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

Dale Hudson dmh2018 at nyu.edu
Wed Feb 12 07:45:16 AEDT 2020


Thanks, Kay, Sama, and Nat, for your thoughtful comments! 

And thanks also for the link to the articles Nat. I thought that I saw another one, so I will keep looking.

It is comforting in some ways that everyone is struggling with these terms. I’ve been trying to distill what I think:

Geopolitical regions (Middle East) have obvious problems, but everyone knows as much, so maybe it’s possible to ignore them.

Geographic units (West Asia or Southwest Asia) still have the problem of defining culture by territory, though they can reduce bias of geopolitics. 

Political states (Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen) tend too produce mythical ideal citizens and render everyone else as an ethnic, racial, or religious minority, though some are less problematic. Some states are nations; some nations are stateless. I also like Kay’s example of the pre-Palestinian films made in Iran as a potential to undo the imperialism of Middle East as a category.

Cultural groups (Arab) have different meanings in different spaces and at different times and in different contexts, not to mention related subdivisions like Mashriq and Maghreb. I prefer them in some ways, except in the context of the Gulf.

When I moved here ten years ago, I heard people use MENASA in contexts where South Asia and Iran were being acknowledged as part of the Gulf, so I adopted it for a class that I teach. I structure the weeks without using geopolitical, geographic, or national terms insofar as is possible. I try to focus on themes, which is perhaps a way to proceed when possible.

Curious what others think and have experienced. I was contemplating changing MENASA to NAWASA in the title to my course next semester.

Dale



> Begin forwarded message:
> 
> From: nat muller <nat at xs4all.nl>
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Welcome to week 2 of February 2020 discussion: Thinking differently in scholarship and curation
> Date: February 10, 2020 at 12:52:15 GMT+4
> To: Dale Hudson <dmh2018 at nyu.edu>
> 
> Hi all and thanks for the invite Dale,
> 
> The article you are referring to was this one: http://m.startribune.com/minneapolis-art-exhibit-rejects-middle-east-in-favor-of-a-more-inclusive-community/566312062/ <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__m.startribune.com_minneapolis-2Dart-2Dexhibit-2Drejects-2Dmiddle-2Deast-2Din-2Dfavor-2Dof-2Da-2Dmore-2Dinclusive-2Dcommunity_566312062_&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=0nPCagXI8BdV2ypCsFQufKLle-hjlOgzuXIQwpA8FsI&s=gPcklzHA9Sjc2KOH-NxbvIAyz5UNnifYF-8y3rKJqMs&e=>
> Here SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) is used as a decolonizing corrective to the Middle East. The use of (South)West Asian has been taken up for example by the critical and curatorial platform Mizna and has been a.o. sanctioned by Hyperallergic editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian and curator Reem Fadda. See for Reem’s take: http://www.radicate.eu/reem-fadda-associate-curator-for-the-middle-eastern-art/ <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.radicate.eu_reem-2Dfadda-2Dassociate-2Dcurator-2Dfor-2Dthe-2Dmiddle-2Deastern-2Dart_&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=0nPCagXI8BdV2ypCsFQufKLle-hjlOgzuXIQwpA8FsI&s=OUxupdYu_vlOuyW8qLsaBxoUfYIPc8CcnWlnEsZc-uI&e=>. It is real important to rethink the terms we use and how politically charged or exclusive they are. I’d like to point to another aspect from a curatorial perspective. One of the largest issues imho with Western institutions curating regional shows - whether termed Middle East, Arab, MENA, MENSA, West Asian, SWANA - is the tendency to on the one hand be didactic (i.e. it’s not so much about the art really, but rather about teaching you something about a region, usually involving an emphasis on violence and conflict) and on the other hand clump together practices that have little in common (i.e. a hugely diverse and heterogeneous region is reduced and flattened to a singular place). And while there’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t side to this, I am still pretty amazed, curatorially-speaking, how reluctant Western institutions are when it comes to dealing thematically and critically with artists from the region. While I agree with Kay that using ‘Arab’ as a grouping word opens possibilities, many artists are equally unhappy with being categorized as such. The lens through which their work is seen becomes limited. An early example is French curator Catharine David’s project ‘Contemporary Arab Representations,’ that was shown in 2002 at Witte de With in Rotterdam and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona. While David introduced artists from Lebanon, Egypt, and a few years later Iraq, to European institutions/audiences, this project also became ‘representative’ of what kind of practices the region has to offer; it created a canon of sorts. The title of the project reveals the double standard: artists from the region are often burdened by Western institutions to ‘represent’ all kinds of things rather than ‘presenting' their work.
> 
> Nat

> On Feb 10, 2020, at 10:56, Sama Alshaibi <alshaibi at email.arizona.edu> wrote:
> 
> 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. 
> 
> Sama 
> 
> On Sun, Feb 9, 2020 at 12:44 PM Kay Dickinson <kay.dickinson at concordia.ca <mailto:kay.dickinson at concordia.ca>> wrote:
> ----------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 <mailto:empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Dale Hudson" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <mailto:empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of dmh2018 at nyu.edu <mailto: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 <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.natmuller.com&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=q3VooU-1GepaGGC2_Xug4N8Ja6_R3y_pqJDAFfkGK3M&s=52iF9qEfm9dVYwID4xuAsle0eAiwRABqY34xOWMyTBI&e=> 
> 
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> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <mailto:empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
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> Sama Alshaibi, Professor
> Co-Chair of Photography | Video | Imaging
> 1885 Distinguished Scholar
> School of Art | University of Arizona
> (+)1-520-595-8305
> www.samaalshaibi.com <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.samaalshaibi.com_&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=q3VooU-1GepaGGC2_Xug4N8Ja6_R3y_pqJDAFfkGK3M&s=M_4qmA4srK3MfE1_xxmtlk7LhL6Qa8eAsPE9B8Mzpvk&e=>
> http://aperture.org/shop/alshaibi-sand-rushes-in-book <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__aperture.org_shop_alshaibi-2Dsand-2Drushes-2Din-2Dbook&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=q3VooU-1GepaGGC2_Xug4N8Ja6_R3y_pqJDAFfkGK3M&s=Vh8Rc8SDEb2BDdAFonCRILmFVvrA3SXIDysfwpkiDT4&e=>
> 
> Upcoming exhibitions:  
> "State of the Art 2020" <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__crystalbridges.org_exhibitions_state-2Dof-2Dthe-2Dart-2D2_&d=DwMFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=Hafd2vsMnrn24xKURxheOA&m=q3VooU-1GepaGGC2_Xug4N8Ja6_R3y_pqJDAFfkGK3M&s=MwbC0i9PSk0uNqHvdIuR75epxznAwGbm8BMUKZ9AOjY&e=>
> 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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