[-empyre-] Welcome to week 2 of February 2020 discussion: Thinking differently in scholarship and curation

Sama Alshaibi alshaibi at email.arizona.edu
Mon Feb 10 17:56:57 AEDT 2020

When I was in graduate school, my faculty were delighted to award me grants
reserved for Asian research. They noted the accuracy of Palestine being in
West Asia. That has largely been the exception. I pushed for the Middle
East to be referred as West Asia in my monograph (sand rushes in) published
by Aperture,  and the publisher complied. The editor was happy. But not all
the writers. A significant curator and scholar told me that it was
inconsistent (because each writer said something different) and that
basically scholars agree with it just being the Arab world. That I should
change if. I’m not sure if that’s true, that scholars agree.

I just learned of a new collective branding under southwest Asia yesterday
(apparently that is the Middle East). I don’t regret my choice in my
monograph but have grown sick of the questions. As someone that explicitly
addresses the complexities of women’s experiences of the region as being
flattened, I certainly don’t want to refer to all as Arab. I would be
flattening too. I’ve primarily gone back to Middle East and North Africa as
it seems to be where the academic field sits, and tired of my students
googling West Asia and trying to figure out where it starts.

I think it’s better to be more specific if at all possible. Right now in
Tucson, Arizona, where I work and live, the debate is over Chicano/a/x and
Latinx ... many find the Latinx is erasing and canceling historical,
radical movements that fought for visibility. Latinx is the buzzword, but
erases indigenous peoples.

And finally, I didn’t jump in last week for a number of reasons. I guess I
don’t feel safe to comment or critique the discussion of artists I know and
exhibitions and initiatives I have been a part of. It’s a very precarious
position to be in— as an artist that is also an academic. I feel ...
differently about some of what was discussed and am very aware of the power
structures, funding and material support by a number of the artists
discussed. It’s not simple, and the conditions for artists there are not
simple. But I also know societies want to believe that artists live outside
of systems that they critique. It’s not true, and it’s not that easy. It
doesn’t make them hypocrites, especially in gulf countries where these
edges are complicated. I would caution against believing artists have a
platform or achieve a success because they organically found strategies to
gain audience trust or that the work is so good. Access in that part of the
world is largely tied to systems and patrons.  It doesn’t make the artist
corrupt or any less important. Perhaps complacent. Perhaps more. We have
our own set of problems here in the USA. However, it just became abundantly
clear how unsafe it is to speak truthfully, because we are at the very
heart of it. How can we do what we do, what allows us to continue to do it,
and yet address it without it quickly being taken away? And yes, each one
of these initiatives or artists have important ideas to share, breaking
ground with women leading in critical roles. But it is happening within and
through a system and structure that is often highly problematic.

Very few artists don’t care about this. But they have very few options to
do differently. The only group they talk to about such stuff is their
families and their close artists friends.


