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ART CRITICISM & CURATORIAL PRACTICES IN MARGINAL CONTEXTS ADDIS ABABA - Three-Day Combined Seminar and Workshop Organised by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Paris, and Zoma Contemporary Art Center 26-28 January 2006

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ART CRITICISM & CURATORIAL PRACTICES IN MARGINAL CONTEXTS ADDIS ABABA - JANUARY 2006

ART CRITICISM & CURATORIAL PRACTICES IN MARGINAL CONTEXTS

ADDIS ABABA - Three-Day Combined Seminar and Workshop

Summary Session one: Venise and Kassel as a possible goal -

Ramon Tio Bellido, More or Less Slow for Non-Western in Some Big Shows Zoran Eric, Globalization and Art Exhibitions Sajid Rizvi, African in Britain, Britain in Africa and Beyond Elisabeth Wolde Giorgis, Ethiopian Art in a Changing World

4 9 12 17

Session two: Cairo/ Alexandria/ Dakar/ Gwangju/ Havana/ Istanbul/ São Paulo/ Manifesta and back -

Henry Meyric Hughes, Geopolitical Contexts for Setting on New Biennales Meskerem Assegued, Contemporary Art and Artists, Curators, Critics, Art Historians and Audiences Niilofur Farrukh, An Agenda of Conscience Bassam El-Baroni, Remodeling required: Official Biennales in Egypt and International Biennale Culture Ahu Antmen, Istanbul’s International Biennial: The City as Context – or Confinement ? Khaled Hafez, Over Two Decades of Cairo Biennale : Uniqueness, Life Cycle and Effect on Current Contemporary Local Art Practice

22 30 35 41 43 46

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Session three: Knocking on an Alien's Door -

Stephen Wright, Whose Door ? Whose Alien ? Mutheu Mbondo, About the Kuona Trust’s Activities Sacha Craddock, Art School Palestine Doreen Sibanda, Art Criticism and Curatorial Practice : the Southern African Experience Storm Janse van Rensburg, Strategies for Contemporary Practice in a Developing Context: The Young Artists’ Project

List of speakers

50 54 57 61 67

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ART CRITICISM & CURATORIAL PRACTICES IN MARGINAL CONTEXTS ADDIS ABABA - JANUARY 2006

ADDIS ABABA THREE-DAY COMBINED SEMINAR AND WORKSHOP Organised by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Paris, and Zoma Contemporary Art Center 26-28 January 2006 This three-day combined seminar and workshop for young curators and critics in the region, supported by UNESCO, is the next in an ongoing series, arranged on the initiative of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). It follows similar, successful events in Dakar (June 2003) and Istanbul (September 2003). The Seminar will focus on the issues arising in socially and economically complex situations that prevail in Ethiopia and many other countries in the broad region of English-speaking Africa, the Middle East and South-East Europe. The main conference language will be English. A publication will be produced at the end of the event, in the aica press series, ‘Round Tables and Debates’. There is plenty of evidence for a rapid growth in the number of public art galleries, contemporary art biennials and alternative art events of all kinds throughout these regions, in recent years, as the products both of the growing number of people who are involved with the teaching of art criticism, cultural studies and art history, and with new developments in the curatorial practice of those who are interested in finding new ways of communicating with a larger public. This global phenomenon deserves to be discussed in relation to individuals’ different experiences and analysed on a theoretical basis, in relation to future projects. The three-day workshop-seminar is intended for a wide audience of art professionals and the general public, with special emphasis on students and young professionals (artists, educators, curators, critics) from the region.

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MORE OR LESS SLOW MOTIONS FOR NON-WESTERN ARTISTS IN SOME BIG SHOWS … Ramón Tio Bellido I guess you can imagine how happy we are to be here with you all, after so many changes of dates, due to technical problems last spring and, most unluckily, to the civil unrest here, last November. Here we are then, at last – that is, nearly everyone we approached, when we started to organise this seminar is here today, and we hope we may look forward to some stimulating contributions and a lively debate. The theme of this seminar is “Art Criticism and Curatorial Practices in Marginal Contexts”, and this clearly announces that we, in AICA, together with the majority of people we speak to, who are involved in promoting contemporary art, have to try and move things onto a new plane, and to try out, test and evaluate new methods that will enable us to establish a new kind of equilibrium to our activity. The situation that we can describe is that, over the last decade or so, contemporary art from Africa, as well as from other regions such as the Middle East, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, has now achieved a real visibility worldwide and a presence at almost all the major recurrent international arts events, including Documenta, the Venice Biennale and a host of similar events. However, a number of complex and paradoxical questions immediately arise. To start with, we have to be sure what we mean by an “African” presence at these events, when we all know that Africa is an enormous continent, with a very large variety of different contexts, cultures and histories. Going on from there, we also have to tackle the distinctly delicate issue of who is likely to benefit from our interest in African art, and how. Much has been said about the role of the Diaspora, but much remains to be said about the returnees, who settle down and become established in the African countries from which they originate. In the meantime, it has become increasingly clear that these questions, and the answers to them, must come from Africa itself, and from African citizens living and working there. Nobody can deny that an enormous amount of work has been done in the Western world to bring about the current situation; and nobody can deny that – like it or not – individuals such as Jean-Hubert Martin and André Magnin, institutions such as inIVA and magazines such as La Revue Noire and NKA, have instigated and nurtured much of the current interest in Africa. But neither should we be allowed to forget that the majority of the principal international visual arts events takes place in the West. The few exceptions that we have to mention are the Dakar Biennial, the African Photography Encounters in Bamako and the Cairo Biennial, not to forget the abortive attempts at establishing the Johannesburg Biennial and, in terms of a straightforward exhibition, the outstandingly interesting South meets West in Accra, that then went on to the Bern Kunsthalle, in 1999-2000. (Please forgive me, for failing to mention any other examples that may have escaped my memory !). In other words, we in AICA are trying, with the modest means at our disposal, to establish a platform for debate, similar to the one we organised in Dakar three years ago, and to offer a chance to as many colleagues as possible from this huge continent to share with us their own experiences and desires, and to speak freely about their problems or difficulties. Among the points I should not forget to mention, it is our intention, in the relatively near future, to publish the proceedings of the Dakar Seminar and of the present and future events in

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this ongoing series, so that there will be no risk of forgetting, or ignoring, the sometimes embarrassing home truths that we are confronted with – embarrassing, because it is never very pleasant, always to be told about the same, rather depressing situations, that repeatedly make it clear that without money, resources or effective policies, there can be no art schools, scarcely any universities where art is taught, no museums, no art galleries, nor anything much else … and that nothing much can be done about this; embarrassing, too, because none of this is going to cause any surprise, and we all know it is impossible for an interest in art to exist, at any level, if the possibility simply does not exist, even to create any work, or to show the work that has been made. Above all, this is embarrassing, because we know that talking about “art” today simultaneously embroils us in an attempt to be very precise about the meaning of this word, now that globalism has gained the upper hand, just after the West had itself cut loose from the modernist paradigm and fallen prey to the uncertainties of the post-modernist age. We cannot forget these realities, and we might do well, to remind ourselves very forcibly of this. The paths opened up to regions such as those we are here to talk about were abandoned by the Western world, once its own former social, economical and, of course, ideological values started to disappear or mutate, as if we had to accept for good that we were saying good-bye to a civilisation and all it stood for – and say good riddance to it, if it came to that ! Unless I am mistaken, what globalism was supposed to offer – and to correct – was nothing short of a redistribution of the entire imperialist system, giving to all those involved – the regions, countries, cities and other places capable for producing their own economic power – the freedom to take their own decisions and produce their own way of life, including, ideally, their own culture. UNESCO still referred to these countries as “developing”, though it is some time now since it resolved to discard that insulting neologism, “underdeveloped”. Of course, that was already something like a couple of decades ago, when the world seemed to be growing up peacefully, with the aid of what were (and are), supposedly, regarded as the most suitable models: democracy and pluralism. Alas, brutal economical changes and the rise of the newest bargaining procedures and ways of redistributing wealth in the richest countries have led to a crisis in society. At the same time, it has come as no big surprise that the collapse of communism – the end of this bizarre, but effective, dual between USSR and the rest of the western world – should also have contributed to eliminating any sense of a structured global ideology. At the same time, plenty of small groups have started to resort to localist and vernacular forms of assimilation tactics, whilst other forms of fanaticism have begun to play a highly dangerous role, worldwide. The consequences of all this ? – Nothing, or virtually nothing of what was meant to placate the guilty conscience of the West has come to fruition. I cannot see, to date, that the social or economic situation in Africa has begun to improve; I cannot say, in all honesty, that I see any difference in the treatment meted out to the (non-)workers or not very welcome immigrants, in France, Germany, England, Spain and far too many other wealthy places… Coming back to our subject, though, we can easily demonstrate that the art business has gone from strength to strength, not only in terms of the formulation of new policies for contemporary art collections, but most assuredly, in terms of radical changes and goals, as far as major exhibitions and events are concerned. I am not a sociologist, and in general I don’t really like – or appreciate – the analyses that they and others are inclined to present, when talking about the role of art in the public domain. However, one has to admit that they have presented us with irrefutable evidence, whether we like it, or not. In the first place, this evidence can be measured by the numbers of visitors that have seen such and such an exhibition. I cannot recall these numbers exactly, but, just by way of example, I think everyone was astonished to learn that the recent Dada exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, in Paris, attracted some 500,000 visitors and that many people would be equally puzzled to be reminded that the Venice Biennale received no more that 250-300,000 visitors, on average, whilst the latest, somewhat abstruse, Documenta attracted an incredible 800,000 visitors. Looking at another, specific example, I guess that the very recent Africa Remix had some 120,000 – 130,000 visitors in Paris, though I don’t know the figures for London and Düsseldorf, respectively. There’s no doubt about the upwards trend in art consumerism, and we should be very pleased about this, to the extent that we believe it to be a better way of teaching a wider public and

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enabling them to be better informed about, and involved with, contemporary art. Let’s agree about this! Nevertheless, there is no doubt about the pressing need for us to experience something new, something different, and something unexpected. This all demands a very strong pressure for renewing and reshaping the art that is placed on offer, in much the same way as happened in the areas of fashion, the theatre and the performing arts, in general. And this is why I always stress that the exhibition, Les Magiciens de la Terre, opened the door to a whole range of non-western art, not merely from Africa, but from other parts of the world, as well. Ever since then, everything seems to have speeded up – in our own field, at least – mainly through the agency of those two major events, Venice and Kassel, which we are about to discuss. Put briefly, as announced in the programme, it is, of course, obvious that these two enormous, representative events have a great deal in common, even though their histories are very different. The Venice Biennale has registered all the upheavals of the modern age, and the epic history of the twentieth century can be read into its evolution, like an open book which records all the European wars, disasters and conflicts of the period. Up to the end of the Second World War, Venice was the stage on which were played out all the political changes and all the foreign policies that this Biennale was supposed to represent, and to show. The idea of the “national pavilions” dates back to the earliest days of the Biennale, but the presence among them of nonwestern pavilions – in the Giardini, at least – can only be traced back to the end of the 1940s; and even then, the only names to be added to the existing roll call were Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon and… Egypt. At the end of the Cold War this openness was emphasised, and some more pavilions were built in the ’50s and ’60s, at the same time as the Italian “national” pavilion (sic) was increasingly turned over to international displays entrusted to guest curators. In the early ’90s, the number of venues for exhibitions was expanded, to take in the nearby Arsenale, where very new and recent work was supposed to displayed, in contrast to the works displayed in the Giardini, which tended to be by artists who were better known ... Anyway, the point is that the Biennale expanded progressively, with the addition of new venues on each occasion, and an increasing number of so-called thematic exhibitions throughout the decade, or so, from the mid’80s to the mid-’90s. Then there came about a further noticeable change, as increasing attention was paid, less to thematic or collective exhibitions than to regional and highly specific cultural events. The first signs of this change came with the arrival of Turkey and of the new countries to emerge from the break-down of the former USSR and of ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkans – no need to enumerate them here – and then, suddenly, the arrival of Africa, en bloc. I refer to the African arrival, advisedly, as a package, because I think it is very important to understand that showing artists from the entire continent as a package seemed to be the only way of giving them an identity, to distinguish it from the sharply defined national exhibitions that came from China, Taiwan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and so on… So far, this has not really changed, and the only difference, if there is one, is that, for the Biennale of 2003, Gilane Tawadros was asked to introduce a special section devoted to contemporary African art – the difficulty, for her, being that, in the meantime, Harald Szeemann, in Venice, and Okwui Enwezor, in Kassel, had already stolen her thunder, by including individual African artists in their own mega-exhibitions. There was also, perhaps the additional factor that African artists did not have a separate pavilion or exhibition of their own at the last Venice Biennale, and that the interest which had been shown in Africa at other recent events seemed now to have been transferred to a very interesting and powerful show of artists from Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, Uzbekistan…), curated by our colleague Viktor Misiano. And that, surely, points to the change in emphasis now given to the even “newer” trends, epitomised by the states with newly emergent economies in Central Asia and, especially, China. Is it appropriate to suggest that, seen from this angle, Venice constitutes a kind of open stage for the presentation of the Western latest obsessions, that the focus of interest of the heavily entrenched “art world” shifts from one region to another, in turn, and that African’s “moment” may well, by now, have come and gone? Looking at Documenta, and the hotly debated choice of Okwui Enwezor to curate the most recent edition of this, we may be tempted to draw the opposite conclusion. Documenta, which had been established in Germany at the end of a much-needed breathing space after the Second World War, was first established as a means for German artists to regain their prestige (or, at least, a presence) and once more to play a full part in all the controversies and debates of the West, and

