Art Speak +
Artists Komail Aijazuddin and Salman Toor provided a rich discussion related to their installation works exhibited at LB01. In the exhibited works, both artists ruminate upon the concept of identity, and the flux created within identities, whether through practices of ritual and conformity or through travel and migration. The artists were in conversation with Zaineb Siddiqui from LBF and contextualized the works on display within larger concerns that drive their individual art-making practices.
(4 - 5pm)
Artists Wardha Shabbir, Mehreen Murtaza, Ali Kazim and Noor Ali Chagani addressed audiences regarding their respective site-specific works located at Bagh-e-Jinnah during LB01, thus delving into inspirations and intentions behind the exhibited works.
(4 - 5pm)
Artists Masooma Syed and Asad Raza were in conversation with Zaineb Siddiqui about projects created especially for LB01. Both artists worked with elements relating to fiction and the imagination. While Raza’s work drew very much from the history of the subterranean site of the Summer Palace, it also allowed audiences to weave in and out of the work as per the audience’s desire for interaction. In a similar way, Masooma Syed’s installation required audiences to create connections between themselves and the meticulously crafted objects on display, that may or may not have belonged to a woman of intrigue. The artists discussed points of overlap within their works as well as audience responses to their work from LB01.
(4 - 5pm)
The Lahore Biennale Foundation and the Goethe Institut Pakistan joined hands in 2016 on the Urbanities – art and public space in Pakistan project.
This collaboration allowed artists Honi Ryan and Miro Craemer from Germany to live and work in Lahore and in Karachi (with VASL), undertaking projects that would artistically intervene in public space, or work together with local communities. During LB01, the Goethe Institut launched a publication with LBF, documenting artistic projects that occurred over the lifespan of this collaboration.
Artist Miro Craemer was present for the occasion and spoke about his community-led project in which he worked with several family members of the workers who perished in the Baldia factory fire of 2012. The artist spoke of ethics, and the sensitivity required while undertaking work that deals so closely with the victims, and their personal accounts of tragedy. Sara-Duana Meyer spoke on the work of the collective Zoohaus, who created a purpose-built structure in Karachi that drew upon local materials and local knowledge. Zarmina Rafi spoke about artist Honi Ryan’s walking performances in mixed-use areas of Lahore, and the artist’s interventions in Gulberg, Lahore that activated deep listening and created awareness of the walking body in otherwise car-dominant spaces. Qudsia Rahim spoke about Lahore Biennale Foundation’s commitment to developing projects in public space long before the biennale itself came to be, whereas Nida Kirmani commented upon the positive effects of artist-led interventions into otherwise closed-off communities.
Discussants included Executive Director of LBF Qudsia Rahim, Sociologist Nida Kirmani, Cultural Producer Sara-Duana Meyer and Artist Miro Craemer. Moderated by Zarmina Rafi from LBF.
Naiza Khan presented an overview of her artistic practice, marking key moments and themes from a practice that spans three decades. The artist has had a long and distinguished career in which she has worked successfully across multiple mediums, and at the same time has been committed to research and education. In conversation with Zarmina Rafi, Khan spoke about public art works from the early phase of her career, then talked of long-term research and engagement with the site of Manora Island, Sindh, that has allowed her to explore themes as broad as colonialism, borders and bodies, as well as pluralistic ways of existing in society. A presentation of photo and video works exemplary of the artist’s practice were interspersed through the talk.
(4 - 5pm)
In Pakistan, art writing in Urdu has not had the opportunity to be able to address a contemporary art audience at a public level. In other cases, it seems as if art writing in Urdu versus art writing in English have seemingly been divorced from each other when thinking of the various art milieus in Pakistan. The point of departure for this discussion was the bilingual catalogue produced by LBF, created especially for LB01. An increasingly pertinent topic, discussants talked of the complexities surrounding the process of translation as per their own experiences as writers, educators and translators, all working within contemporary visual arts. The discussion touched upon the borrowing of art-specific terms from the West that may or may not make sense when applied locally. The translation of art theoretical terms and their import into Urdu was also discussed while keeping in mind the ideas of accessibility and wider dissemination.
