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A Prologue to the Past and Present State of Things

Foreword: Anthony Downey

009_00 / 2 July 2015

Ibraaz is pleased to publish an online guide to accompany A Prologue to the Past and Present State of Things, a group exhibition that form part of the launch of Delfina Foundation's new research and commissioning platform Staging Histories.


Mohammed Kazem, Photographs with a Flag, 1997. 12 C-prints.
Mohammed Kazem, Photographs with a Flag, 1997. 12 C-prints.


Focusing on performance art, A Prologue to the Past and Present State of Things presents new commissions and archival work by thirteen international practitioners, including Doa Aly, Marwa Arsanios, Coco Fusco, Mona Hatoum, Sharon Hayes, Emily Jacir, Mohammed Kazem, Xiao Lu, Hassan Sharif, Wael Shawky, Sharif Waked, Lin Yilin and the activist-duo The Yes Men with Steve Lambert. As Delfina Director Aaron Cezar writes:


While many of the artistic works emerge from the Arab region, they relate to global politics, economics and cultural shifts, and can therefore be understood as a preface, consequence, or echo of major developments during this period. The intention is to open up lines of enquiry for further research that will feed into future iterations of this long-term curatorial project.


This antagonistic staging and restaging of history through cultural means, as the curators and organizers observe, involves a detailed history of performance art from and about the so-called Arab world. One of the more productive issues to be explored here therefore involves the extent to which any history of performance art contests the geographic, ideological and theoretical suppositions attending the prescriptive ideal of the 'Arab world'. We are therefore doubly pleased to produce this online guide insofar as it provides a number of productive crossovers with Ibraaz's ongoing exploration of the genealogy of performance art. Throughout Platform 009, which we formally launched in May, our ambition has been to document the multiple histories of performance art and their formative role in the development of contemporary art practices across the region and beyond. This ambition is also clearly a key formative element in this current exhibition and the broader context of Staging Histories.


Given the increasingly precarious nature of cultural practices and the contested sense of national and community-based heritages, the history of performance art today would appear to speak to a specific historical condition: one in which any sense of homogeneous practices and reductive histories are readily questioned and thereafter rendered hermeneutically suspect in critiques of cultural production. Furthermore, performative gestures and practices - in the context of private, public and civic space -have been subjected to forms of aesthetic, ethical and political critique that, to date, see them in isolation from the evolving global contexts that underwrite international developments in performance art. Again, this represents a key shared element across both Ibraaz's and Delfina Foundation's respective platforms. 


Over the coming weeks and months, we will be adding to this online guide with a view to publishing a full catalogue of the show and accompanying events for September 2015. Given the extent and range of the subject matter in hand, and the relative lack of critical analysis available online and elsewhere, Ibraaz's research platform will move, for the first time, from a six to a twelve month cycle and an extended reader will be published in 2016 to coincide with a series of conferences on the subject. We would like to take this opportunity to invite our readers and community of supporters to produce feedback and input into this process as it happens across its various physical and virtual sites of production.

Chapters in this series