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that were increasingly giving an audience and a presence to the USA, now that French culture and artistic influence had lost much of the power they had been able to exercise, prior to the conflict. Quite logically – though this is not the place to talk about these historical considerations – everything has its price and, to be cynical, Germany understood that there was more to be won from playing the role of the guilty, defeated nation, following the trauma of the Second World War than that of the traitor, which France had had to play during this terrible period. The goal of Documenta, as the name itself made clear, was, and is, to try and make a critical assessment of the period of, first four, and now five, years that elapse between each edition of the event. For the first time, in 1997, the organisers of Documenta, being very punctilious in their approach, entrusted the role of Artistic Director to a woman, Catherine David – and to a woman, at that, who was not only not German, but Jewish ! Then came a still more radical territorial move, with the choice of an African curator, Okwui Enwezor, who was considered to be a Nigerian citizen and carried with him the whole burden of the intellectual Diaspora, for all that he had lived for a large part of this life in the United States. I will not continue with detailing these events here, as I know our guests are going to speak about the significance of such choices, changes and decisions. However, I have taken the time to check the lists of artists invited to take part in the most recent editions for the Venice Biennale (since 2000) and in Documenta 11 (2002), and would like to give you a few facts and figures – not because I am a fanatic for statistics, but because I believe they give credence to the trend I have been trying to describe. There were 125 artists at the last Documenta, which, as you will remember, was curated by Okwui Enwezor. Of these, 53 came from Europe or were working and living there, 34 from the US and Canada, 16 from Africa, 11 from Asia, 9 from Latin America, 4 from the Middle East and 1 only (really, only one?) from Australia. However, there was a quite large number of diasporic artists on this occasion, namely, 10 from Europe and 12 from the US and Canada. This means, in fact, that 7 out of 16 “African” artists were not living in Africa, 3 out of 6 were not living in Latin America, 3 out of 11 were no longer located in Asia, and, most strikingly, not a single one of the 4 artists from the Middle East was actually based there ! Looking at the last Venice Biennale and, more specifically, the two core shows curated by Maria de Corral and Rosa Martinez, we find a very similar pattern: in the case of the first of these, The Experience of Art, which might be assumed to be more “classic” than the second, exactly one half of the 42 artists came from Europe, whilst the remaining 50 % was made up of 10 from the US and Canada, 5 from Africa (3 of them from the Diaspora) and 2 from Asia (both of them from the Diaspora). In the case of the second exhibition, Always a little further, which might be read as the mid-career retrospective of a curator who flaunted her attraction to non-western art, her very up-to-date social agenda and her concern with other current issues, such as gender, education, sexuality, and so on, exactly one half of the 58 invited artists were, again, from Europe and 11 from the US and Canada (7 of them from the Diaspora), 10 from Latin America, 7 from Asia and only 3 from Africa, if we discount the 2 “African” artists who came from quite different parts of the world. If we want to look at other highly representational exhibitions in Venice that were devoted exclusively to African art, we have to go back to the year 2001, and to Authentic, Ex-centric, which was curated by Salah Hassan and Olu Oguibe (in other words, by the team from the magazine NKA), with the assistance of Emma Bedford. The organisers of this exhibition faced a host of logistical problems and, because they could only count on the solid support of the Prince Claus Fund, they were limited to the choice of 7 artists, of whom only 2 (Willem Boshoff and Bernie Searle) were actually living in Africa (South Africa, as it happens), at the time. The 2003 Venice Biennale included the exhibition, Fault Lines. Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes, curated by Gilane Tawadros, which made the point even more forcefully, as 7 out of the 15 artists represented (9, if we include a couple more, who had died) actually came from outside Africa! (This is not a criticism – merely a statement of fact !). Moving on quickly, I am among those who believe that Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 was highly representative of the paradox we are experiencing today, which consists in having to accept a wider range of artistic opinions that quite legitimately appeal to us, on the grounds of their iconography,

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imagery and aesthetics, but that are also made to conform – as in Kassel – to quite academic, museological standards of display. I very much liked Authentic, Ex-centric, which was somehow discretely displayed in an typical, attractive, Venetian palazzo, where the interaction between the artist’s work and the domestic setting of a private apartment seemed rather effective, even if, as always, one could have criticised certain aspects of the selection. In contrast, I consider that the context provided for Gilane Tawadros’ exhibit was really rather inappropriate – firstly, because this rather cursory display was swamped by the efforts of the other, rather trendy, curators of the adjacent sections, who had all been thrown together by the Artistic Director of the Biennale, Francesco Bonami, in an effort to mount a spectacular, consumerist event, involving as many artists as possible (more even than in the very suspect Biennale curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, in 1995) and, secondly, because Tawadros tried for the first time to show a number of not very well known artists in an international context, in a gesture which was very courageous, but difficult to pull off! Again, I’m sorry about all these numbers, but I think they may serve as a good introduction to what we want to hear about, and discuss: when, where, and why are African artists invited to participate in these large, encyclopaedic events, such as Documenta and the Venice Biennale? What have been the results, here and there? Who stays, flees, vanishes, emigrates, returns? Who receives what kind of art education or training? And what are the goals and effects of a wide range of cultural policies? – These, and many more, are the kinds of questions that I anticipate we shall all wish to address, in the coming days.

© AICA Press et l’auteur

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GLOBALISATION AND ART EXHIBITIONS ZORAN ERIC Glocal Games The state of affairs in present-day capitalism could be exemplified with the logic of multinational companies and their top down distribution or dissemination of the branded commodities worldwide, with a high level of sensitivity to local tastes and habits. The concept of “glocalisation”, that is used to describe the intertwined and interconnected notions of the global and the local was developed in social theory, as an outcome of an analysis of marketing strategies which showed that the global outreach of a campaign for a product was more likely to succeed when it was adapted specifically to each locality or culture where it was being promoted. In Japanese business affairs and economic analysis in the late 1980s, the word Dochakuka was used to refer to the way goods and services are produced and, moreover, distributed, in keeping with the particularistic criteria of a given locality. This term, according to Roland Robertson, could be understood as ‘indigenisation’, but is very similar to the theoretical concept of glocalisation, now seen as one of the facets of the whole corpus of ideas on globalisation. Theorists like Bruno Latour questioned the validity of the very concepts of the local and the global, as they were seen before, and claimed that these ‘labels’ were no longer of any use. He therefore proposed the term “glocal”, as an amalgam of these two notions and concepts, as both encapsulating the wide range of possibilities, from the most local to the most universal and underlining the necessity for breaking down the simple binary opposition between the reality of local experience and global concerns. He demonstrated that it was no longer viable to opt for the idea of ‘the local in itself’’, without attempting to provide some kind of contextual framework for it. The actual concern that the local was being overwhelmed by the global might simply be a different way of claiming that disparate localities were becoming interconnected: in the same way as the local had been globalised, the global had been localised. I would like to give one example here: The increasing presence of McDonalds restaurants worldwide is an example of globalisation, while the restaurant chain's efforts to vary this menu, in an attempt to appeal to local palates, is an example of glocalisation. Perhaps an even better illustration of glocalisation is provided by the fact that, for publicity purpose in France, this fast food chain has chosen to replace its familiar Ronald McDonald mascot with Asterix the Gaul, a popular French cartoon character. Robertson, who was one of the first to give theoretical articulation to this concept and tendency, claimed in 1997 that glocalisation could be understood as the simultaneous existence of both universalising and particularising tendencies in a certain local culture. This dichotomy of the global and the local was emphasised in the anti-globalisation movements as well, where the local was set up in opposition to the global as if it had to resist the process of globalisation. Robertson was right, when he pointed out that, in spite of the resistance of local cultures, they were all caught up in the same wave of the same process of globalisation/ glocalisation. Indigenisation could be thus better understood as the need of local cultures and traditions to be recognised and incorporated in the global arena, and not just simply to reject it. Thus, a possible strategy for achieving this goal and ’democratising’ the process of globalisation might be called “globalisation” from below. Rather than propose the stereotypical model of cultural consumption of the local, imposed by the market mechanisms of ‘predatory’ capitalism, I would propose a strategy of bottom-up

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initiative, based on a variety of local case studies. I would like to analyse how images, meanings and values associated with specific localities are generated and circulate within the global cultural economy.

Global Flows Another way of looking at the same problem would be to analyse the process of globalisation through the tensions between cultural homogenisation and heterogenisation that is, for Arjun Appadurai, the central problem of today's global interactions. But what actually quite often happens is that homogenisation is regarded as synonymous with Americanisation or commodification, and consequently the later two arguments are closely connected. Here, the basic element omitted from the account is the fact that, no matter how fast the impulses from various metropolises are introduced into different local societies, they themselves soon enough become indigenised. Here, we would do well to take note of the fact that the present model of disorganised capitalism is creating a new, multifaceted, intertwined, disjunctive order within the global cultural economy. This resists falling into the category of a binary oppositional model of the analysis of societal processes deriving from various discourses or practices, such as neo-Marxism (consumers vs. producers), or traditional trade (surplus vs. deficit). However, the model cannot any longer be understood in terms of an antimony between centre and periphery. It has, therefore, become a commonplace, to state that today’s world is principally characterised by objects in motion. If we were to draw up a spatial flowchart, it would encompass objects, such as ideas and ideologies, people and goods, images and messages, and technologies and techniques. Appadurai proposed the model of “scaping” and defined the flow of images, histories and information as “mediascapes”; the flows of cultural and political ideologies as “ideoscapes”; finance flows as “financescapes”; and flows of migrants, tourists and refugees as “ethnoscapes”. Finally, adding to this analysis, he introduced us, later on, to the most interesting notion of “artscapes”.

Global Art Exhibitions I will, therefore, now try to shift this rhetoric from social, political and economic references to the field of art references. When it comes to placing products related to art and culture in the global cultural economy, it comes to the point where adding a geopolitically infused “local flavor”' to works conceived within globally accepted paradigms, adds much more to the prospects of successfully marketing an art project than any consideration of its conceptual background, or framework of internal artistic references. The process of globalisation in the realm of contemporary art has been manifested in the proliferation of biennial exhibitions, disrupting the old geographical hegemonies of the big art centres and revealing the multifaceted, disjunctive order of the new global art space. Curators frequently turn into globetrotters, competing in global cities, producing discourses for contextualisation and developing new formats for artistic display. The side effect of this phenomenon is that many global biennials are becoming as alike as if they adopted the logic of multinational companies which disseminate their commodities worldwide, always adding a touch of a local flavour to the product, to improve the prospects of marketing it within a local context. For me, this process is a very good metaphor for what is happening with the big international biennials. The same “flavour” is to be found anywhere — it just needs to be branded — and linked to the global cultural economy. There is mostly some minor local flavour but these biennials are all, basically, large-scale events, in which the art market has a major presence. No wonder that big art events attract sponsorship from multinational companies. It was not the curator, Dan Cameron, who presided over the inaugural press conference at the opening of the last but one Istanbul Biennial, but a

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representative of a Japanese tobacco company! Of course, there is more to it than that, and it is not only the art market that initiates big events, like biennials, in different cities around the globe, but there must be a connection with the local structures that are willing to support these biennials. The process described above could be regarded as an example of cultural homogenization, but then it should be noted that a process of cultural heterogenisation – the acknowledgement of cultural differences goes on at the same time. This tendency has a genealogy extending onwards from the exhibition Les Magiciens de la terre, in 1989, to its peak at Documenta 11, in 2002. Here I would note that after the colonising gaze of the Western countries, post-colonial discourse and emancipation, we are witnessing the most recent, and most sophisticated tendency in the global cultural economy to explore local ethnicities and cultural specificities. The logic of multinational companies that I was describing in the sphere of visual arts is exemplified by the globally understood requirements of the art market, that the artistic language, media and visual articulation of the artworks conform to recognisable, and acceptable, (Western) standards and, still more importantly, that the content, topic and subject relate to local ethno-cultural habits and tradition, to folklore, and to local anthropological distinctiveness. The same phenomena can be observed, not just in the visual arts, but in many cultural disciplines, such as music (world music), cinema, (viz the boom in small national film industries in the nineties), through which we can trace a similar exploration of ‘world art’ or, as we might choose to call it, “ethno-cultural global art”. Does this mean that all local cultures should reproduce the Western art system, foster global art market and indulge global artistic celebrities? No! On the contrary, as we said before, what could be at stake is a process of grassroots globalisation in the cultural field, and the incorporation and contextualisation of a variety of different histories of art. We could, therefore, argue that the globalisation of culture should not be understood merely as homogenisation, but, on the contrary, as the interrelation between cultural homogenisation and cultural heterogenisation, which, as we have noted, is beginning to emerge as one of the key issues of global interaction, in our time. We should be constantly seeking to demonstrate that the “genealogies” of modern art in different regions of the world are not necessarily the same as in Western European countries. The history of art that was in the period of Cold War “normatively” presented to us ‘was almost entirely based on readings of its development in the Western world, at the price of neglecting the developments in for example Eastern Europe, or sometimes including them, as marginal offshoots to the prevailing movements and –“isms” of the time. This was reinforced by the “selfmarginalising” cultures that did not try to “produce” their own art history and inscribe it into a wider context, as a global asset, but tried to copy the existing models of analyses. Here I would fully agree with the group IRWIN, from Slovenia, with their “East Art Map” project, that the art history of, in their case, East Europe has to be “produced”, and written. For this purpose, we also need to map, document, analyse and interpret all the important initiatives emanating from different regions of the world.

© AICA Press et l’auteur

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AFRICA IN BRITAIN, BRITAIN IN AFRICA AND BEYOND. Sajid Rizvi This paper focuses on the evolving connections between Britain, my adopted country, and Africa, a continent I began to familiarise myself with rather late in life, after a visit to Morocco in the early 1980s. As no doubt some of the readers would know, one of the arguments often heard is that Morocco is not quite Africa, and that the real Africa only begins south of the Sahara, which makes one wonder: where does that leave our hosts, Ethiopia, and that great African civilisation in its immediate neighbourhood, Egypt? But I will not go into any of that beyond this observation, save perhaps to relate quickly in this context what one of my erudite Swedish acquaintances said to me over dinner in Stockholm a few years ago. “Oh those blacks in the South,” she said, referring of course to the French and the Spaniards of southern Europe, “they are so different from us over here. We hardly have anything in common at all”. So, there I would leave it, and without further ado I would move quickly on to the first half of the subject of my talk, Africa in Britain, but without going into any great detail about the history, because that is extensively documented.1 More of African history is being made as we speak, and quite a lot of it is being added to the internet and embodied in publications on paper virtually each passing day. So, in sum, I am going to steer clear of any further discussion on definitions of real or not-so-real Africa or of African history. Eleven years have elapsed since Africa appeared or rather loomed large on the British scene, thanks largely to the africa95 “festival” of 1995. I use that word as a term of convenience, because africa95 was a festival and a lot more, a constellation of exhibitions, performances, conferences and symposia and, above all, a political happening. The high point of africa95, mainly in terms of prestige and media attraction, was the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Africa: The Art of a Continent, which later travelled elsewhere. Royal Academician and artist Tom Phillips curated the exhibition. There were other important shows in London and outside London, even in the north of Britain, but Africa. The Art of a Continent was remarkable for its ambitious scale, the range of artefacts it offered on display, the passions it aroused amongst London’s art critics and the audiences it brought into the Royal Academy. The exhibition offered, in a single venue, works ranging from the tools and rock art of early humankind to objects produced well into the twentieth century. Many of those who came to see the exhibition had never before been inside the building on Piccadilly, even though it tugs at the heart of Soho and straddles as rich and bewildering a cultural and ethnic mix as is likely to be seen in the British capital. Now why was that? Because, quite simply, the Royal Academy was largely seen by Britain’s non-white ethnic communities as a preserve of the white British majority and widely perceived as a venue, again, of white art as opposed to all other art, whether British or foreign. The Royal Academy had organised other shows of non-western art earlier, but somehow those shows, however admirable or successful, had failed to dispel, in many minds, the notion of the Royal Academy as an elitist gallery space, a western elitist one at that. I say western elitist because, as we know only too well, elites are not the sole preserve of the West. Formatting error, not a reference but my own text.