Discussants included art critic Prof. Quddus Mirza, translator of the LB01 catalogue, Rida Zaneb and educator Naazish Ata-Ullah.
(4 PM - 5 PM)
The artist’s talk by Naeem Mohaiemen, an artist, writer and scholar, began with the question “What do we mean when we ask for permission?” Mohaiemen interrogated filmmakers’ relationships to the people’s stories they tell and presented a selection of his work that examines the failures of radical left movements from the 1970s. The artists showed clips and discussed the three chapter series The Young Man Was, which includes United Red Army (The Young Man Was, Part I) (2011), Afsan’s Long Day (The Young Man Was, Part II) (2014) and Last Man in Dhaka Central (The Young Man Was, Part III) (2015), films that move from the negotiation tapes from the 1977 hijacking of Japan Airways Flight 472 that lands in Dhaka, to journalist and historian Afsan Chowdhury’s accounts of the 1970s and misrecognitions that include reflections on the German Red Army Faction and then Peter Custers, the Dutch journalist imprisoned in Bangladesh in 1975 with other Bangladeshi’s, and the only arrested socialist to survive imprisonment. Mohaiemen ended with thoughts on Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017) his most recent three-channel video installation, which premiered at documenta 14, and is being screened at the Alhamra as part of the Biennale. The presentation was followed by a lively discussion with respondent Iftikhar Dadi and then audience questions for the artist Mohaiemen.
Amar Kanwar presented his work outside the format of the “artist’s talk,” and instead spoke to the audience in a more openly structured conversation about his artistic practice and methodology. He was joined by the artist and educator Naazish Attaullah as a respondent. Kanwar discussed memory, archives and archival practices, noting that in addition to the many kinds of archives and archival practices are the multiple methodologies of retrieval. Drawing from the work he has done in his film The Torn First Pages (2008), Kanwar explained that in that work he attempted to try and understand “Burma,” which meant, for example, understanding nineteen nationalities. The concept of place was itself a complex one that was irreducible to one narrative, thing, or person and so had to be approached from different perspectives by the artist. Noting that it was possible to experience multiple passages of time the artist found “poetry is the best way to measure time passing.” In response to a question from the audience regarding his accomplishments, the artists responded “This is a small one but to speak of the street and my mother they are related but I don’t know how to express them in the same breath. I fumble and fumble until they are one and the same.”
(10AM – 1 PM)
Mariah Lookman, Emilia Terraciano, Amar Kanwar, Maryam Rahman, and Nurjahan Akhlaq presented their work and were in discussion with Iftikhar Dadi and Simone Wille around the question of abstraction and an ‘Invitation to Action.’ Mariah Lookman introduced the discussants and framework of the panel after which Emilia Terraciano spoke about her work and research on Nasreen Mohamedi. The art historian screened a never before screened film of the artist on a trip with her family, shot by Anwar, Mohamedi’s brother. The artist and filmmaker Amar Kanwar spoke about Such a Morning (2017), his film that is being screened in the Summer Palace as part of the Biennale, explaining “One reason I switched from non-fiction to this type of film is that I was tired of arguing.” The artist Nurjahan Akhlaq spoke about her father, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, the artist and educator. She discussed the sculptural works by her father that are in the Mubarak Haveli and recalled that he was averse to the term “abstraction,” much preferring modes of representation that are described as “Eastern” as he felt they gave viewers the freedom to participate in the process of viewing art work. Maryam Rahman presented a moving tribute to her aunt, the recently deceased artist, activist and educator, Lala Rukh. Rahman recalled that art was linked to riazat for the artist—it was her daily practice. The following discussion interrogated the term ‘abstraction’ in terms of its origins, usage and the way in which artists engage with modes of representation that are non-mimetic.
