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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Aaron Cezar, Director, Delfina Foundation
2 May 2012

The MENA region is not short of attempts by cultural practitioners to interrogate, negotiate and redefine 'the public' (as manifested in the form of an institution, a public space, an audience, or the essentials of civil society). Some of most potent images of events over the last year in the Arab world have been those of graffiti artists/activists, cartoonists and caricaturists that have not only communicated demands and frustrations at the street level in the most immediate way, but have also caught the world's attention and transformed how the region is viewed. The forthcoming 4th Riwaq Biennale in Palestine and Tunisia's second Dream City project, run by artists and activists, also attempt to re-imagine possibilities about how society engages with politics and place. The list of examples goes on.


The question then is not about whether artistic practices 'can' offer insights and negotiate but 'should' they? This is about responsibility. Should cultural practitioners feel a sense of responsibility towards the public? Should the public place this responsibility on cultural practitioners? In the MENA region – as much throughout the world – it can be argued that the tension between can or can't, should or shouldn't, and do or don't produces a fruitful relationship of disagreement. For every argument about what art is for, there is a counter-argument; for every attempt to instrumentalise and co-opt, a rebellion to break free; for every mainstream, a fringe or splinter group; and for every opportunist, an altruist. Perhaps the primary responsibility of cultural practitioners is to keep us all in check, which might have more to do with maintaining a healthy state of flux – rather than any status quo – around which civil society is (re)constructed.

Aaron Cezar

is the founding Director of Delfina Foundation, where he develops and directs its interrelated programme of international residencies, exhibitions and public platforms with artistic practitioners from the UK, the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. Also working as a creative producer, he develops arts projects and discourse around contemporary visual culture.

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