1

Both africa95 and Africa05 are well documented. A good starting point for africa95 is http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgibin/search2?coll_id=5954&inst_id=19. For Africa05, http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcafrica/africa05/index.shtml offers a good overview of all available resources.

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Despite an element of surprise in the organising and sitting of the event and indeed some initial suspicion, though quickly dispelled, of the Royal Academy’s intentions, the staging of Africa. The Art of a Continent appeared to please most of those non-white Britons who visited it and in the process became familiar with the Royal Academy as an institution that did not flinch from showcasing their art and culture. This process did the Royal Academy a whole of lot of good and also went some way towards satisfying a long-felt need for a greater representation of non-white art and culture, whether British or borrowed, in a mainstream art gallery. Although the Royal Academy has earned fame and notoriety (the question of which of the two depends on one’s point of view) for organising, years later, shows such as Sensation, when it staged Africa: The Art of a Continent it was still widely regarded as a venue driven by aesthetics, western aesthetics at that and, of course, the economic need to remain solvent through large attendances. In retrospect, a closer examination of what featured in Africa: The Art of a Continent reveals it as an exhibition driven largely by aesthetics. This was important for the Academy at the time, as its customer base, so to speak, or the regular audience — other than the audience it had yet to discover — would have expected nothing less from an exhibition on Africa. In keeping the aesthetic element paramount in its curatorial considerations, the Academy was up against a significant challenge and risked losing the art historical argument. Luckily for all concerned, the exhibition appeared to have delivered well on all fronts, with a careful choice of objects within geographical and historical contexts that gave the display academic and scholarly weight. The exhibition went to the Guggenheim Museum and received general international acclaim. The event on the whole was not without problems, two of the strongest objections being that it was paternalistic in tone, if not necessarily in intention and that it failed to put contemporary art and curatorial practices in Africa, or by Africans on the continent or in Diaspora, in their proper context. This sentiment was expressed widely, and most notably by Olabisi Silva, in her appraisal of africa95:2 “africa95 should have been a cultural celebration and on some levels it was, but somehow a bitter aftertaste of cultural paternalism lingers. Africa is not one country but over 45 countries. Its size and diversity continue to challenge Europeans who find it impossible to focus on just one country. Festivals such as Japan, Brazil and Spain have highlighted and presented stimulating insights into individual countries, not whole continents. Even with the “curatorial correctness” of Seven Stories3 —in which, significantly, the catalogue biographies of the artists in the exhibition are conspicuous by their absence—it is no coincidence that as we approach the millennium, Africa in its present economic, political and social quagmire is still at the mercy of European benefactors. As long as this is the case, we and other Third World countries will remain as Cuban critic and curator Gerardo Mosquera has stated, “the curated cultures.” 4 I mention africa95 at some length because, absent from the context at the time was what became omnipresent in 2005, when Africa05 swept across Britain as the largest festival of African art and culture ever held in Britain, and was immediately embraced by the government as part of its wider foreign policy agenda in Africa. In 1995, Britain under the Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, was reeling under a series of post-Thatcherite economic and political traumas and was in the shadow of the Queen’s description of 1992 as her annus horribilis, following a series of negative events affecting the Royal Family, most dramatic of all being the rift between Charles and Diana. John Major’s government had no time for art and less so for African art. 2

Silva, Olabisi, “africa95: Cultural Colonialism or Cultural Celebration”, in Art Criticism and Africa, ed. Katy Deepwell. London, Saffron, 1996. 3 Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa, at The Whitechapel Art Gallery, East London, featured works in mixed media by artists already known in the West from Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda. The entire exhibition aimed to establish a historical context for modernistic art in Africa. One interesting portion of the exhibition was the special section dedicated to the murdered African leader, Steve Biko. See Clémentine Deliss, Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa. ehibition catalogue., London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1995. 4 Gerardo Mosquera, “Some Problems in Transcultural Curating” in Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts, ed. Jean Fisher. London, Kala Press, in assoc. with the Institute of International Visual Arts, 1994, pp. 105-112.

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In remarkable contrast, the Labour government, under Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005, was keen to mix politics and art and ably demonstrated its flair for making use of art as a soft conduit for political objectives or projection of foreign policy, with the staging of the Turks exhibition,5 again at the Royal Academy, at a time when Britain was pushing for Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The Royal Academy was not available again for an Africa blockbuster, because another politically loaded exhibition, China: The Three Emperors, was just around the corner, but Africa05 was an extremely timely and welcome occurrence, that coincided with the government’s Africa initiatives on debt relief and poverty reduction programmes. This time around, not only the government and funding bodies, such as the Arts Council, but also the British Broadcasting Corporation participated with great gusto in the programming of Africa-related events throughout Britain. Africa05 has met with resounding success and is now practically wound down, though some of its events and programmes are likely to continue through this year and beyond. A quick word here about africa95. Although there is insufficient recorded evidence from the mass media, largely because africa95 was ignored or sidelined by influential art critics, as an event of little relevance to Britain, africa95 made significant inroads into British society, especially the art and heritage sector and the universities. I was directly involved with two conferences, both held at the Courtauld Institute of Art. One, organised by Eastern Art Report and teasingly titled Myths and Mothballs, brought academics, art historians and artists together in an examination of what was meant by ancient and modern in relation to Africa.6 The other, titled Art Criticism and Africa, focused mainly on West Africa, Egypt and South Africa and Zimbabwe, resulted in the volume cited earlier, which remains to this day a definitive text on the manifestation and evolution of art critical practice on the African continent as well as international art criticism relevant to Africa.7 Other conferences at the University of London allowed prolonged examination of issues in African art education, art history, and cultural and social change both in Africa and in the West. Africa95 spawned great interest in African art and led to increased interest in African studies at British universities and, by extension, in European institutions that were exposed to the British event. Perhaps most remarkably africa95 helped Britain’s black – by that I mean largely African and Caribbean – communities repair some of the damage that is inevitably caused by displacement, migration or cultural alienation. Africa95 was important in reinforcing these communities’ self-identification as peoples with ancient histories and vibrant contemporary cultures, both on the African continent and in various diasporic communities in the West. Africa95 changed audience perceptions and responses in different ways. For example, some of the strongest audience participation was apparent in events pertaining to performance arts and sculpture, though contemporary art shows such as the Seven Stories exhibition at Whitechapel received a lot of attention, as did visual arts or photography exhibitions where western definitions or perceptions of arts and crafts were challenged by examples of the contemporary practice of 5

See http://www.turks.org.uk/index.php for a comprehensive look at the exhibition. Also: Rizvi, Sajid 2005: “Turks at Europe’s Gate? When diplomacy and geopolitics meet art.” Arab Banker, Spring 2005 6 Myths and Mothballs examined curatorial issues on the African continent for instigators and organisers of both contemporary and traditional arts in Africa and debated tensions between the academic world and journalism, the latter by far the more responsible for whatever went by way of art criticism in the popular press. Although most ‘reporting’ (if not criticism) of new art, as well as exhibitions of traditional art was produced by journalists on African newspapers and, to a lesser degree, on the radio, most of such output did not meet with the approval of academics, who thought such writing as facile and worthless 7 AICA was actively involved with this conference and contributed towards the publication of the book, Art Criticism and Africa, edited by Katy Deepwell, for which major funding came from the Arts Council England. AICA’s involvement was not widely publicised but, as Deepwell outlined in her introduction, it proved to be a precursor of later events. She wrote, “The conference had a twofold purpose. The first aim was to develop an initiative within AICA, a UNESCO nongovernmental organisation, to facilitate the establishment of autonomous national sections of AICA in those African countries where English is recognised as an official language. The latter initiative has led to AICA sections in Nigeria and Zimbabwe being established in 1997 with discussions about a section continuing in South Africa. The second aim was to develop an ongoing dialogue with many of the visual arts participants who had come to the UK to take part in the africa95 festival.” The latter goal was pursued at different levels by different interests and certainly culminated in happenings during Africa05.

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artists on the continent, as well as those fighting for recognition from mainstream galleries in London, Paris or New York. Africa95 opened European doors for African and Caribbean artists and either helped them become international artists — in other words, artists with ever-bigger footprints in the African diasporas — or gave them vital support, that allowed them to continue with their artistic practice in their native lands. But africa95 on the whole was about the bigger picture, the broad sweep. In 1995, it was still possible for an artist or curator to lump things together, call it all African, and get away with it. Many of the events in africa95 drew on themes that were advanced or broadly defined as “African” rather than, say, Ethiopian, Nigerian or South African. The fact that Africa, a huge continent, had logical possibilities such as diversity of local histories, arts and crafts, cultures and societies did not seem to figure much at the time. Perhaps it was just as well, given that africa95 in many respects was a pioneering exercise, the key for unlocking doors that had long been shut and for opening up spaces that one did not know existed. Perhaps the organisers of individual shows knew, or at least felt, that a simpler message had a greater chance of accessing and reaching out to greater audiences. Perhaps some of the curatorial practice itself, at the time, had not been exposed to the complexity of the subject matter that it encountered and then proceeded to make accessible to audiences. In some respects, this is a fraught subject, beset by controversies, some recorded and others buried underneath layers of discreet silence. It may be expedient to give the various organisers of africa95 events the benefit of the doubt. Last year’s Africa05 programme, in contrast, has thrived on difference and diversity. There has also been in evidence a maturer, more confident approach, partly in response to an audience whose experience of Africa has ranged from television viewing of distressful scenes of hunger or war to an informed appreciation of art in various forms, from visual arts to music and dance to cinema. Publishers have capitalised on a growing interest in African fiction writing and writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri and numerous others now — rightfully — enjoy celebrity status. An important change over the years since the staging of africa95 has been the embracing of African art and culture as an integral part of their heritage by Britain’s own native African and Caribbean communities. This is in no small part a response to years of underrepresentation in the cultural mainstream. While Asian cultural icons have become a part of the British scene, Africa clearly lags behind. More crucially, a wider sense of underrepresentation has led to widespread campaigning, not only for greater representation of both Asian and African communities and their cultures in the British mainstream but also for radical changes in the curriculum, in the education sector, at large, in the heritage sector, which includes libraries and museums, and in the employment sector. All this has profound implications not only for British society but also for the location of African (and indeed Asian) culture and the manner in which it is defined and represented, within a British context. I was on a Commission appointed by London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to identify areas with a marked lack of representation of African and Asian communities in the capital’s heritage sector. This Commission on African and Asian Heritage, or MCAAH, published its report last year,8 having looked in great detail at how British heritage currently is managed, how those involved with running museums, public galleries, archives and libraries are trained, and to what extent the educational curriculum is inclusive of the historical contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean citizens to British life. The Commission also looked into how community-based heritage organisations can be made stronger and how major institutions, including the British Museum, can better make use of people drawn from African, Asian and Caribbean communities. If implemented, the recommendations of the Mayor’s Commission will transform British society in more ways that either africa95 or Africa05 hoped for. Nor is the future implementation of reforms that give African and Asians a greater voice in society dependent upon Labour retaining power during the coming years. Rather it is these communities’ substantial voting power that may influence governmental decision-making on the question of jobs in the heritage sector and the impact that is bound to have on art, art education, art history, to mention a few areas of 8

See delivering shared heritage, http://www.almlondon.org.uk/uploads/documents/delivering_shared_heritage.pdf

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immediate concern. One direct result will be more alternative, challenging writing on all aspects of British history and society, including art history and art criticism, and there will certainly be more art. British history is already being revamped in small measures, though changes in curriculum are still quite small. For example, the 200th anniversary in October last year of the British naval victory over the French and Spanish off Cape Trafalgar highlighted the contribution of non-white solders fighting for the Empire. It was the first time such recognition had been granted so publicly. Apparently, one in ten of the ordinary seamen at Trafalgar was non-white, a fact that British African historians now want incorporated fully into curriculum texts, along with many other aspects of African and Asian presence in the country. Africa05 featured several events, including exhibitions that revisited known elements of history and society. In one of the unexpected outcomes of the last G8 Summit, the British government announced its intention to pump £17m ($30m) into an initiative to encourage British business links with Africa and help improve the continent's image. Whether this objective can be achieved with British donations alone, or whether more is required on several fronts, will have to be seen. But it is clear that the two Africa-related art events in Britain, africa95 and Africa05, have coincided with developments elsewhere on the British scene that are worth watching and certainly ensure that Britain will remain a major player on the African art and culture scene, at least outside Africa, if not directly in African countries. And it is also becoming apparent that more Britons of African descent will be playing proactive roles in the process. It is an opportunity for both Britain and Africa, for these Britons to reclaim elements of their heritage that may have been lost in the mists of time, and for their future African partners to benefit from their experience and resources. © AICA Press et l’auteur

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CONTEMPORARY ETHIOPIAN ART IN A CHANGING WORLD Elizabeth W. Giorgis Ethiopia’s rich legacy in traditional art and aesthetics and the recent growth in Ethiopian contemporary art have, unfortunately, received very little attention, in contrast to what has been accomplished in the field of Ethiopian Studies, from the angle of the social sciences, and what has been written about art in many other African countries. This situation may be explained by, among other factors, the lack of local art historians and critics, and the consequent paucity of intellectual discourse on art. Despite the boom in contemporary art in the past decade, the country lacks trained art historians and art critics who are capable of cross-cultural dialogue, and who understand that the formation of present-day Ethiopia is contingent on changing global patterns of migration, displacement, economics, technology and demographics. An art critic or an art historian can only view the intricacies of contemporary art and culture in this broader context. It is difficult to maintain a cultural position outside the arena of contemporary debate, in an increasingly interconnected world. The break-up of colonialism and the radical cultural theories of the ’60s and ’70s have created new ground rules for interpreting non-western cultures, both in the West and on the African continent. We need to review, and examine critically the achievements of the West, if we are to make any progress with adequately representing nonwestern culture, against a backdrop of contemporary culture, as a whole and of the growing hegemony of global capital. The recent success of large-scale exhibitions, such as those of African art in Venice, curated by Salah Hassan from Sudan and, later, Gilane Tawadros, from Egypt, and the last Documenta, in Germany and Short Century, put together by the Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor, would have been unthinkable a decade ago and have all charted the emergence of new tendencies in all facets of art and society and attempted to construct new tropes of selfrepresentation. These exhibitions stood out for their criticism of the lack of representation of non-westerners and for the determination of the latter to face the challenge of creating something new within the context of the creative traditions of the non-western world. With the aid of these exhibitions, African and other non-western artists have succeeded in mastering the language of European modernism and transcending it, by reinvigorating their own traditions and creating a new visual culture of their own. The African artists who were included in Short Century, Documenta and Africa in Venice bore witness to the inception and development of what is today commonly referred to as “African Modernism”. The grand vision of cultural revival and national reconstruction of a decolourised Africa, at the time of liberation and independence, has been usurped, and a new world order of globalisation and debt, civil war, famine and malnutrition prevails, and African artists have articulated this most clearly in exhibitions such as these. In “African Modernism”, artists have placed this analysis at the very heart of their discourse, by insisting that it is only possible to constitute a “colourblind” African aesthetic by first making a complete inventory of everything from which the colour has to be removed. As Stuart Hall says in his introduction to the catalogue of Faultlines, the second African exhibition in Venice, we have come to depend “on writers, artists, film makers, musicians and video makers to map this emergent cartography, to report on its shifting outlines and to bring us accounts from its dangerous interior depths”. What all this means to African art and culture, we have yet to see. But again, as Stuart Hall says, the shockwaves “are already registering at some seismic levels in global culture”. African artists and scholars, both in the West and the African continent, are raising critical issues of representation. Who has the authority to speak for any group’s identity or authenticity? What are the critical elements and boundaries of a particular culture? These are questions that