Academic Forum -
Academic Forum and its workshops are supported by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS)
Lahore and the Missing History of Bombay Cinema
(5 PM – 6.15 PM)
Film historian Ashish Rajadhyaksha mapped a relationship between Bombay and Lahore through the mediating role of Indian cinema. Though separated by Partition, he made an argument for lingering traces of Lahore that permeate Bombay cinema, and for how cinema acts as a bridge between the two cities and communities. His talk referenced a larger body of research that proposes what he calls a “Lahore School of Indian Cinema” or a “Lahore effect” that he argues can be found in Hindi cinema long after partition and into the present day. He described this effect as “elusive,” in that it is hard to qualify through a specific idiom, style, or symbol. To counter the elusiveness of this effect and assert a more concrete trace of Lahore in cinema, Rajadhyaksha turned away from aesthetic or textual analyses of film, and focused instead on conditions of production in the film industry that link Bombay and Lahore. Migration is key to understanding the Lahore effect, particularly the migration of financier capital from Lahore to Bombay in the 1930s. By grounding his talk in the conditions of production, he not only draws direct links between the flood of Lahorites into Bombay during this period, but also shows how the Lahore effect pre-dates partition. His talk paid particular attention to the Lahore effect in films produced in the 1940s, which in spite of the intense political crisis of the period, was a moment of remarkable growth in Indian cinema.
CURATING ON THE BORDER
(5 PM – 6.15 PM)
Elvira Dyangani Ose is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, Senior Curator at Creative Time, New York, and independent curator and member of the Thought Council at the Fondazione Prada, where she has curated the exhibitions, Theaster Gates’s True Value, Nástio Mosquito’s T.T.T. Template Temples of Tenacity and Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer. She was Curator of the eighth edition of the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, (GIBCA 2015).
Curatorial Workshop: States of Opacity
Elvira Dyangani Ose will lead the two day workshop “States of Opacity” as part of the Academic Forum. In his quest for a Poetics of Relation–namely, a poetics, that is free of norms, goals and methods, as much as it is open, participatory, and is directly in contact with everything possible–poet Édouard Glissant urges us to claim the right to opacity. Opacity references the possibility of every individual to claim a plural and mutable identity, an essential condition for a new sense of collectivism to emerge. History is constituted of myriad episodes and movements of cultural and socio-political solidarity towards utopias. In restoring the premises of these practices of cultural and socio-political solidarity, how can
ایلویرا دیانگانی اوسے
we engage with their values, their ethics, without falling into nostalgia? How can we construct new forms of collective work, and what is the role of art, its agents and its institutions?
Architecture and Urban Development of Istanbul in the 2000s
Esra Akçan led the audience through a virtual tour of urban renewal projects in Istanbul since the 2000s. Her stops included the Bosphorus City, a miniaturized version of Turkey’s iconic Bosphorus walkway, and the Venezia Mega Outlet, a shopping mall and compound of residential blocks that line a replica of a Venetian canal. These sites are promoted as luxury living residences and tourist attractions. Yet Akçan pointed to their generic and shoddy construction, prefabricated techniques that privilege speedy construction processes, lack of green spaces, and overall dreary and monotonous character. Despite the generous resources allocated to such construction projects and the price of the real estate, these projects are poorly made, with little contribution to architectural design.
The Bosphorus City and Venezia Mega Outlet also share a lack of commitment to public spaces. Akçan argued that the allocation of public space would indicate a commitment to civil liberties, which she noted is not a priority of the current government’s urban renewal projects. In the Taksim Gezi project, for example, the government under the leadership of President Erdogan introduced plans for a new urban renewal project that would destroy three architectural symbols of Turkey’s Republican Era: Gezi Park, the Atatürk Cultural Center, and Taksim Square. The decision sparked one of the largest civil disobedience movements and protests in the name of architecture, which was met with equally forceful police brutality, civilian injury, and civilian deaths.
