Search archive

Platform for discussion003

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

Shuruq Harb
2 May 2012

A friend recently asked me, what would be my dream cultural/art space in Ramallah?


In the midst of rapid urban construction in Ramallah, my impulse is not to build another building but create what is lacking – an open public space. I feel this would be an artistic, political and cultural intervention against the current tides.


For the longest time, I have been complaining about the lack of properly equipped exhibition spaces in Palestine. And yes, I thought the lack of such a space was holding Palestinian art back, preventing artists from really communicating with the public. I longed for funding for Palestinian art that would be motivated by 'art for art's sake'.


The lack of this Super Duper Art Space has forced me to negotiate my work and role as an artist in society constantly. In Palestine, art has always been asked to visualise national identity, preserve cultural heritage, call for humane treatment, indicate civilisation, democratise society – and so on.


As artists, we have to negotiate our modes of operation and production within these landmines of expectations. We can secure an 'engaged public', when our work serves a popular political cause. But we struggle to create a space for questioning that draws in audiences without being condescending, elitist or cynical.


Negotiating this space has kept me tipsy, intoxicated enough to have the idealism that could imagine the space into existence, yet sober enough to understand the challenges of our reality. 


In the wake of the Arab Spring, I am scared of the enormous pressure that artists in the region are faced with to justify their work and role as 'activists'. I don't know if art really needs to save the world, instead of simply being part of it. Why not aim to enter the civic conversation rather than completely relinquishing our role as artists?

Shuruq Harb

Shuruq Harb is a visual artist and writer based in Ramallah, Palestine. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most notably at Ikon Gallery, Istanbul Biennial, Gwangju Biennale. She co-founded a number of independent initiatives: ArtTerritories, an online publishing platform, and 'The river has two banks' an ongoing initiative connecting artists across Jordan and Palestine.

of 28

Back to platform responses