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they actively contest. Because of these debates, cultural institutions that had got over the efforts of the struggles for liberation and independence are instead increasingly engaged in a power struggle for the just representation of non-westerners. Having said this, and given the background to the thought processes of contemporary African art, I want to pose the question of the status of Ethiopian contemporary art. Where is Ethiopian contemporary art, in the light of these debates? Before going into its dynamics, it is worth taking a quick look at the historiography of art history in Ethiopia. It is also important to note that, when we talk about the history of Ethiopian art, we are primarily referring to traditional Christian art, without reference to its specifically Ethiopian components. In contrast, the Library of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, the prime research centre in the country, has abundant written material about Ethiopian Christian traditional art, not by Ethiopian scholars but by many outside scholars, starting with the extensive writings of Stanislas Chojnacki, a Pole who came to Ethiopia as a librarian in the early sixties. (It is important to note here that, although Mr. Chojnacki’s research is considered to be problematic by some people, it is commendably detailed). Narratives of Ethiopian traditional Christian art are exclusively foreign, within the European definition of “art." Ethiopian traditional Christian art is part of the mythology of the Orthodox Church. However, it should be interpreted, or analysed, in close conjunction with Ethiopian Christian mythology, and extensive research into Ethiopians’ conceptions of the mysteries of the Divinity is necessary, if we are to make any sense of its mythological aspects. Language is an important aid to deciphering the obscure, ambiguous and hidden aspects of these mythological connections, but it is equally important to have a true sense of sharing in this culture and its intricacies. Understanding Ge-ez, the liturgical script, is the best way to gain an understanding of Ethiopian traditional art, or Ethiopian religious scripts. The script and the image are both one and the same and altogether different. They come from the same source of mythic conceptions and beliefs, and it is difficult, even for Ethiopian scholars who do not understand the Ge-ez script; to decipher the difficult aspects of Ethiopian iconography. It is extremely difficult for secular scholars who only speak Amharic, a language directly deriving from Ge-ez, to interpret liturgical scripts or meanings. We should also note that speaking and comprehending the deeper layers of Amharic is greatly preferable to not speaking it at all, if one is ever to engage in an analysis of Ethiopian traditional art. The text and the image are closely intertwined. The Amharic language itself is full of puns, witticisms and layered meanings. Wax and Gold are the predominant forms of poetic expression in the Amharic language. Superficial, figurative meaning is referred to as “wax”, whilst hidden meaning and true significance are referred to as “gold”. “Wax and Gold”, says philosopher Messay Kebede in Survival and Modernization in Ethiopia, “is the art of discovering and reinstating the truth”. He says that it corresponds to the Ethiopian conception of the divine. “For the Ethiopian”, Messay says, “there is a fundamental duality in the nature of God”, and “the mystery of God and his omnipotence constitute the dyad appearance-essence”. Therefore, essence and appearance are fundamental to the conception of things. It is difficult for many outside scholars, including those who have made a detailed study of Ethiopian art, to grasp the dyad of essence and appearance. Ethiopian art is more symbolic than representative or descriptive, and their scholarship is incapable of doing justice to this metaphysical dimension. On the contrary, they remain object-centred. Outside scholars believe that Ethiopian traditional art is redundant, distorted and inviolate and that it consists, in the main, of imported European models; however, the concept of repetition in Ethiopian art is metaphysical and symbolic, and cannot be defined in terms of a western aesthetics. What is more, European scholars ascribe meanings to the corpus of translated knowledge on which they base their research, and these meanings fit a western paradigm of knowledge transference. The most problematic aspect of this is that students of anthropology and history have unquestioningly accepted, as gospel truth, the questionable premises on which this research is based and gone on from there to make generalisations about Ethiopian art, as a whole. The discipline of art history is not taught at university level. The only place where it is taught at all is at the School of Fine Arts. The Art School offers a single course in art history, which is based on an obsolete curriculum of the history of European art, drawn up by artists turned art

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history teachers, who readily affirm their lack of training in this subject or qualification to teach it. At university level, a few history students have attempted to devote their Masters theses to Ethiopian traditional art and have made appealing attempts to decipher Ethiopian iconography. They have taken advantage of knowing the language and belonging to the culture, in their efforts to try and reveal as much as they could of those aspects that have not been properly emphasised in European accounts. Unfortunately, they, too, have based their research on the existing canons and have proved unable to make a great deal of progress on their own, though they have set important parameters for future scholarship. They, too, have overlooked the significance of oral narratives and chosen, instead, to follow European patterns of thought. The native traditional painters or the ecclesiastical experts who provide the scholars with this information are treated in the manner of anonymous informants; they have valuable knowledge to offer, which goes unrecognised or is frequently misconstrued. Thus, it is the foreign observer who is recognised as the expert. When we think of history, we often think of the European concept of history, as books that are full of names and events. A great deal of the history that is important to us cannot be found in books. In the case of Ethiopia, the historical constructs that are missing from the books are created from the local oral traditions that western scholars affect to despise, since these do not fit into their own conceptions about the nature of knowledge itself. Ironically, the published scholarship of the Europeans, employing a whole range of refined, academic and technical, terms has only been made possible by the oral accounts of the oral accounts of the early historians of the church. Having said all this about the problematic nature of the established canon of Ethiopian traditional art, it is only fair to say that the idea of a general history of art has yet to be established in Ethiopia, and that the material that has gradually been accumulated has largely come together in an aimless fashion, without any sense that this might contribute to the development of a modern history of Ethiopian art. The very lack of a proper academic discipline of art history and criticism has prevented us from capturing the contradictory profile of modern art, encompassing all the crises and schisms of the modern world. How, then, does contemporary art in Ethiopia fare within this dynamic field? Contemporary art is still a new experience in Ethiopian culture and must still prove its claim to legitimacy. Whereas there has been an increase in the number of artists in the last decade, this has made little impact on the institutional structures of critical discourse, because there is no history of critical discourse in art, as the country’s history confirms. The present seminar on art criticism is the first of its kind to be held in this country. Senior students at the Art School have no knowledge of Short Century, Documenta, Africa in Venice, etc., let alone of the curators who were behind these shows. There are now plenty of exhibitions of work, by a host of young artists. Every week, the newspapers carry information about these, but they show little understanding of what they are all about. Young journalists are eager to learn, but there is no platform to accommodate them. The only Fine Arts School is mainly dominated by teachers with formalist concerns and produces graduates with an excellent technique, but minimal training in theory, even though the university administration, of which the art school has recently become a part, is trying to tackle this problem. The Art School could not even provide a history of traditional art, given the lack on its staff, even, of traditional historians. Nevertheless, it produces many artists who are obsessed with the aesthetics of Coptic art. There are no fora, seminars or public lectures, where students could get acquainted with the dynamics and paradigms of other contemporary cultures or the debates and intellectual undercurrents on the periphery of the contemporary art world. The university administration, in its efforts to open up a route towards establishing a viable contemporary art platform, has recently set up the Gebre Kristos Desta Center, in alliance with the German Cultural Institute on the campus. It has managed to repatriate all the works of Gebre Kristos Desta - Ethiopia’s founding father of modern art, along with Skunder Boghossian – after they had been languishing for twenty years in a museum in Munich. For the first time, a catalogue of the life and oeuvre of Gere Kristos Desta is being prepared by Ethiopians, with the help of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Likewise, the Institute is putting together a history of modern art in Ethiopia, in the form of an anthology of essays by, not art historians, since the country has none, but conventional Ethiopian historians, who are trying

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to introduce a degree of professionalism into the critical discourse on art. We hope that this catalogue, for all its limitations, will establish a precedent for other work of a similar nature. The production of critical discourse, not only in art, but in all other areas, is tantamount to understanding the predicaments of underdevelopment and has the potential for shedding light on the problems created by our country’s ills, typified by poverty and ethnic strife. The questions I posed at the beginning of this presentation, of who has the authority to speak for any group’s identity or authenticity, and what the critical elements and boundaries of a particular culture may be, have a special relevance, when it comes to the contemporary culture of Ethiopia. As I mentioned earlier, the evolution of present-day Ethiopia is contingent on the changing global patterns of migration, displacement, economics, technology and demographics. Identity conflicts related to issues of cultural ownership and representation have been exacerbated by the way in which contemporary artists have uncritically emulated concepts simply deriving from the consequences of global patterns of technological development, migration and so on, and their failure to make any effort to outline the necessary context or to offer any alternative models. Needless to say, contemporary art in Ethiopia reflects an inherent contradiction of meaning, embodied in representing the present through narratives that imitate other cultural idioms, and failing to engage critically with the material at hand, through scholarship and open dialogue. Obscene forms of artistic consumption by an elitist class have led to a proliferation of problems for artists. For the elite, the artwork signifies modernity, sophistication and high culture. However, there is a need for dissenting voices to make themselves heard. Critical thought should be brought to bear on issues such as modernisation, responses to the emergence of an Ethiopian Diaspora, and the reasons behind Ethiopia’s history, poverty and underdevelopment. All the commonly recognised symptoms of underdevelopment should be examined, to see whether they originate with the former coloniser or the former colonised, and whether they promote true empowerment or strategies of control. Consequently, the discussion of modernity and modernism in Ethiopia must be conducted in full recognition of its many-sidedness, as well as its cultural specifics, and we should not hesitate to admit the shortcomings of narratives formulated from outside. For instance, the exhibition Dialogues in the Diaspora, of ten contemporary Ethiopian from the Diaspora, at the Museum of African Art in Washington, triggered an article in the Washington Post that employed the typical rhetoric of “otherness” and exoticised the “Other”, instead of describing what the word Diaspora means today, in the context of globalisation. It interrogated the conditions of the poor in Ethiopia, without the contradictory effects of globalisation, and yet Ethiopians were so elated that their culture was being recognised in the power capital of the world, that they failed to take note of how they were perceived by the media in the West. Have we been trained in the art of critical analysis, we should have contested what was being said, as many non-western people have done, and are still doing, in the debate over proper representation. Modern African art is part and parcel of the modernist narrative, calling upon the visual categories that are used to explore the construction of African “otherness”. Just as in the other domains of contemporary critical African social sciences, modern African art analyses the makings of African otherness. While contemporary historiography on Africa has often focused on the pathology of violence and institutional degradation, very little is said about Africa’s culture, that once played a very important role in the continent’s struggle against colonialism. Cultural values formed an important subtext, on the road to independence and liberation. In view of Ethiopia’s current economic crisis, it is difficult to imagine that the country was once politically and culturally significant and had attained great prominence, in the debate about Pan-African ideals. The quest for continental unity and integration took its root in Addis Ababa on the 22nd of May 1963, when the heads of African states convened for a historic meeting to form the Organisation of African States. The cultural revival that enveloped the rest of Africa, as a symbol of liberation and independence, was contagious in Ethiopia, as well. That was when Gebre Kristos Desta and Skunder Boghossian emerged, as true African modernists and articulated the ideals of liberation and independence, in their visual language. It was also when the fascination with modern art really took a hold, when literature came into its own, and art criticism

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flourished. That was when the Fine Arts School was established and both Skunder and Gebre Kristos became teachers, and a source of fascination to many young artists. Unfortunately, modernity and modernism in Ethiopia, both as historical stage and cultural process, have ended up as unpleasant metaphors, after the ills that Ethiopia suffered under seventeen years of socialist rule, which obliterated a once thriving arts scene and were accompanied by general mayhem, resulting in massive migration and institutional degradation. Today, Ethiopian artists accept a state of dependency, with all the contradictions this implies, and without being able to inject any fresh critical insight into their discipline. African artists have now grown confident of their individual, subjective, aesthetic sensibility and indulge it, in a way that has long been common among artists in the West. They incorporate their lived life into their contemporary art practice. They negotiate the tension between tradition and modernity. They remap their lived lives, not so much as a means of addressing Africa’s present as of defining their own place within it. It is important for Ethiopian contemporary artists to revive similar sentiments in their cultural sensibility. Therefore, critical discourse in the humanities, and especially in art, is urgently needed in a country such as ours. Forums like this should be encouraged, and should involve a representative cross-section of all stakeholders. I thank the organisers of this conference and hope that there will be more to come, to help our growing number of young artists, so that they, too, will be able to take part in the biennales and mega-exhibitions of African art from which they are currently excluded. They, too, will have stories to tell, and they, too, will offer fresh insights and stimulate the critical analysis of African art. © AICA Press et l’auteur

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THE INTERNATIONAL BIENNALE, AS A PLACE OF ENCOUNTER Henry Meyric Hughes Just before coming away, I saw a message from the newly appointed Director of the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA), in London – himself of Ghanaian extraction, I believe – which seemed to say something important about the new situation of global interdependence with which we all have to grapple: “Internationally, there is a burgeoning of biennales (Venice, Istanbul, São Paulo and Havana, to name but a few), and we’re beginning to see our UK national museums opening up their boundaries: the British Museum’s Africa strategy to create curatorial exchanges with African museums, and the Tate in exploring relationships with Chinese artists and galleries. Western Modernism and Post-Modernism are gradually being effaced by an interest in globalised or truly internationalist agendas. Running alongside a greater interest in and profiling of international artists, there has at last been a recognition that the demographics of the UK, and most particularly London, have shifted. We are now living in the knowledge that London, by the year 2010, will have a population where 40 % will be BME (British Minority Ethnic). The [arts] sector is beginning to accept that it will be hugely important to make the arts relevant to this changing demographic.”9 The point that is being made here, I think, is that the unitary structures of western societies have broken down under the impact of migration, and inherited notions of national identity have collapsed. Globalisation is a two-way, or rather, a rhizomatic process: 10,000 artists living within a square mile of Hackney, in central London, are just as likely to feel they belong to the periphery of the “artworld”, to which they aspire as the visitors to the Havana Biennial are likely to feel at the centre of it, for the duration of a few weeks, and biennales and large-scale events are an effective means of bringing together the extremes of centre and periphery, at one remove from the distorting factors of markets and money. They disrupt the established trade routes, and complicate and enrich the patterns of cultural exchange. Globalisation is no new phenomenon, of course, and national politics, patriotism, mercantilism and cultural tourism have all played their part in big international art manifestations, since at least as far back as the incepting of the Venice Biennale, in 1895. What is new, perhaps, is the sense of a possibility that everything can happen anywhere, for much of the time. A new dynamics has come into play, and there is a new belief in multiple identities and communication possibilities. The immediate antecedents for the Venice Biennale are, of course, to be sought in the World Fairs, such as the Great Exhibition in London, in 1851, which embodied the ideals of democracy and material progress and have continued to be held, with seemingly undiminished popularity, down to the present time. A still older tradition links Venice to the mediaeval fairs, feast days, carnivals and popular events and the “monstrances” containing relics of saints or fragments of the “True Cross”, which flaunted the “scandal” of their display. 10 Hence, the classic form of Biennale may be seen to embody elements of two conflicting traditions of enlightenment and enchantment. On top of this came elements of political propaganda and commercial gain, so the pattern was established at the very beginning, whereby biennales were regarded as emblems of modernity, which strove to combine commerce with improvement, spectacle with surprise. The immediate pretext for the Venice Biennale had been provided by the city’s wish to participate in the celebrations of the silver anniversary of the marriage of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. But there was an element of regional rivalry, too, in that other cities, such as Florence, Naples, Rome and Turin, had already staged exhibitions of their own, in the