Akçan correlated the rise in urban renewal projects to the rise of the AK Party in the first decade of the 21st century. Led by President Erdogan, the AK Party sought to transform the old Turkey associated with the secular ideals of the Republican Era to a new Turkey that privileges an Islamic and neo-Ottoman identity. Faced with a housing crisis, the government made a marked move away from the earlier models of housing criteria, such as the Garden City Debates of the early Republican Era, or the projects by leftwing architects of the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, the AK Party used the housing crisis to justify state intervention and power to seize lands for state profit, and enacted a series of laws that allowed the state to build profitably on state-owned land. Akçan paid particular attention to the changes implemented in public housing projects under the government institution TOKI. TOKI privatized the structure of public housing projects, and distributed its funds to build luxury offices, apartments, and vacation homes for wealthy families. The definition of public housing thus shifted from a project of affordable housing to one in which housing became a private commodity. TOKI’s public housing projects also displaced informal settlements of immigrants and the urban poor. Though they declared such settlements illegal, Akçan made a case for how TOKI used authority rather than legality to turn settlements into real estate that suited the state’s corporate and neoliberal interests. This discussion of TOKI and the displacement of immigrant communities was in conversation with LB01 Turkish artist Halil Altindere, whose film Wonderland was part of the Biennale Alhamra Art Gallery exhibition.
Regional Perspectives and Beyond: A Case Study of Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok
Gaweewong began her talk by mapping the cultural landscape of Thailand since the late 19th/early 20th century. She traced the history of its various cultural institutions, such as the founding of the country’s first modern art school in the 1940s, the establishment of a national gallery in the 1970s, the opening of the Institute of Modern Art and its closure 15 years later, art spaces sponsored under organizations like the British Council and the Goethe Institute, and alternative contemporary art spaces such as Gaweewong’s own apartment (titled Project 304), where she hosted experimental film screenings and performances. The Jim Thompson Art Center, where Gaweewong is currently curator, opened in 2003 as an extension of the programming of the historical Jim Thompson House. The house is the former home of the American textile entrepreneur, Jim Thompson, who came to Thailand at the end of World War II. Trained as an architect, Thompson built his house on a canal and began to collect various objects from the region. He also participated in the underground “Free Thai Movement” to end Japanese occupation, and started a prominent silk company through his relationship with the Muslim community of weavers near his home. In 1967, Thompson mysteriously disappeared during a vacation in Malaysia. His home was left in the hands of his nephew, who established a foundation in his name and converted Thompson’s house into a museum.
The Jim Thompson House is one of the top tourist attractions in Thailand. During the off season, they receive 600-700 visitors per day and up to 2,000 visitors per day during peak season. The audience consists of both local and international visitors, which Gaweewong noted can pose a challenge as a curator in catering a program to both audiences. Underneath the umbrella of the Jim Thompson Foundation, its mission is to preserve the house and promote contemporary art in the region. In addition to hosting contemporary exhibitions by regional and international artists, particularly those from the Southeast Asia region, the Center gives grants for publications and research, hosts symposiums, maintains a library, and funds the translation of art historical texts into Thai. Under the current military regime in Thailand, the Center is also an important platform for intellectuals. Universities and museums, which are largely funded by the government, are limited in what they can say or do in the political climate. Because the Center is a privately funded organization, it has more freedom in its programming and Gaweewong uses that freedom to invite intellectuals to the space.
In discussing the academic aspect of her work at the Jim Thompson Art Center, Gaweewong drew attention to how Thailand fits within Southeast Asian academic discourse, particularly post-colonial discourse. She remains critical of the nationalist narrative that claims pride in the fact that Thailand was never colonized by a Western power. In opposition to this narrative, Gaweewong seeks to look at Thailand’s history through different angles, and suggest its history of colonization through other forces, such as the elite, religious radicalization, and Thai rulers. These goals surface in her various exhibition projects, such as “Traces,” which examined border conflicts, and “Missing Link,” an exhibition that invited 9 contemporary artists from the region and that tried to find a bridge between Thailand and Southeast Asia in the pre-modern and modern era through looking at modernization, urbanization, diaspora, and identity.
ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT OF ISTANBUL IN THE 2000S
Ijlal Muzaffar structured his talk as story. Taken from his own family archives, the story involved a dispute over land from 1898 in what is now Sindh. The land in question belonged to Muzaffar’s great-grandfather and grandfather but involves multiple claims of belonging from outside his family. Muzaffar’s talk pieced together a selection of these different narratives as an attempt to call into question how we think about claims of belonging to land and settlement of land.
