marianna Liosi considers her work by taking one of her key pieces, the interactive video installation and performance A Fidayee Son in Moscow (2015), as a starting point, in whch she portrays a day at the Interdom, an international boarding school in the Soviet Union built in 1933 in Ivanovo, north-east of Moscow, to host the children of revolutionary parents from all over the world – including those of leftist Palestinian leaders – as a form of solidarity between nations. As a complement to these conversations, Stephanie Bailey discusses the politics in the practice of the New World Summit with the Head of Production and Research at Studio Jonas Staal Younes Bouadi, who oversaw the project's construction of a parliament building in Rojava on behalf of the Democratic Self-Administration there. Likewise, Antonia Alampi interviews Madrassa Collective on the founding of a collective on the basis of responding to an open call, and the project that developed as a result: Something to Generate From, which ran at Kunsthal Aarhus in 2016.

 

The topic of revolution looms over many responses to Platform 010, given the remit's invitation to consider the five years that have passed since 2011. Louis Henderson discusses his 'allegory of revolution', Logical Revolts (2012), which offers a 42-minute film in search of the traces of Egyptian civilian resistance, from 19522012, against colonial and military oppression. Delving into the social contract established in the Gezi community and the new forms of public agency explored after the Gezi Park protests in 2013, Mario Rizzi talks about his latest film, The Outsider (2015), while Kim Beamish discusses The Tentmakers of Cairo (2016), a feature-length documentary that situates Egypt's post-2011 political landscape through the perspectives of a unique community of textile artists in Cairo. In a conversation with Rasha Satli, the curator of the 2016 edition of Safar: A Celebration of Contemporary Arab Cinema, which took place at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in September 2016, as organized by The Arab British Centre, and which focused on cinema released in 2015 and 2016, and thus after the 2011 so-called Arab Spring, Salti talks to Sheyma Buali about the agency of filmmaking in the context of Arab cinema.

 

Other interviews published since the launch of Platform 010 include conversations with Christine Tohme, Nida Sinnokrot, and Reem Fadda, curator of the recent Marrakech Biennale. More recently, we published conversations between Farah Al-Nakib and Todd Reisz; Rifat Chadirji, Balkis Sharara and Amin Alsaden; Mohssin Harraki and Karima Boudou; and Natasha Hoare and Hamza Halloubi.

 

Khalil Rabah, Art Exhibition, 2011. Wallpaper, mixed media, 699 x 298.5 cm.
Khalil Rabah, Art Exhibition, 2011. Wallpaper, mixed media, 699 x 298.5 cm.

 

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 conversation, 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 Baghdad; the 1989 China/Avant-Garde Exhibition in Beijing; and the 2022 Equator Conference in Yogyakarta. The reasons for such a temporal stretching, as Abou El Fetouh observes, is to challenge and reject the narrative of Arab nationalism, just as Koyo Kouoh, in her interview, insists on a reframing of the postcolonial, in a conversation that discusses Kouoh's 2016 exhibition for EVA International, Still (the) Barbarians.

 

Such gestures alert us to two further 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, simultaneously, what is the function of cultural institutions in the aftermath of revolution and social upheaval? Platform 010 will also continue 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 additional conversations with, among others, Hajra Waheed, JW Stella, Yael Bartana, Alya Sebti, and Hussam Alsaray.

 

The future, as we know, lasts a long time, and in our Projects section we have invited a number of artists to respond to the question of where we might go from here. Since our launch in May 2015, we have showcased commissions by Navine G. Khan-Dossos, Setareh Shahbazi, Amira Hanafi, Anahita Razmi, Lara Baladi, Dena Al-Adeeb, Maya Chami, Myriam Boulos, Youmna Geday, and Ieva SaudargaitÄ—. Some of Platform 010's first commissions included: Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind's recently completed project In the Future they Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2016) in which a 'narrative terrorist' exists in a process described as 'manufactured history'; TandemWorks 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, which further highlights concerns around speculative knowledge production in visual culture today and how artists contribute to a political and historical imaginary; 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; and Ahmed Badry's online iteration of the series The Provisionary That Lasts (2014ongoing) proposes sculptures that are not made to be used as such but to 'operate as a pair of spectacles to frame social and political issues'.

 

The broader concerns underwriting Platform 010 and its 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 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, as we continue to form collaborative links with institutions and practices engaging in similar questions. Recent collaborations have included the publication of the online catalogue for Qalandiya International 2016, This Sea is Mine, and the online publication for Asia Contemporary Art Week's signature forum, Field Meeting, which in 2016 staged its fourth iteration: Thinking Practice.

 

Throughout Platform 010, we will ask: has culture become increasingly side-lined 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 collectively ask, a neutral position for critique and how do we rethink the institutionalization, instrumentalization, and commercialization of cultural production whilst also critiquing our own complicity, as cultural producers, in this process?

 

 

Anthony Downey

London, 29 November, 2016

 

 

About the author

Anthony Downey

Anthony Downey is the Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University. Recent and upcoming publications include Don’t shrink me to the size of a bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walther König Books, forthcoming, 2017); The Matter of Critique, in partnership with Renzo Martens and the Institute of Human Activities(Third Text, forthcoming 2017); Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg Press, 2016); Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2015); Art and Politics Now  (Thames and Hudson, 2014); Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practice in North Africa and the Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2014); Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes (JRP Ringier, 2015); and The Future of a Promise: Contemporary Art from the Arab World (Ibraaz Publishing, 2011). Anthony has a PhD from Goldsmiths College, London, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz. He is a former member of the editorial board of Third Text  and now sits on its advisory board. He also sits on the Executive Board of Directors of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation, and is a Trustee of Strange Cargo, Arts Cabinet, and the Maryam and Edward Eisler Foundation. Since 2012, he has been a Consulting Editor for the Open Arts Journal (Open University, England)