9

Augustus (“Gus”) Casely-Hayford, n.d. (April 2006). See Stephen Bann, “Exhibitions reflecting the Art and Spirit of the Age”, in Stopping the Process. Contemporary Views on Art and Exhibitions, Helsinki, the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art, 1998, pp. 76-91 10

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wake of national unification, with the aim of consecrating the achievements of a new “national school” of contemporary Italian art.11 In other words, the initiative was political and patriotic, before else, and then, no doubt mercantile and cultural-touristic. The nationalist and cultural imperialist elements increased rapidly in the early years, especially with the construction of national pavilions in Venice, from 1907 onwards, and audiences beginning with 225,000 in the first year, and peaking with the almost unbeaten total of 456, 000 visitors in 1909, for 1750 works, of which 1,200, or roughly two thirds, were sold. So sales, at the time, were also an important means of financing the Biennale, and the sales office was only disbanded after 1968. On average, 15 countries participated in the first eleven Biennales12, compared to 30 countries with pavilions of their own and 83 countries exhibiting non-territorially at the latest (2003) Biennale. The São Paulo Bienal, founded in 1951 by an Italian immigrant (as was the Sydney Biennale, founded in 1973) was closely modelled on Venice and has always aimed to provide an alternative attraction to new audiences in the Americas, and beyond. Like Venice, it was founded at a time of nationalist fervour, and its (largely unfulfilled) ambition, like that of Documenta, was to expand beyond the visual arts, into something resembling an all-round cultural festival. It was also aimed at – and achieved – very large audiences. The São Paulo Bienal signalled the regional capital’s act of defiance to the then Brazilian capital, Rio de Janeiro and, beyond that, amounted to an assertion of Brazil’s proud independence from US political and economic domination. Like almost all other Biennales ever since, it was an aggressive statement of a commitment to modernity, symbolised by its adoption, in 1957, of the pavilion built for international trade fairs by Oscar Niemeyer, the celebrated architect of the country’s new capital, Brasilia. This brought together all nations under one roof, though in practice, until 1980, half the entire space was given over to Brazilian artists. During the decade of military dictatorship in the 1980s, the São Paulo Bienal went into decline, but the change of government in 1979 and reform of the Bienal itself marked the beginning of a revival in its fortunes, heralded by the introduction of a complicated system of thematic “nuclei”, including works of historical significance, which by-passed the stale competition between national sections and effectively replaced the Venice model with a partially modified version of the system employed at Documenta, to which I shall come shortly. The range of work exhibited in São Paulo, in the 1980s, increased hugely (there was even a section on “Art and Videotext” in 1981), as did the approach to documentation and scholarly research. Necessity, as well as an aversion to government intervention, has meant that, through much of its subsequent existence, the Bienal has had to rely on the vagaries of sponsorship and private funding. Documenta, which, with some 800,000 visitors, is historically the best visited international art event, on a regular basis (though we have to note an astonishing 1.3 million visitors to the first Gwangju Biennale, in 1996) has an altogether different historical background, which is reflected in its organisation and development. The fact is often overlooked that Documenta 1 was initially set up, as a challenge to the increasing popularity of the quadrennial “Great Dresden Exhibition”, one hundred, or so, kilometres away, on the other side of the inter-German border. The figures of 130,000 visitors to Documenta 1, in 1955, compared to the estimated 200,000 visitors to the Dresden event two years before 13 shows that the outcome of the ideological struggle between the two halves of Germany was far from certain, and the main players – the US and the USSR – were, of course, off-stage, in the wings! Set in the ruinous aftermath of the Second World War, Documenta had deep roots in history and politics, and from Harald Szeemann’s celebrated fifth edition, in 1972, devoted to the “Questioning of Reality” [“Befragung der Realität”] onwards, 11

Shearer West, “National Desires and Regional Realities in the Venice Biennale, 1895-1914”, in Art History, Vol. 18, No. 3, September 1995, pp. 404-434. 12 Lawrence Alloway, The Venice Biennale 1895-1968: From Salon to Goldfish Bowl. London, Faber and Faber, 1968, p. 37. 13 See Bernd Linder, “Kunstrezeption in der DDR”, in Kunstdokumentation 1945-1990, Aufsätze, Berichte, Materialien, ed. Günter Feist and others, Berlin, 1996, pp. 62-93 and Documenta. Idee und Institution. Tendenzen. Konzepte. Materialien, ed. Manfred Schneckenburger, Munich, Bruckmann, 1983, p. 46

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it has usually also directly engaged with the social questions of the day. Each edition of Documenta has been developed by a single curator or a team of curators who enjoyed the maximum protection from political, bureaucratic or financial interference of any kind. In the words of its founding director, Arnold Bode: “The significance of Documenta lies in the fact that it does not exist, as an established institution! Every four years it crops up again in the programme, and is there! The idea of documenta has to be reformulated each time afresh, both in its programme and in its form.”14 – a remark which proved inspirational to the founders of Manifesta, in the 1990s, and which was echoed, perhaps, by Roger Buergel, Director of Documenta 12, in a recent interview: “The nice thing with Documenta is that I can do practically anything: I can sit on the beach and do some watercolours and exhibit them”.15 Generous public support was given to the private initiative of a few individuals, “… in the democratic awareness that institutions and public administration alone cannot substitute for the exercise of a free spirit in a free society”.16 The flexibility of the spaces used by Documenta – increasingly, including outdoor spaces and buildings in other parts of the city – means that they are transformed each time to express different needs, and national groupings are rejected, in favour of thematic shows favouring the demonstration of affinities between individual personalities. One of the key roles biennales have been able to play is in opening up contemporary art to a new, and wider, public, as well as, of course, introducing unfamiliar artists and artistic practices into broad circulation. They have been an agent for modernity, though not, necessarily, an instrument of homogenisation. Whereas Venice had originally aimed simply to bring the latest news from the art metropolises of the time – Paris, Munich and Vienna – a much more recent generation of recurrent exhibitions has set itself up in opposition to domination by the “Centre” or to a purely Eurocentric vision of art. A pioneer, in its intentions, at least, was the Indian Triennale, though it was organised along the, by now, rather conventional lines of Venice or São Paulo. For the inaugural edition, in 1968, the British critic and writer, John Berger, posted the following message in the catalogue: “I send my greetings to the first Triennale of Contemporary World Art to be held in India. It would suggest the possibility of escaping from or even overthrowing the hegemony of Europe and North America in these matters. This hegemony is disastrous because, whatever the personal feelings or ideas of individual artists or teachers may be, it is based on the concept of a visual work of art as property. The historical usefulness of such a concern has long past: it stands as a barrier to further development”.17 Berger’s hopes for the Indian Triennale were, perhaps, first effectively translated into reality by the Havana Biennale, which marked a new departure, in that it was created, in the words of its founding Director, “as an answer to the need for a place where a dialogue among Third World artists could be held”.18 It began, in 1984, with Latin America and the Caribbean, but soon expanded to embrace other poor countries and marginalised artists in the rich, ‘developed’ world, and specifically addressed the issues of post-colonialism (migration, marginalisation, appropriation, etc.). In many respects (abolition of prizes, emphasis on workshops and collective activity), it anticipated the principal characteristics of Manifesta, in the 1990s. Anyone looking at the sudden burgeoning of biennales in number, scope and geographical diversity in the 1980s, and especially the 1990s onwards, when they have become the characteristic platform for a new generation of artists, is bound to conclude that this was a reaction, both to the atrophy of the traditional museums system and to the over-dominance of the Western-orientated art market. (There were also powerful cultural, political and technological forces at work). The 1970s represented a period of uncertainty for established institutions, including biennales such as Venice and São Paulo, both of which were subjected to intensive 14

Trans. from Arnold Bode, Documentadocumenta (documenta-4-Band 1), ex. cat., Kassel 1968, quoted in Manfred Schneckenburger, op. cit., p. 101. 15 NU-E magazine, update of 6.9.04. 16 Trans. from Werner Haftmann, “Einführung”, Documenta-3-Katalog: Malerei, Skulptur, Kassel , quoted in Manfred Schneckenburger, op. cit., p. 74 17 John Berger, “Foreword”, ex. cat., First Indian Triennale, New Delhi, 1968, p.1 18 Llilian Llanes, “Die Biennale von Havanna / The Havana Biennial”, in Das Lied von der Erde / The Song of the Earth, ex. cat., Kassel, Museum Fridericianum, 2000, p.12

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outside political and economic pressure and intense pressures from the artworld itself. Something similar may be said of the museums, whose espousal of a modernist agenda (the “White Cube syndrome”, if you like) had increasingly isolated them from a wider social and cultural context. Meanwhile, new movements, such as Fluxus, and developments such as land art, performance art, mail art and multiples, discovered ways of connecting with a wider public outside the museums and galleries system, and tendencies such as Minimalism, conceptual art and Arte Povera offered a conscious critique of the Museum itself, as an instrument of validation. The newly revitalised biennales were characteristic of a general movement to bring art into closer contact with everyday life or “substitute the human presence”, as Michelangelo Pistoletto would have it. 19 Art history became supplemented (or replaced) by the new “cultural studies” and pioneering institutions, such as the German Kunsthallen, made a determined effort to combine an interdisciplinary approach with an appeal to a broader, and more youthful, public than the educated middle classes [“Bildungsbürgertum”]. To the extent that they were not still, in part, dominated by the system of national representation, periodic exhibitions such as Venice and São Paulo, also became more open to experiment and change than the majority of fixed institutions that were tied to collections and a year-round programme of activities. They were also, theoretically at least, in a position to resist blatant market pressures, though it became increasingly evident that economic factors played a decisive role, in determining what was, or was not, included in official selections, such as the innovative Aperto (“Open”), for young artists, established at the 1980 Venice Biennale by Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann (the vaunted “openness”, seeming only to extend to artists with representation in a commercial gallery). What really caused an earthquake was the fall of the Berlin Wall, in November 1989 and the related political changes, on a global scale, together with a host of new commercial and technological developments: 1. The end of the Cold War brought an end to the major ideological confrontations of the twentieth century and, arguably, to ideology itself (this was the so-called “end of history”, in the Hegelian sense). 2. The introduction of the personal computer, the invention of the internet and the deregulation of airspace enormously increased the mobility and exchange of people and ideas, as well as contributing to the destabilisation of traditional structures, such as the nation state and its inherited institutions. 3. We moved out of the world of “post-“ – that of “post-colonialism”, “post-modernism”, and so on – into a world of the continuous present and of the unbroken surface, in which time and space would appear to have been flattened and elided, in which the Grand Narratives (Lyotard) have been abolished, and the artistic canons rejected, or revised. By the early 1990s, there was a widespread critique not only of the production and distribution systems of contemporary art but of all forms of institution, and, in other words, of the existing structures for the validation of works of the creative imagination. None of this was entirely new, and the artists of the 1960s already dreamt of the “dematerialisation” of art and a break with the capitalist market. Indeed, the new artistic tendencies and movements to emerge in the 1990s have mostly been about people and communication with a public. Visual artists are among the first to register the groundswell of social and political change, since they situate their work (whether consciously or not) in an oblique, critical, but ultimately dependent relationship to society. Post Duchamp, post Beuys, we have learnt that the artist is, first and foremost, a more or less imperfect citizen of the world and aspires to a condition of creative uncertainty, with which we can all, in varying degrees, identify. The restructuring of the human psyche and of human societies is a dynamic process, and we are having to learn to do without the myths of Enlightenment, of progress and perfectibility, and of Utopia and redemption. The barriers have fallen between the artist, the critic, the curator and the audience, and we are having to adjust to the idea of multiple individual 19

“Costituire la presenza umana”. Michelangelo Pistoletto, in relation to his “Ogetti in meno” (1966).