Muzaffar’s story began with the so-called Cotton Famine of the late nineteenth century. After the start of the American Civil War in 1861, cotton stopped traveling from the US to London. The British designated Sindh as its new site of cotton production. They claimed acres of land along the Nara canal and began to expand its irrigation network. As part of this expansion, the British brought in settlers and farmers to help cultivate the land, which displaced the land’s current inhabitants, the Hurs. When the Hurs rebelled, the British decimated the tribe’s villages and imprisoned them in concentration camps (the Hurs’ designation as a criminal tribe was not revoked until 1953). Though the Hurs held their land communally, they maintained a hierarchical system with a religious leader. The maintenance of the land thus depended on a political and social system. The British sought to replace this system by implementing a mechanized infrastructure that could function independently, and thus do away with the social relations system established by the Hurs that required a political and religious leader.
Muzaffar’s family came to this land in Sindh as settlers that displaced the Hurs. When the village was hit with the plague epidemic, Muzaffar’s great-grandfather died, and his family of 10 was reduced to a family of 3 within a week. Through a series of schemes by an uncle from his extended family, Muzaffar’s great-grandmother and her remaining children were expelled from the property. This moment is a point of extraordinary change of pace in Muzaffar’s story. His great-grandmother’s father wrote a letter about the incident and sent it directly to King George V. After a couple years, the letter somehow made its way to the floor of the privy council. In response to the letter, the British sent a magistrate to the village by boat, train, and horse-drawn carriage to resolve the matter. Though the incident is a comical twist to the story for the grand gesture of settling a single dispute, Muzaffar uses the incident to pose a serious question as to why the British took a trivial matter of land settlement so seriously. He argues that his family’s displacement threatened the mechanized system of governance and infrastructure the British sought to maintain in the village. By intervening, the British sought to defend their system of controlling the land, as well as the historical narrative of that land.
Hacking the Grid: Urban Interventions by Artists from Southeast Asia
(5 PM – 6.15 PM)
Pamela Corey, a Professor of art history at SOAS, University of London presented her writing on urban interventions by artists from Southeast Asia and its diaspora in cities ranging from Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh to Berlin. She noted the work of scholars such as Iftikhar Dadi, and his writing on popular vernacular visual culture, and Ravi Sundaram’s Pirate Modernity, as works that are also theorizing and engaging with intersections of media, urbanism, technology and the postcolonial city. Corey discussed her research and writing on the works of various artists, including Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnam, b.1968), whose Lotusland (1999) infiltrates Ho Chi Minh City’s public sector through the artist’s “toy works” that then rescale popular craft as serial works when they enter the circuit of the art market. Corey also presented the work of the artist Sung Tieu who was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Berlin at a young age and her Emotion Refuge (2015), which address questions of labor, migration, and displacement. Corey attributed the predominance of performance art in Cambodia, in comparison with Vietnam, to the high degree of surveillance of public space in Vietnam. She noted the dialectical relationship between photography and performance in works by artists from Phnom Penh, such as Khvay Samnang’s Human Nature (2011) and Lim Sokchanlina’s Rock (White Building) (2011), a video documentation of a performance in Phnom Penh.
Modernist Maneuvers: The Paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil
Saloni Mathur brought new light to the work of modernist painter Amrita Sher-Gil by discussing her relationship to the city of Lahore, and the city’s import in both her personal and artistic life. As recounted by her father, Lahore is both the site where Sher-Gil was conceived and the site of her unexpected death at the age of 29. Sher-Gil spent the last months of her life living in Lahore, in an apartment not far from the site of LB01’s Academic Forum where Mathur’s talk took place. The city played an important role in Sher-Gil’s artistic career as host to an early exhibition in 1937, which Mathur argues helped increase her visibility in the subcontinent, and as the site of her last exhibition, which was staged posthumously a few weeks after her death. Mathur’s account of Sher-Gil’s connection to Lahore shifted discussions of her work beyond the nationalist narrative in which she is enshrined in post-independence India. Even within India, her belonging is contested and competing with her relationship to Hungary where she was born, or France where she studied. Mathur made a case on how the migratory nature of her life and career manifests in her painting styles, particularly in the shift from European subjects and bourgeois spaces during her years at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, to the dark-skinned, rural subjects she paints upon her return to India. From this latter period, Mathur discussed paintings such as Woman Resting on Charpoy (1940) and Self-Portrait as a Tahitian (1934), as well as a lesser known work Vino Player, which is housed in the Lahore Museum.