On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 12:44 PM Kay Dickinson <kay.dickinson at concordia.ca>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> West Asia, you say, Dale? I’ve presented work at a few Asian Studies
> conferences now and am frequently jarred by how regularly smart,
> well-educated people who hold university jobs in that discipline remark to
> me that the countries I study (Palestine, Syria, the UAE…) “aren’t in
> Asia.”  It would be intriguing to see how many Asian Studies departments
> actually count “Middle Eastern” specialists within their ranks. We might
> have a long way to go.  More typically, people whose research springs from
> or takes them there are housed in either Middle East Studies or Islamic
> Studies.  The latter betrays how even deliberately secular investigations
> get circumscribed and stereotyped.  The former designation has always
> seemed somehow more inclusive.  Personally, I work within frameworks that
> foreground “Arab” as their regional classification.  That grouping word –
> amongst other things – brings with it a proud anti-imperialist history that
> calls out for our attention in an increasingly neo-colonized world.  Not
> that pan-Arabism or Arab nationalism ever cut ties with internationalism.
> In my (main) field of cinema, these movements encouraged radical solidarity
> between Palestinian and Japanese freedom fighting filmmakers.  Their
> foundations in Syria saw their roots nourished in film school education in
> the Soviet Union.  Arab filmmakers wrote manifestos collaboratively with
> comrades from Latin America and Africa.  In fact, if anything, it was the
> ties to other Middle Eastern countries like Turkey and Iran that seemed
> less to the forefront and for evident and shifting geopolitical reasons.
> Could a focus on “the Middle East” today, for instance, give us greater
> awareness of a history of Iranian pro-Palestine films or how Syrian
> refugees are continuing their art in exile in Turkey?  Might “the Middle
> East” encourage South-South alignments of all stripes that speak to an
> independence from the way cinematic culture is often pressurized into
> routing itself through the gatekeeping institutions of Europe and North
> America?
> On 2020-02-09, 11:24 AM, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on
> behalf of Dale Hudson" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on
> behalf of dmh2018 at nyu.edu> wrote:
>     ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>     Thanks, Beth and Sean, for sharing some of your research on ways that
> artists in KSA and UAE are navigating the limitations of territory.
>     I realized that the numeral dates were aligning with the weekend for
> many subscribers, so I’m starting week 2 on Sunday evening my time, which
> hopefully will more closely align with the start of the week in Australia
> and start of the day in North America.
>     This week, I’ve invited Kay Dickinson and Nat Muller to extend the
> discussion into ways to think differently in our scholarship and curation.
>     I’m pasting their bios below for a sense of the expertise that they
> bring to the discussion, particularly as it concerns art and media that are
> labelled as “Middle Eastern” or “in the Middle East.”
>     I’m curious how we as artists, scholars, curators, activists,
> theorists, students, and so forth can make ideas and perspectives visible
> and legible to broader publics without using terms that are reductive (like
> the ones Beth mentioned in her last post) or inaccurate (like Middle East)
> since the structures of publishing and curating are often based on
> keyword-search-friendly reproduction of these reductive and inaccurate
> categories.
>     There was an article published online in one of the arts/museums
> journals about an ongoing discussion about replacing Middle East with West
> Asia or Southwest Asia at a one of the museums in London, I believe. If I
> find the link, I will share.
>     Dale
>     2—Thinking differently in scholarship and curation
>     Scholarship and curation often adopt the nation-state as a category of
> analysis. Much like art and film are promoted at commercial festivals and
> art market, our scholarship and curating often under-represent the
> significance of other aspects of identity and politics. Even museums and
> educational institutions continue to reduce artists to place of birth and
> residence.
>     This week considers ways of thinking differently, whether the
> transcontinental, pan-Arab, pan-African, and non-aligned movements of the
> mid-20th century or the more recent deterritorialized movements that emerge
> via internet and mobile networks, often using the idea of the nation-state
> as an oppositional strategy against corruption and nepotism.
>     How can we conceive more complicated ways to organize art practices?
> Are concessions to the logics of film festivals and art markets in our
> publishing, curating, and programming unavoidable?
>     Kay Dickinson is Professor of Film Studies at Concordia University,
> Montreal.  She is the author of Off Key: When Film and Music Won’t Work
> Together (Oxford University Press, 2008), Arab Cinema Travels:
> Transnational Syria, Palestine, Dubai and Beyond (bfi, 2016) and Arab Film
> and Video Manifestos: Forty-Five Years of the Moving Image Amid Revolution
> (Palgrave, 2018).
>     Nat Muller is an independent curator and writer based between
> Amsterdam and Birmingham. Her main interests are: image politics and
> contemporary art from the Middle East. Recent exhibitions include Spectral
> Imprints for the Abraaj Group Art Prize in Dubai (2012); Adel Abidin’s solo
> exhibition I love to love… at Forum Box in Helsinki (2013); This is the
> Time. This is the Record of the Time at Stedelijk Museum/American
> University of Beirut Gallery (2014/15); the A.M. Qattan 2016 Young Artist
> of the Year Award at Qalandiya International in Ramallah and The Mosaic
> Rooms in London; Neither on the Ground nor in the Sky at ifa Gallery Berlin
> (2019). In 2015 she was Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s
> Politics of Food Program (London). She has curated film programs for
> Rotterdam’s International Film Festival, Norwegian Short Film Festival,
> International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, and Video D.U.M.B.O New York.
> Her writing has been widely published and she edited Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s
> monograph (Schilt Publishing, 2015), Nancy Atakan’s monograph Passing On
> (Kehrer Verlag, 2016), Walid Siti’s monograph (Kehrer Verlag, forthcoming
> 2020). Her AHRC-funded PhD project at Birmingham City University researches
> science fiction in contemporary visual practices from the Middle East. She
> curated the Danish Pavilion with Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour for the
> 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. www.natmuller.com
>     _______________________________________________
>     empyre forum
>     empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>     http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Sama Alshaibi, Professor
Co-Chair of Photography | Video | Imaging
1885 Distinguished Scholar
School of Art | University of Arizona

*Upcoming exhibitions:  *
*"State of the Art 2020"
Curator: Lauren Haynes; Assistant Curator Alejo Benedetti; Associate
Curator Allison Glenn
22 February - 24 May 2020 | Crystal Bridges Museum and the Momentary |
Bentonville, AR

*"Migration(s) and Meaning in Art"*
curator: Deborah Willis
30 January - 15 March 2020 | MICA | Meyerhoff Gallery | Baltimore, MD
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