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identities and multiple social, political, ethnic or religious affiliations. One of the principal problems we face is that of matching the shape and functions of our institutions to this changing reality. The changes to which I refer have been rationalised, post hoc, by the French theoretician, Nicolas Bourriaud, in his publications, “Relational Aesthetics” and “Post Production” 20. The new aesthetics takes into account the massive intrusion of the media, as a new form of objective reality, into our everyday lives, it dissolves the conventional hierarchies of taste and meaning, and it promotes new forms of artistic activity (the interactive, the interrelational and the userfriendly), in order to generate meaning. The source of creativity is now to be sought, not in individual inspiration, so much as in the “post productive” reshaping, re-presentation and recontextualisation of given material, as a response to the multiple viewpoints of the individual viewer-participant. In the words of the Scottish artist, Martin Creed: “the whole world + the work = the whole world”. 21 Globalisation and the new aesthetics contributed to the exponential growth in number of international biennales. Some people talk of as many as two hundred of them, but the number of recurring events of real significance is more likely to be in the region of from twenty to thirty. Charlotte Bydler, in her valuable study, “Global Art World”22 – possibly, the only full-length publication devoted to this phenomenon – samples some 53 still extant biennials in 33 different countries, only 17 of which go back to before 1990, though the overall figure of 53 is itself very far from presenting the complete picture. A sign of the art world’s increasing weariness with the boom in biennales, which increasingly threatens to dictate the patterns of their lives, is reflected in the programme which Maurizio Cattelan and Jens Hoffmann (an artist and a curator) set for the Vth International Caribbean Biennale (1999), for which they invited ten artists to spend a holiday on the island of St. Kitt’s, with no obligation other than to reflect on a number of catchwords, such as Globalisation, Transnationalism, Migration and Nomadism.23 Yet neither institutionalised irony nor dramatic blips in the advance of globalisation, such as the events of 11 September 2001, seem likely to deter the spread of biennales, which have come to represent the main path to international recognition for artists from peripheral areas and the principal means by which the so-called centre recharges its system. By now, biennales have become a more or less self-sustaining artistic eco-system, at one remove from the major established institutions and the geographically restricted commercial markets. For this reason, I believe we have to regard the biennale network, not as a temporary phenomenon, linked to a specific form of artistic exchange, but as an enduring expression of global readjustment, which both complements and rivals the established networks for the validation and distribution of contemporary art. Whether we are justified in lumping together all contemporary biennales in a single category is open to question, but enough of them conform to certain basic requirements of periodicity (here I would also include triennials, quadrennials and the, currently, quinquennial Documenta, in Kassel); they are inter- or transnational (last year’s second Tirana Biennial boasted over one hundred artists or art professionals from 42 countries, many of them with more than one passport or place of residence, from Afghanistan and Argentina to Ukraine, USA and Zimbabwe); they privilege work by young artists (itself a limitation, on occasion); they are often spectacular, entertaining and media-orientated; and they bear a more or less deliberate relationship to the political, social and urban context in which they are held. Above all, given that they tend to be held in peripheral centres without an art market or sustained institutional activity throughout the year, they tend to be allied to tourist initiatives and serve as instruments for levering funds out of government, for the improvement of the local cultural infrastructure. Almost always there is a more or less explicit tension between the organisers’ aims, which are as likely as not geared to international art world expectations, and those of the public funders or sponsors, who may

20

Nicolas Bourriaud, Esthétique relationnelle, 1998, trans. as Relational Aesthetics, Dijon, les Presses du réel, 2002 and Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Programs the World, New York, 2002. 21 The text of a temporary installation in blue neon, “Work No. 143”, that Creed affixed to the façade of Tate Britain, in 2000. 22 Charlotte Bydler, The Global Art World Inc. On the Globalization of Contemporary Art, Uppsala, 2004. 23 Bydler, op. cit., pp. 291-2

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expect an event to contribute to a growth in tourism and view it as an extension of their existing social and cultural provision. According to Bydler, the basic structural differences between the different types of biennale may be boiled down to the alternative models represented by Venice, São Paulo and Sydney, with their capitalist and philanthropic origins and emphasis on national representation and competition; Documenta, Havana and (though she does not say this) Dakar, with their political complexion and emphasis on the thematic, rather than geographical or chronological distribution of ideas; and the “flexible production and event-orientated variety of the 1990s and 2000s, such as Istanbul and Manifesta”.24 It is to this third type of event and, specifically, the nomadic European Biennial, Manifesta (first held in Rotterdam, in 1996) that I now wish to devote a moment or two of attention, because the thinking that went into its creation reflected the shift in perceptions about the role of contemporary art and its relations to an audience – a shift that has also led to an increasing convergence in the strategies of the three different types of biennale outlined above. The initiative for creating Manifesta was Dutch, and grew out of an impulse to fill the gap which had been left by the demise of the Paris Biennale des Jeunes (very important in the 1960s and ‘70s) and to square up to the political and economic reconfiguration of Europe in the 1990s, where the economic Europe with borders served to conceal the existence of a larger, cultural Europe without borders. From Documenta, Manifesta may be said to have taken the ideas of curatorial independence, combined with administrative continuity; and from Venice, the ideas of inclusiveness and, in a negative perspective, an antipathy to nationalism, competition and prizes. Manifesta aimed to make a fresh start with a new geography, a new generation of artists, and new approaches to curating art and communicating with the public. Administratively, it aimed to be lightweight and flexible, in response to the changing requirements of young artists and different social and political contexts. Its emphasis on providing a platform for minority cultures was coupled with its insistence on a high degree of responsiveness to local contingencies. This sometimes laid it open to the charge of political correctness, but it succeeded in establishing a platform for debate and an audience for artists and theorists in the cultural and geographical margins. Great emphasis was placed on transnational collaboration. This was reflected both in the composition of the Board and the multinational and, at times, interdisciplinary teams of curators working on individual projects. Artists, too, worked together on all manner of split-site, interactive and ephemeral events, placing the emphasis on process, rather than product, and idea, rather than artefact. Manifesta was intended as a site for primary research. A substantial proportion of artists have made their first international appearance there, and many of these have found their way into larger-scale events, such as the Venice Biennale, and into the international contemporary art circuit. Perhaps the most innovative – and certainly the most risky – aspect of Manifesta’s existence was its nomadism, which is partly dictated by its ambitions to move between locations which might not necessarily be able to sustain a high level of activity for more than a limited period, and partly by the desire not to become too embroiled with any specific social or political situation for more than a limited period. This has enabled Manifesta to adapt to the different complexion of the regions in which it has set up camp and challenged successive teams of curators to match up to the challenge of their hosts’ varying socio-political agendas – posing questions about historical identity, for instance, in Ljubljana (2000), on the eve of Slovenia’s accession to the European Union or developing an effective cultural policy in tandem with tourism in San Sebastian (2004), as a tool for economic development, and a counter to terrorism. Recent support from the European Commission has enabled Manifesta, crucially, to expand its outreach on the internet, digitalise its archive and make this accessible to the public, as a tool for research, organise a series of high-level debates, in conjunction with other partners, including AICA and, launch the quarterly Manifesta Journal, edited in Moscow and Ljubljana, which is the

24

Bydler, op. cit., p.151

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first of its kind to be devoted exclusively to problems of contemporary curating, and whose third issue is devoted to the theme of biennales!25 It is worth noting, in parenthesis, that both the Venice Biennale and Documenta have recently revised their objectives. The appointment of a black Nigerian-American Artistic Director of Documenta 11, in 2002, was a deliberate move by the selectors to aim for an “outsider view of Europe”26. And the liberalisation of the Venice Biennale, beginning with the revision of its statutes in 1998, has encouraged its organisers to conceive of the event as less of a spectacular set-piece than as an “atelier for training artists and producing new work” and an agent for “promoting the restoration and renewal of historic buildings within the city”.27 In other words, Venice, in common with other established events, is now seeking to reinsert itself into the time and process - based cultures of the 1990s and 2000s, and to redefine itself as “a place in which the public onlooker is the protagonist’ and ‘a place of encounter between artist, work and spectator”.28 If I were to attempt to draw some brief conclusions from this somewhat abbreviated “tour d’horizon”, I would start with the assertion that the overarching structures that Venice, São Paulo and Kassel once provided, alongside the monolithic framework of the market and museums, has been replaced with a more diversified environment, in which the sheer number of biennales has increased exponentially, many more museums now devote far more space to contemporary art than ever before and the appetite of the public for information has been fuelled by cheap travel and the internet. The large biennales, which tend towards the spectacularisation of art and have to compete with modern values of entertainment, have begun, in turn, to feed off the smaller ones, and it has become the role of the latter to act as primary motors for visual art research, and laboratories, in which different models of artistic production and communication are tested and developed. Within the wider scheme of things, I believe that biennales have an enduring function, as vectors for new ideas, as laboratories of globalisation and, through their specific rootedness, as generators of resistance to that selfsame process. The new-style biennales, starting, perhaps, with Havana and leading direct to many of those of the 1990s, are no longer merely to be regarded, like Venice, as instruments for the displacement of centralised market activity or parade grounds for national competition, but as platforms for the exchange of ideas and information, which are capable of creating, in the words of one commentator, a “mobile and unforeseeable relationship between mass mediated events and migratory audiences”, such as “defines the core of the link between globalisation and the modern”.29 Instead of regarding biennials as a transitory fashion, or a distraction from business as usual (let’s not forget that Venice is nowadays followed up by Basel!), we should consider, with Okwui Enwezor, the Director of Documenta 11, that they offer “the possibility of a paradigm shift in which we as spectators are able to encounter many experimental cultures, without wholly possessing them”.30 They offer a voice to the periphery, that has “produced a new kind of space, a discourse of open contestations that spring not merely from resistance, but are rather built on an ethics of dissent”, at once and the same time introducing new audiences to notions of modernity and acting as agents for enabling historical transformation.31 If we were cynical, we might suggest that they offer a kind of antechamber to acceptance into the market place or museum (a quick route to “Salonfähigkeit”, to adopt a German expression), but this would be to ignore the genuinely radical intentions of many curators and of the artists themselves, and the growth of a new kind of biennale culture which favours the large-scale (on occasion), the ephemeral, the site - or audience - specific, the

25

MJ – Manifesta Journal, No. 2, “Biennials”. Winter 2003 / Spring 2004. René Block, as reported in Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Art Since 1900, London, 2004, p. 934. 27 Press release, Biennale di Venezia, 50th International Art Exhibition, 2003. 28 Harald Szeemann, “The Timeless, Grand Narrative of Human Existence in its Time”, in ex. cat., 49th International Art Exhibition, Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2001, p. xviii. 29 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: The Cultural Dimension of Globalization, Minneapolis, 1996, p. 4, quoted in Okwui Enwezor, “Mega-Exhibitions and the Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form”, in MJ No. 2 (see note17, above), p. 26. 30 Okwui Enwezor, as in note 35, above, p. 27. 31 Ibid., p. 25. 26

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non-marketable and the resistant or “contestataire”. The biennale format has shown that it is capable of deploying a support system for artists, a forum for debate, training opportunities for young people and new audiences who no longer depend on the traditional validation system of critic, gallerist or collector. After all, it has demonstrated the capacity, enormously to expand the language of art and its geographical and demographic parameters. In the words of one commentator, Nikos Papastergiadis: “Part of the problem is that the symbolic and political institutions that have a formative role in our preconditions of history, and which forge both concrete and abstract relationships to place, have yet to construct frameworks for either evaluating the “new” cultural identities based on hybridity or imagining the tensions of globality”. 32 This, I believe, is where biennales come in, and where they play an essential role, in exploring new relationships between “art” and “world”. © AICA Press et l’auteur

Note: This text is based on a longer paper delivered the author at the international seminar on “Art, Criticism and Globalization”, organised by the Brazilian Association of Art Critics (ABCA) in São Paulo, in September 2004 and is included here by the kind permission of ABCA. The original text will be published in Portuguese, in Arte Criticá e Mundializacáo the Collection “Art Criticism”, directed by Lisbeth Rebollo Gonçalvez, eds. ABCA and Impresa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, 2006.

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Nikos Papastergiadis, “Back to Basics: British Art and the Problems of a Global Frame”, in Pictura Britannica, ex. cat., ed. Bernice Murphy, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1997, p. 144

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CONTEMPORARY ART AND

ARTISTS, CURATORS, CRITICS, ART HISTORIANS AND AUDIENCES. Meskerem Assegued What is Art? Out of curiosity, I decided to google the definition of art. Google is an Internet search engine designed by a few computer geeks – or, more appropriately, website designers – to help amateurs like me to find information on any subject. It’s been a long time since I went to a library for research. The Internet is bombarded with a plethora of information and misinformation about anything and everything. I can google and see an endless amount of images of art from around the world. The word Google itself is a new word derived from Googol, a word created by Milton Sirotta, a 9-year-old boy, to describe a number written as one followed by one hundred zeros. His mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, wanted to know how a child would describe it. On the website, the letters G-o-o-g-l-e are graphically designed with primary colors, which in itself is a work of art. A few seconds after I googled “Define: art” all kinds of definitions appeared. At this point, I had to decide whether I should cut and paste a few of these definitions, make minor alterations to sentences and pretend they were my own or shut the whole thing down and give rein to the thoughts and recollections that came into my head. To cut a long story short I opted for the latter course, with some help from my previous writings. Going back to the question, “What is art?”: Defining art is very difficult. If we think of art as a sensory expression of any kind, which includes music, dance, poetry, sculpture and painting, we are dealing with performances and audiences. When individuals create any kind of expression, they intend to impress their audience. The audience can be either buyers or admirers. Commodity or prestige, the final sensory product is created for an audience. If the audience is not in their mind, the created expression remains only in their mind, in the absence of tangible evidence. For the sake of argument, let us say that art is a sensory expression of any kind, and let us focus only on visual art. In this case, most of us are artists. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I stand in front of my mirror and dress up for two reasons. One is to cover my body, to please the society that imposes written and unwritten laws, that say: “cover up your body by all means possible, regardless of the climate” (most of the imposers are self-appointed law enforcers). And the other is to impress my audience, who may be my colleagues or the general public. When I stand naked in front of my mirror, I consider my body a blank canvas and when as I put layers of clothing that are creatively designed, I feel as if I am composing a work of art. I make sure that there is balance in my choice of colours and styles against my hair and the colour of my skin. This is what I do almost every day, and I am sure I represent a majority. In this situation, I am both the artist and the art. Art can be as simple as this or as complicated as the design of my clothes, my shoes or my bottle of body lotion. Once we start viewing art in this context, we begin to appreciate the everyday, living art that we are surrounded with. People with their variety of attire, hairstyles and make-up; the buildings, the cars, the endlessly changing colours of the natural light and the landscape, all turn into a live contemporary art exhibition. The abstract or figurative works of art in galleries, museums, or wherever else, give the impression of mimicking the world around us, in miniature. In general, art is a very difficult term to define. According to European art historians, it was only in 15th and 16th century Europe that people started calling objects “art” and naming the individuals who created them “artists”. In fact, the social status of visual artists was very low, up until the time of the Renaissance. It was the musicians and the poets who were thought to be intellectuals. This situation changed, when European artists started gaining knowledge of mathematical perspective, optics, geometry and anatomy. Imitating nature, the principle of light and shade, modelling forms to make images appear three-dimensional, and using linear