(4.15 PM - 5.30 PM)
Sean Anderson, Associate Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the MoMA, presented his talk “On Failure.” He began by sharing his research on refugees, migrants and securitization in Australia and then moved through questions of extra-territoriality and architecture that challenged considerations of architecture solely as buildings and structure. Anderson posited questions of habitation, migration and borders as essential to debates on architecture. He presented his research on the historic Wartime Housing exhibition that premiered at the MoMA in 1942 and asked “How do you represent states of impermanence? And what is architecture in states of impermanence?” As Associate Curator at the MoMA Anderson curated his first exhibition “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter” with an interest in shelter in the wake of the global refugee crisis, drawing from work by photographers, artists and architects. He was joined by two respondents for discussion, Raza Ali Dada and Sadia Shirazi.
One Hundred Thousand Small Tales: Contemporary Art of Sri Lanka
(5 PM – 6.15 PM)
Sharmini Pereira, curator and publisher, presented the exhibition she curated for the Dhaka Art Summit, One Hundred Thousand Small Tales: Contemporary Art of Sri Lanka (2017). The sensitively curated exhibition draws its title from a poem by the Tamil poet Cheran, who writes about a “‘bridge, strengthened by its burden of a hundred thousand tales, collapses within a single tear.” Over 300,000 people visited the show in Dhaka, which was structured without a linear narrative but with close attention paid to relationships between artist practices, social networks and critical representation of Sri Lanka’s fraught history and recent civil war. Pereira included archival photographs and documents from before Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948 along with artworks that extend her inquiry to the present day. Pereira discussed works including Cassie Machado’s photographs Afterlife (2014), and the artist’s predicament regarding her “right” to make the work which consisted of photographs of family albums of people who were killed in the war. The prints, Pereira explained, were well received and spoke to the historical condition and fate of the album owner’s without having to represent violence or abject bodies. Pereira also discussed the “time it takes to respond” to experiences of trauma and violence in response to her attempt to find work that dealt with a Sinhalese massacre of Tamils that occurred in 1983. Pereira screened a portion of Laki Senanayake’s work, 1985, that mined the submerged history of this event. Pereira was joined by responded Mariah Lookman, and spoke about opacity, a term coined by the late Martiniquan writer and poet Édouard Glissant and fielded questions from audience about art, politics and representation.
Making Place: Contemporary Art in India
Sonal Khullar discussed a selection of contemporary land art and public art projects in India, such as Project Gram’s “Gram Dhara Chitra Utsav” (2017), Desire Machine Collective’s “Periferry” (2007-2013), and Dialogue Interactive Artists Association’s Nalpar collaboration with Adivasi and non-Adivasi artists (2001). Her talk traced a genealogy of these works by pointing to the social, political, and historical conditions that inform each project, and a longer history of modernist practice in India from which they arise. She focused on rural, site-specific projects, particularly those that involve collaborations between artists and non-artists. Project Gram’s performance and installation, for example, took place on a cotton field in India in conjunction with a seed festival hosted by local farmers that protested state and corporate control of the land’s cultivation practices and harvests. The collaboration between artist and non-artist marks a turn in the contemporary period, she claimed, from object-based practice to one of research, inquiry, action, and activism. Her focus on rural sites is, in part, an attempt to shift art historical discourse away from the narrow focus of art hubs like Mumbai and Delhi. However, she also called for a shift away from the language of heroics surrounding these types of collaborative practices, which are not always successful, and are filled with tension, conflict, and failure. Her talk demonstrated a keen interest in projects that fail or collapse as a way of thinking through processes of production and forms of agency, and how these projects reflect shifts in artistic practice and the art world in the twenty-first century. Her talk forms part of a larger book project that looks at collaborative practices in South Asia as a critical response to globalization since the 1990s.
