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

Hanan Toukan
2 May 2012

'What do we do when as artists we are invited to behave as liberal democratic [beings]? You have your own space, each has their own little house, we can all live together; does this not sound like the idea of a Lebanon of all the different mosaics and cohabitation - the cohabitation that failed us during the war?' (Ziad Abillama, Beirut, June 17, 2009)


In 1995, a young artist staged a disruption within what was already perceived as a disruption of young contemporary artists probing the notion of 'public' space in post-Civil War Beirut. For a group art show, participating artists were each allotted a space within a small park to exhibit their work by a newly formed, non-profit arts organisation. As part of his contribution to the show, the artist provoked his colleagues by handing out a questionnaire asking each if they would allow him to sequester 30 centimetres of each of their allocated spaces. The artist proposed that he would exhibit what he wanted in the space granted to him by his fellow participants as long as he complied with the agreement he made with them regarding the reallocation. His request was unanimously refused.

Hanan Toukan

is a 2012-2013 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Europe in the Middle East/Middle East in Europe (EUME) program at the Forum for Transregional Studies in Berlin. From 2009-2012 she taught in the Politics and International Studies Department and the Centre for Media and Film at SOAS, University of London. Her research and writings focus on visual production and cultural politics. She obtained her award-winning PhD, titled: "Art, Aid, Affect: Locating the Political in Post-Civil War Lebanon's Contemporary Cultural Practices" from SOAS in 2011.

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