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perspective, placed visual artists on a par with intellectuals. The public’s respect for artists and their work increased dramatically. In fact, artists began calling themselves “grazia”, referring to the divinely inspired genius embodied in their works of art. Then came modern art, rejecting history and obsessed with contemporary structure, substance, science and technology, as well as spirituality. This concept of modern art lasted for one hundred years from 1870 to 1970. Towards the end of this period, however, a new era of artistic thinking began. Artists started to reject the formal standards of art education. The idea of “art for art’s sake” emerged. Artists began to assert their freedom, not merely from the rules of art, but from a public that demanded meaning and purpose in art. This situation made the rich, who had historically supported the arts, uncomfortable. Consequently, “art for art’s sake” gave life to critics and art historians who concentrated primarily on formal issues. Their discussions focused primarily on the composition, style, colour, line, shape, time, space and perspective of a work of art. For centuries, those who confess to having any kind of knowledge about art have been trying to define it and give it a concrete meaning. However, the nature of art has prevented this. It changes continuously, in defiance of any attempt at definition. Therefore, art and, in particular, contemporary art, is something that depicts the moment that the artist is living in. As time changes, so does the definition of art. Who are the Contemporary Artists, Art Curators, Critics, Art Historians and Audience? Throughout history, humans have been creating images to please the eye, to document the moment, to stimulate the mind, visually to express inexplicable internal feelings or to influence others and to convey a certain point of view. Prehistoric cave art, which is found around the world in places as far apart as Australia, Zimbabwe, France, India, Spain, the Sahara Desert, Ethiopia and South Africa, tells us how the urge to give visual expression to our inner feelings is an essential part of human nature. According to archaeologists and physical anthropologists, some of this cave art, such as that found in Blombos Cave, on the Cape shore of the Indian Ocean in South Africa, was probably created over 70,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic period. In fact, decorative jewellery was also found in these caves, indicating the progressive and highly sophisticated minds of prehistoric humans. These cave artists gave us a window, through which we can catch a glimpse of their lives, through their art. Most of this art is a depiction of their surroundings and animal and human activities. The expressions of the figures are both realistic and abstract. The movement of the brush-strokes, lines and vibrant colours, and the accuracy of the figurative images, which extends to the internal organs and anatomical figures, as well as the abstract expressions and geometric designs, reveal the artists’ keen observations and deep analysis of their environment. The stable temperature of the caves, and the fact that they remained undiscovered by modern humans until 150 years ago, have played their part, in preserving the art. If the cave artists were able to create a plethora of artworks deep in the bowels of the earth, with the aid of minimal sources of light, it is not hard to imagine the beautiful art they must have created in the open fields, with all the light sources nature could provide. Unfortunately, the works of art they created in the open air have disintegrated over the years, as a result of human interference and continual changes to the environment. From the earliest cave artists onwards, human society has always been associated with creative, ‘aesthetic’ art. There is not one society in the world, in which this art is not present, in one form or another. Sometimes, art is expressed in body painting, which covers the entire body with symbolic or aesthetic designs, or in modern facial make-up and nail painting. Decorations on various parts of the body, from the all-over tattoo to the merest mark on a single spot, may all be viewed as artistic expression. Most monumental sculptures around the world, dating back thousands of years, are artistically designed, to give artistic expression to their time. Many of the ‘Wonders of the World’ – the pyramids, temples, palaces and sculptures of Egypt, Sudan and Mexico, the great walls of Zimbabwe, the intricate sculptures and temples of Hindus and Buddhists in South Asia, the perfect imitations of the human figure, in Greece and Rome, and many other places around the world – were directly commissioned by the state. They reflect the

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power and ideas that the state wanted to transmit to the people. Other monumental works were commissioned by the religious authorities, either to maintain a hold on their existing followers, or to attract new ones. In a few cases, however, independent artists broke new ground and employed unconventional or unexpected materials. These artists have been small in number, but exceptionally influential. Documenting the history of individual artists and their findings is a relatively new concept. We have no knowledge of the first prehistoric cave artist. The original stone sculptors of Egypt, India and Mexico, the architects of the great walls of Zimbabwe and the Makonde carvers of East Africa, will never be known, as individuals. We are left with assumption that these artists may have been the ancient goddesses and gods of their respective cultures. The individual artists of our own time are different. We live in a world, in which we are constantly bombarded with a barrage of information. Our age is known as the “Information Era”. We have nowhere to hide. The issue of privacy has become redundant. Still and motion cameras (camcorders) can be as small as a fingernail. Mobile phones come with camcorders, through which a person talking on a phone can also take photos or videos. A person’s identity can be easily googled, especially if they have anything remotely to do with exercising a public function. It is like Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World. The nature of art and artists is closely related to the public. Once known, the artist cannot escape. The attention and value given to known contemporary arts and artists is immense. This reality has given birth to a new breed of contemporary artists. The arts are no longer heavily dominated by the power of the state or religion, but by art institutions and finance. On the one hand, artists are encouraged by their institutions freely to express their feelings, without any kind of restraint. On the other hand, the institutions decide what art is, and who the artists should be. This puts the artists of our own time in a dilemma. If they cannot penetrate the tight network of the art community, both nationally and internationally, their chance of survival is limited. The museums, galleries, educational institutions and media always cast their shadow over artists and their work and create an atmosphere of nervousness and uncertainty. Living under this pressure, many artists experience a form of anguish, which finds an outlet in trying to create something original and provocative. They want to attract the attention of the museums, galleries, curators, critics, historians and the public, and, ultimately, it is the cash they are afterwards. Classic examples of this are the art of the Makonde in East Africa and the Magic Scrolls in Ethiopia. The Makondes, found in Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, are some of the most highly skilled and intellectual artists in Africa. From time immemorial, these artists have carved very intricate and sophisticated sculptures from ebony. Once their art was exposed to colonial traders, they started producing carvings to satisfy their European clients. In fact, today, their largest source of income comes from tourists. Through this process, the freedom and originality of the art of the Makonde, that was once created for their specific spiritual needs, has been drastically reduced. This has also been devastating for the forests, from which the ebony comes. Today, finding an original Makonde work of art is like finding a needle in a haystack. Most artists of our time are confronted with the same situation as the Makonde artists. Throughout the world, the walls of galleries, hotels and restaurants are adorned with paintings similar to European and American masters, such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, George Braque, Piet Mondrian, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and William de Kooning, to name but a few. They are expected to be original, but the market demands familiar-looking paintings that would-be purchasers might have seen in museums, or in their friends’ homes. Artists who dare to challenge this have to be “discovered” by a known curator, or by a gallery or museum that is willing to take risks. Otherwise, they have to make what the audience wants to buy. For the most part, curators are interested in artists who have already gained recognition. Taking a risk on an unknown artist can become a financial, not to mention a critical, disaster. There are different types of curator, such as the ones who work as administrators in existing art institutions, those who curate in their own galleries, and those who are independent. The administrative curators usually hire young independent curators and take the credit for their work or, in other cases, claim a share in it. With few exceptions, these hired curators have the administrative skills and technical know-how to make a decent job of displaying the works, but have little interest in the art itself. However, there are also those who study, analyse and write

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about the arts and the artists and have the skill to display works thematically, and make them easily comprehensible to the audience. These curators are rare, and most of them work for large art institutions. Independent curators vary widely, from one to another, and are often successful. For the most part, they are unpredictable, take risks, push limits and have a tendency to make up their own rules, as they go along. They are not easy to pin down, so they can be a nightmare for art critics. Sometimes they take on the different roles of artist, curator, critic and administrator, all at once. An example of this is Okwui Enwezor. Educated as a political scientist, Enwezor is considered to be one of the leading curators, and an expert in African art of today. Damien Hirst is one of the most controversial artists today. He conceived, organised and curated Freeze (1988), which was widely acclaimed at the time, in Britain. Another contentious artist is David Hammons, who organised an exhibition with the title, Concerto in Black and Blue. Visitors to this walked into the pitch black rooms of the Ace Gallery in New York, holding small blue lights that had to be pressed hard to be switched on, and used to illuminate the empty walls – thereby creating what might be termed the individual works of art. Hammons came to Ethiopia and staged a similar exhibition with the title, Divine Light, at Zoma Contemporary Art Center. In the Western art world, the people most feared by artists and curators are the art critics. They have the power to give life to, or destroy, the professions of the artists and curators. They usually focus on artists who are already recognised by major museums, galleries or other institutions. In fact, most critics echo what others have already said. The audience depends heavily on their opinions. At many art openings in the West, it is common to hear the audience repeating their opinions, as if they have come to see the art through the eyes of the critics. In most of Africa, where there are no critics, the audience makes its own assessment. Every now and then, newspapers write about a given exhibition. Most journalists, who have little knowledge about art, make positive comments or interview the artist, in an attempt to encourage the development of the arts. In contrast to the West, where hundreds of exhibitions are regularly attended by thousands of visitors, in Africa, there are always a few people who can be seen at nearly every exhibition. If three exhibitions open at the same time, two will share the audience and one is bound to be empty. Although healthy art criticism is a necessary feature for countries that are striving to adapt to western lifestyles, it is also necessary for people to have some understanding of art movements within their historical context. In most of Africa, the traditional art that was once an integral part of society is vanishing. For instance, there are two art schools in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia: one is public, and the other private. They both mainly teach Eurocentric social realism. The artists, for the most part, work in figurative or semi-figurative styles, deriving from this social realist idiom and create images reflecting economic hardship, emotional strain, and grim and degrading situations. For the last ten years, many young artists have focused on 19th and the 20th century European art. One can easily identify Klimt, Schiele, Picasso, de Kooning or Munch in their compositions. This fashion for imitating the compositions and stylistic features of well-known Western artists is prevalent in many parts of Eastern and Western Europe, as well as North and South America. Critics play an important role in this. Their informed observation and analysis can challenge, or contribute to, exciting and original developments. However, a critic can cause untold damage, if he or she merely repeats something that has already been said or expresses a negative opinion about an artist’s work, without taking into account the realities of the situation they are working in. Art historians play a significant role, in documenting work and educating the public. They are important for the development of artists, curators, critics and the audience. Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art, 2004 By way of a footnote, I would like to add a few comments on my experience, as one of the six members of the selection committee for the 2004 Dak’Art Biennial. The other members came from Canada, France, South Africa, Austria and Cameroon. Over 350 African artists had each submitted, on average, five examples of their work – totalling around 1750 works, in all. Members of the committee came from diverse backgrounds. My expectation was that the coming together of five individuals, with totally different viewpoints, would provoke a lively debate about the large

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variety of art we had to choose from. The reality, however, was different. We all ended up discussing the style, movement, emotional expression and techniques of the art, as if we were all products of the same school of thought. In truth, we were. We all came with our own preconceived notions of what art was, or should be. In keeping with the latest trends and popular themes inspired by the major Western art events, such as the Venice Biennale and Documenta 11, we selected several video art pieces and installations. Three- or two-dimensional works of art, such as sculptures, textiles and paintings, that were readily to hand and represented the contemporary realities of Africa, were rarely selected. The professional backgrounds of the selectors included those of art producer, director, independent and institutional curator, art critic, art historian and anthropologist. The governments of Senegal and France, as well as numerous national and international organisations, heavily funded the Biennial. The costs were immense. The major players in the Biennial were the curator, the members of the selection committee and the African artists who had been selected. The curator was paid, systematically and thematically to display the selected works of art, by category, in a certain order. The Biennial covered transport, food and lodging for the members of the selection committee and the selected artists. A catalogue was published, with articles written by some members of the selection committee. The Biennial also helped to organise exhibitions at a variety of different locations in Dakar, under the general heading of the “Off” Biennial. This provided venues for emerging and well-known curators and artists from around the world. The other major participants in the Biennial were the public. Most were either members of the international art community or tourists. From my observation, very few of the locals were interested enough to come and see the art exhibitions. Aided by the warm weather, the Biennial was a welcome event for the traders in the open-air markets, who beautifully displayed the arts of the ordinary people on the streets. The atmosphere was festive, as the international visitors spent their money on trinkets. Taxi drivers and tour guides did great business, as did hotels, restaurants and evening bars. For the general public, the Biennial was one of the many public activities that they had only seen on television. The international artists, critics, historians, curators, journalists and gallerists took full advantage of the opportunity to network. © AICA Press et l’auteur

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AN AGENDA OF CONSCIENCE Niilofur Farrukh My paper is based on three parts that spotlight art criticism and curatorial practices in the marginal contexts which exists in a space where alternative histories compete, intersect and challenge and every individual artistic conception is not always within the content of history of ideas or the western art discourse. This reality has expanded the role of the art critic and curator as an analyst, mediator and activist with an agenda of conscience. The first part deals with the political and social context that has made art activism a strategy of survival and development in young post-colonial democracies like Pakistan. In the second part I will discuss the need for unorthodox methodologies to excavate and document the complex and multiple influences on the art history of syncretic cultures. The third and last section will spotlight some primary influences of globalization that are transforming the way art is produced and showcased in the 21st century. Let me begin my paper by sharing the work of two works by Pakistani artists with you. A first look at this painting will probably remind you of the universal theme of men and mountains… but the embedded cultural codes can only be accessed through a critical reading of the work. It is significant that the artist of this work Jamal Shah, is the first critical voice to emerge from among the fiercely tribal people that inhabit the mineral rich but severely impoverished province of Balochistan in the South West of Pakistan. His keen insight of the Baloch customs and study of the Western idiom in Pakistan and later in the UK, converge in his visual narratives. The four un-turbaned that occupy a central position both physically and conceptually in the mixed media painting refer to the male headgear as a symbol of honour, which is abandoned only in defeat or dishonor. In this work it becomes emblematic of despair in this community as it faces poverty that robs it of its most precious commodity – human dignity. Positioned between the unassailable mountains and the daunting architecture of a fort that like archaic tribal laws isolates the community from social and economic progress, it also brings into focus an inhospitable terrain and the tyranny of tribal chiefs that locks them in a cycle of alienation and hardship. In the words of Jamal Shah, the artist of this work “No artist can be apolitical. The artist is a political being. If the artist has no love for life and his surroundings he would not be an artist.” The other work also deals with head and hair but in a totally different way. These two frames are from a digital animation by New York based Shazia Sikander. She began her career with a vigorous training in traditional miniature painting in Pakistan before she embraced digital technology. This work is playful, ironic and feminist with strong historical underpinning. While the throne room is appropriated from the famed Mughal manuscript, Padshahnameh the “gopies” or female figures that throng this regal space belong to a later, predominantly Hindu provincial school of South Asian miniature. In this contemporary representation the artist consciously blurs formal boundaries, a taboo in the purist’s realm. To tightly pack the seat of power with female protagonists and then make them disappear with only their plaited hair left behind bears the resonance of the orthodox South Asia ritual of modesty, that compels Hindu and Muslim women alike, to keep their hair invisible. Shazia Sikander a contemporary painter is deliberate in her use of the “gopies” and their hair, to her it is a subversive devise in the court scene, which was traditionally empty of female presence, to draw attention to the unsung Mughal women who as inventors, biographers, scholars were active participants in the cultural discourse.