Curating on the Border
(5 PM – 6.15 PM)
Srimoyee Mitra presented the exhibition Border Cultures, which she curated while she was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Windsor in Ontario Canada. Mitra is now the Director of Stamps Gallery at the University of Michigan. Border Cultures interrogated the idea of borders and boundaries through contemporary art practices and thought through both the conditions of colonialism as well as settler colonialism. The exhibition was organized in three parts from 2013 through 2015: Part One, (homes, land); Part Two (work, labour); and Part Three (security, surveillance). Mitra presented artists’ works from the exhibition including Wafaa Bilal, Dylan Miner, and Iftikhar and Elizabeth Dadi. Bilal’s work 168:01 proposed to rebuild the fine arts library in the University of Baghdad, which was destroyed in 2003 during the US-led war against Iraq. The artist frequently visited the library when he was a student in Baghdad. In Re-mapping the Illegitimate Border, Dylan Miner worked with First Nations’ youth to re-map the settler colonial border between Windsor and Detroit at mobile printing labs that moved between the two sites. Iftikhar and Elizabeth Dadi’s neon Efflorescence mined national emblems of flowers from North Korea, Palestine, Sudan and Ireland, sites that are reckoning with violence and challenges to their sovereignty. Mitra shared her belief that art creates a space for critical dialogue and public engagement.
The Necropolitics of Extraction: Activist-Art, Intersectionality, and Geopower
(3 PM - 4.15 PM)
T.J. Demos, Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Founder and Director of its Center for Creative Ecologies, presented three artistic practices he is researching and writing on that engage with questions of climate change and politics. Demos spoke about works by Angela Melitopoulos, Ursula Biemann, and Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadillo. These artists are investigating “Extractivism,” which refers to the financialization of earths elements, and turns everything —air, water earth, metal, plants—into commodity objects, and noted that this could not be disconnected from histories of colonialism. Demos screened a portion of Biemann’s film Deep Weather which records the post-oil excavation deeper into layers of the earths surface, demonstrating the interconnectedness of geology, where projects such as the Canadian tar sands affect people as far as Bangladesh. During the question and answer session Demos was asked about the role of spectacle in the works presented, as opposed to questions of everyday life, and the legacies of colonialism.
Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran of the Mumbai-based studio CAMP presented on the evolution of their film From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf (2013), which was part of the LB01 exhibition in the Alhamra Art Gallery. The film is the result of 10 years of research into trade routes and “piracy” networks in the Western Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. The project began as an idea for a commission for the Sharjah Biennale in 2008, a time that marks the height of the Global Financial Crisis. Despite the halt in trade, sailors and boat builders continued to sail in and out of the Sharjah Creek Wharfage, “going where no one else goes” and perhaps doing more trade than ever before. CAMP’s research began by requesting access to the state’s trade records of commodities coming into and out of the region, an otherwise classified set of data that they were granted access to because of their affiliation with the Biennale.
Through their research, CAMP attempted pushed the boundaries of what they can do as artists. Their research attracted attention from NGOs and government entities who offered them exhibitions in exchange for the maritime data they collected through their work. CAMP pointed to this reception of their work to reflect the ways in which the informal community of boat builders and sailors threatens the legitimacy state. As they became more enmeshed in the geography and history of the region, they grew more aware of the ways in which the nationalist narrative revises the history of maritime trade to serve a nostalgic, nationalist narrative in which contemporary boat builders get erased.
As their research evolved into the film, CAMP screened it as part of the Sharjah Biennale in 2013. The role of the cinematic is a point of tension in the film. Shaina Anand, for example, commented on the frustration of presenting this film in the art world, which often dismisses the role of the sailors as contributors to the film because of their positioning outside the art world. Anand reiterated that their intent was to produce the film as a collaborative effort with the sailors to give them visibility and agency in building their own narrative. Embedded within the text of the film are many inside jokes and references that only the seafaring community would understand, so the question of how a universal audience reads it is not necessarily a main feature. “An ethnographic refusal is at play,” they state. CAMP did not produce the film as an art work, per se, but as a documentary record of “actual events.”