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

Larissa Sansour
2 May 2012

As a politically engaged artist, I have to believe that artistic practices do have the potential to offer insights and negotiate anything from the demands of cultural institutions to politics and the ideals of civil society. Without such a belief, the entire foundation of what I do would be rattled. In each case, however, it is a tug-and-pull relation. It would, for instance, be naive to think that artistic practices themselves are not influenced by cultural institutions – either by being limited by them or acting in defiance of them. Artists are often driven by an urge to defy the restrictions, standards and politics of cultural institutions, and the resulting artistic gestures will eventually be submitted to a hopefully re-negotiated version of the institutions rebelled against, if you will.


As for the potential to negotiate the ideal of civil society, this brings into question the role and impact of political art as such. In my experience, most politically engaged artists tend to struggle with this question. But once again, staying afloat and continuing to produce work requires a belief in the ability of artistic practices to inspire change. Given the right exposure and platform, it is my firm belief that any adequately poignant piece can negotiate ideas and bring about change on a much larger scale than the gallery or museum format normally provides. Art holds the potential to challenge the status quo, the inherent logic of social structures and the consequences of political decisions by means not available to other disciplines, and the awareness of this massive potential has always unsettled the guardians of the status quo.


Last year when my name was revoked from the list of eight nominees for the Lacoste Elysée Prize, due to the politics of my work, a scandal unfolded. The corporate sponsor wanted to remove my name in order to avoid controversy but achieved the opposite effect. It is interesting to see how the politics involved in the relations between artists, institutions and funders are at play here and the ability of the artwork to cause such dramatic shifts functioning solely on its own premise. It is always striking to see how powerful an artwork's influence can become in informing the decisions made by institutions or the public.

Larissa Sansour

was born in East Jerusalem and studied fine arts in London, New York and Copenhagen. Her work is interdisciplinary, immersed in the current political dialogue and utilises video, photography, installation, the book form and the Internet. The dichotomy of belonging to and being removed from the very same piece of land is central to Sansour's work. She often resorts to fictionalised space to address current political realities. By approximating the nature, reality and complexity of life in Palestine and the Middle East to visual forms normally associated with entertainment, her grandiose and often humorous schemes clash with the gravity expected from works commenting on the region. References and details ranging from sci-fi and superheroes to spaghetti westerns and horror films converge with Middle Eastern politics and social issues to create intricate parallel universes in which a new value system can be decoded. Recent solo exhibitions include Galerie Anne de Villepoix in Paris, Photographic Center in Copenhagen, Kulturhuset in Stockholm, Depo in Istanbul and Jack the Pelican in New York. Her work has featured in the biennials of Istanbul, Busan and Liverpool. She has exhibited at venues such as Tate Modern, London; Brooklyn Museum, NYC; Centre Pompidou, Paris; LOOP, Seoul; Al Hoash, Jerusalem; Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid; Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark; House of World Cultures, Berlin, and MOCA, Hiroshima.


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