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As you can see both works illustrate the multiplicity and complicity of the cultural layers that inform the time and space that the contemporary artist occupies. Part One With culture as the site of fragmentation and manipulation by repressive regimes a social and historical critique by curators and art critics helps to unveil and dismantle the apparatus and reconnects the people with their cultural narrative. The very fact that some young nations, like Pakistan, are deliberately deprived of an official cultural policy, points to the systematic neglect and politicization of this field. The confusion created by an unstable situation has given successive governments the opportunity to further their agenda, which is often at odds with to the aspirations of the citizens. The lack of direction has weakened the state – run cultural institutions and the greatest casualty of this institutional apathy has been the sustained development of art and its robust participation in a global dialogue. After 58 years of independence, the country still does not have a representative National Gallery or provincial collections. A witness to the deteriorating situation, the art community decided to intervene and develop innovative strategies for survival. In the last two decade this art activism has been instrumental is stemming the downward spiral. When the worst cultural and human rights violation took place in Pakistan, it came from Ziaul Haq a dictator whose Islamization had the full support of the West. His repressive policy to curb liberalism made culture a part of his social engineering, which altered the pluralistic values of the people. It also introduced violence with arms left over from the Afghan Soviet War, which has brutalized the society in a way never seen before. In the 1980s, his discriminatory laws against women and human rights abuses wore down the patience of the nation and led to a direct confrontation in the streets and a dissident movement in poetry and art was also born. In the absence of professional curators at that time it was through the courageous efforts of people like Ali Imam, a scholar, painter and gallery owner, that clandestine exhibitions of dissident art could reach a wider audience in a cathartic act of defiance. Art criticism created an awareness of the Movement at home and abroad through the widely circulated broadsheets. Without the sense of solidarity and consciousness in the community during the 1980s, The Takhti Exhibition in Karachi that came over a decade later, when over a hundred artists came together to express their outrage at the senseless murder of a leading artist Zahoorul Akhlaq and his young daughter, a classical dancer, would not have been possible. The Takhti Exhibition was a seminal event that re-energized and united artists from all provinces. Its scale and collaborative spirit created a successful low budget, self-sustaining model that would spawn many modest but effective projects. To prevent the distortion of history initiated during the Zia Era also led to art historical texts like “Pioneering Perspectives” (Niilofur Farrukh) and “Unveiling the Visible” (Salima Hashmi) that document the role of women artists who spearheaded the advancement of ideas and action in an conventional society at considerable personal cost. These documents underline the differences between the feminist discourse, in Pakistan from its Western counterpart as it explores issues within its own context and is linked to the corpus of feminist writings in the region. The emergence of art activists among critics, artists and curators is a recent phenomenon in developing countries. Their intervention is centred on the belief that art can be a catalyst for change and this shared legacy can bridge social and economic schisms that divide a nation. In a pro-active step to reform the public cultural institutions, curators took to mounting shows at state run exhibition hall so the intervention could bring much-needed funds for renovation and provide exposure and training to the workforce.

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National philanthropists also became active, with The Rangoonwalla Trust at the forefront, which has run a not-for-profit gallery for emerging artists for several decades. Recently it has begun to offer residential facilities and studio space to visiting artists. The VM Award, a cash award for artists under the age of 35 years is among the first in the country. The Vasl Residency programme in collaboration with Triangle Arts Trust, UK has opened the doors to transnational and international exchanges for artists. The formation of the Pakistan Section of AICA provided the stimulus to hold Pakistan first international seminar in art criticism and open up a discursive space. Its objective is to provide a platform to the art critics of the country and facilitate courses in art criticism in local art institutions. This activism has most importantly begun to counter the over-commercialization of art in the 1990s, when the vacuum created by the lack of national art programs and public spaces, was filled by a strong presence of the commercial galleries. These galleries became a hub of activities for the art community and the artist’s financial lifeline till the market forces became strong enough to inhibit creativity in favor of marketability. The art market in Pakistan is still too small to turn artists into brands as has been done in India and the bigger economies and the curators enjoy their independent without any interference from corporate powers. However the threat to perceive art as an extension of consumerism is present which has led to the mushroom growth of galleries in all cities of the country. Part two To address issues of genealogy and identity art critics join art historians to take on the role of cultural archeologists and “reclaim the context” as they assemble “potsherds” from an oral tradition and atrophying craft legacy buried under prolonged colonial misrepresentation and social manipulation. The art students of the 1960s and 1970s that studied a “world” art history which trivialized non-Western cultures or misrepresented their art as a derivative form of Modernism, were motivated to resolve this crisis and began to engage with their cultural roots to explore and rejuvenate indigenous knowledge. Rasheed Araeen, the founding editor of Third Text, an art journal dedicated to widening the art discourse beyond the dominant centers questioned the Eurocentric reading of global Modernism when he wrote “It is common perception in the West that a non-European cannot be an authentic modernist …” this is because “the West continues to deny recognition to the secular, autonomous self from other cultures”. He adds “after transplanting modernism in the colonies as a part of its ambition to Euro-civilize other cultures, the West now refuses to accept its historical consequences”. The outcome of the rejection and critique of Modern art outside the dominant discourse caused the gaze to turn away from the formal language of art and to locate and identify the underlying cultural currents. Akbar Naqvi Pakistani eminent art critic in his authoritative book Image and Identity traces the intellectual link between all creative expression, literature, music or painting to Sufi philosophies particularly the “malamati tradition” a free thinking spiritual order that explores creativity to express transcendent love. In his opinion, the enduring footprint of the spiritual guides, on the South Asian cultural matrix, transcends idiom and form and in his book he has convincingly drawn many parallels between the ethos that informs modern and contemporary artwork and verses of Urdu poetry. The followers of the Naqshbandi Sufic Order who equate creativity with worship took Islamic aesthetics in the direction of applied arts. They reached new heights of technical advancement in their search for the perfect harmony between pattern and functional form.

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ASNA a not-for profit organization recognizes this need to explore the common ground between traditional crafts and contemporary arts. In a three-fold strategy of dialogue, exhibitions and documentation in the last decade it has created an awareness of the diverse and technically sophisticated crafts as a creative and technical resource for the artist and its cost effective indigenous methods that can curtail the dependency on expensive imported equipment that hampers the free exploration of various mediums. To dissolve the artificial barriers between the High and Low art canons, ASNA creates an environment that enables artists and artisans to share ideas and skills. Its workshops by traditional potters for ceramists on surface decoration and hand-building techniques and the ASNA International Clay Triennial has begun to change the way the community perceives its clay continuum. Without a blind adherence to the “avant garde doctrine”, it has become increasingly clear that art of Pakistan is neither anti-history nor nihilistic but strives to create a conceptual and formal space where cultural change and timeless realities comfortably co-exist in its paradigm of progress. In the popular art sphere, truck paintings and cinema hoardings are a popular form of the “bazaar” art that has interested the contemporary artist since the 1990 and led to many collaborative projects with its exponents. This was a time when the artist for the first time stepped out of the studio into the workspaces located in the by-lanes to engage with a popular genre. This led to an important discussion regarding appropriation verses collaboration. Artists choose to work in both ways. Nahid, an established artist preferred to work with the iconography of popular imagery while in Durriya Kazi’s installations are collaboration that integrate techniques and materials. This dissolving of social and artistic hierarchies established a precedent with a groundbreaking installation at a public park, where the audience participated in an atmosphere of pageantry unlike the solemn gatherings at the art galleries. The December 2005, Karkhana Show At Aldrich Museum in New York can be seen as a high points in the way Neo-miniature Movement in contemporary art from Pakistan is received at home and internationally. This movement, which originated from the traditional miniature studio of the country’s largest art college, National College of Art Lahore, is the city with an uninterrupted history of this art form since the Mughal era. Its present transformation fuses different strands of technique, grammar and vocabulary with a contemporary sensibility. This Karkhana Show, which has been curated by Imran Qureshi, one of the pioneers of Neominiaturism, is an influential intervention because it revives the process of collaboration from the Mughal atelier when several persons worked together to create a masterpiece. The curator replicates this by selecting a group of six neo-miniaturists, including himself. Each with distinct style, is asked to start paintings and than pass it on to the others which gave the participating artist the freedom to add or take away from the paintings. This made the intervention critical to the art work. The final outcome of this journey is the Karkhana Collection presently on tour of various galleries in the USA to be followed by shows in other parts of the world. The special significance of this show is while it adds yet another layer of historical relevance it remains essentially a show of contemporary art. The complexity and multiplicity of the dynamic traditions within the cultural matrix of contemporary Pakistan has sensitized the art critics and art historians that the linear logic of the Western art history has to be replaced by new asymmetrical methodologies that takes into account the peculiarities of time and space. Nukta, a recently launched journal of critical writing hopes to expand the discursive platform with the participation of multiple voices at home and abroad with a special focus on issues in the marginal context. As Rasheed Areen has so eloquently puts it Nukta’s aim is to “situate art within the genealogy of both national and what constitutes the humanity’s universal histories”. FOMMA, Foundation Of Museum of Modern Art a private organization in Karachi, with three books in print in as many years, has become the first publication project exclusively devoted to

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visual art. Its pro-active policy of documentation can be instrumental in providing opportunities to local art critics and historians. Part three The debate between the center and the margin creates an awareness of the inbuilt contradictions of the time we live in and highlights the importance of critical faculties to counteract an increasingly neo-colonialism in the guise of globalization. The globalization phenomenon fueled by technological advancement and rampant consumerism encompasses both an agenda driven enterprise and a plethora of responses from nations whose cultural and economic space it has invaded. Communication via the satellite television and the Internet has brought the possibilities of multiculturalism and dialogue within the reach of artists but a critical study of the communication of the 21st century shows that the free-flow information has its own dynamics. The double speak of the electronic and print media has inspired many art works that bring into discussion the gap between the reality and perception of the freedom of the news media of Western democracies. Art from the developing world exhibited in Western capitals finds a sympathetic audience for the social and political issues in much the same way as similar content does in news broadcasts. In some places a sympathy fatigue has begun to give way to impatience for the never-ending cycle of socio-political problems of the “other”. What come as a surprise is the lack of awareness among audiences of the role of western capitalism and neocolonial adventures as a contributory factor to the dysfunctional politics and social systems of fragile economies. Artists exhibiting in the West are also discovering that there is a limited space in which they can operate with mainstream acceptance. Human right abuses and gender issues of the “third world” are “kosher” while any debate on concerns like fair trade practices, world resource imbalance, and cultural rights of immigrants that require self critique and challenge the entrenched national/ social position of the host culture has a limited audience and finds itself in fringe galleries with little or no media coverage or debate. A completely different dialogue takes place at regional art events like the Biennials at Dhaka, Istanbul and Sharjah etc where the environment is one of sharing with a focus on collaborative strategies of problem solving. Naim June Paik’s prediction that all artists will have their own TV channels and the fact that many artists are learning their own codes instead of working with available software are indications of the breakneck speed of changes within the digital medium. At the other end of the spectrum are the artists in developing countries like Pakistan where under fifty percentage of practicing artists have computer skills and the state-of-the-art technology is available at only a few art schools. While most artists agree that digital art opens up immense possibilities they are just not sure how economically viable it will be for them to keep up with sophisticated technology. The seamless and amorphous cyberspace, which is more widely accessible, has been gaining strength as an alternative space of visual exchange. On-line exhibitions encourage new collaborative projects, access to information that generate global opportunities have dissolved political boundaries and geographical distances. The Flags of Peace exhibition an artists initiative for peace between Pakistan and India was mainly curated via email as the decades of hostilities between these neighbouring countries has rendered the postal and telephone unreliable. One of the greatest fears that artists face today is that globalization will turn the marginal economies into a technology ghetto robbing artists of opportunities to engage in the digital environment, which will soon dominate the world of the future. The onus is also on artists to subvert this uni-polar growth with alternative strategies to which can support a global architecture of conflict resolution. Before I conclude I would like to leave you with a quote from a Chinese curator Qiu Zhijue,

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“The continuous transitions work like mirrors piled on top of one another, interlocking, turning and reflecting from time to time and stopping at moments to lighten or darken the black abyss that stands in between”. I like to think that it is art that shines the brightest to light up the world with its reflection, in a time full of conflict and uncertainty. © AICA Press et l’auteur

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REMODELING

REQUIRED:

OFFICIAL BIENNALES INTERNATIONAL BIENNALE CULTURE

IN

EGYPT

AND

Bassam El Baroni

Rejecting Contemporaneity by Negatively Interacting with Nationalism, Mythology and Globalization The current Egyptian art scene is sadly divided into two parties, actually two specific scenes, the official scene supported and funded by the Ministry of Culture and the non-official, independent scene run by NGO's and independent spaces with mostly foreign funding. The visual arts sector of the Ministry organizes both the Cairo and Alexandria Biennales. The Cairo International Biennale was first organized in 1984 as the Cairo International Biennale of Arab Art, but the Arab Art segment in the definition was dropped later to include a wider variety and quantity of works from around the world. The Alexandria Biennale, established in 1955, however is still gripping on to a regional definition in its title as the Alexandria International Biennale for Mediterranean Countries, encompassing countries from both sides of the Mediterranean. One could go so far as to make the conclusion that the Cairo and Alexandria Biennales are constructed platforms for the reissuing and revitalization of ideologies that have played and still play an important role in the formulation of an official interpretation of “Egyptianess”. In other words, these two events willingly or unwillingly are constructed as part of a larger strategy that imposes an ideologically-old but still quite powerful definition of modern Egyptian identity. A major problem that these biennales face is that they still have strong structural links to a certain Nasserist definition of Nationalism, more known to us as Arab-Nationalism. This is particularly evident in the Cairo Biennale, especially when we come to know that it started as a Biennale for the Arab region, although it is now an international event with 56 countries participating in its last edition, much of its structure and temperament has not changed since 1984. Although ArabNationalism still has a strong effect on the majority of the Egyptian peoples' sense of identity – this is basically due to the powerful implementation of its theories through the official and sometimes non-official media, mainly television and radio – it is an ailing ideology with little effect on regional or international politics. With the Arab League – the Arab world's version of the EU – in a state of constant deterioration and lack of power, and Egypt facing serious disturbances in its cultural fabric with the ever-growing voice of religious conservatism and the ‘more than real’ implications of globalization, it seems that the official sectors are only clinging on to the rhetoric's of an outdated nationalism because of its sense of familiarity and comfortableness and it's power to keep the fears of a new globalism at bay. In reality, Arab-Nationalism today can speak of no more than pop-culture links and a shared sympathy within the region towards certain social problems and political conflicts. So, how does this mode of Nationalism interpret itself through the Biennales? The answer is through most of its elements, through the choice of themes and through the selection of artists and so on. For example, the theme for the 9th Cairo Biennale was “Mythology, a bet on Imagination and a bet on Art”. In the opening pages of the catalogue, the problematics of the Biennale’s position on such a theme were unveiled in such statements as “We hope that works in the 9th Cairo International Biennale will defeat Globalization in its defined sense as the authority to destroy humanity and force the nations to kneel down, perhaps this will be our last stand before we are swept out by the flood”. This later statement is a political stance that stems from the fear of loosing ones heritage and local culture to globalization. Although this might be a valid fear, the dramatic aspects of such a realization seem to only see globalization in its negative economical and aggressive political manifestations – notably from the perspective of neo-colonialism, which is always

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symbolized in the form of American politics. But, coming into contact with globalism's dilemmas, tools, effects and banal manifestations, is a daily experience for most Egyptians as for most people in today's world. Today, there can no longer be a purely local culture and for that matter, by sensing the reality of our daily lives and touching upon historical facts, it is impossible to ever reach the conclusion that there ever will be a purely global culture. The official biennales of Egypt have become “Kitsch Biennales”, not just because most of the works they exhibit are of poor quality, but mainly because their structures are derivatives of old outmoded biennales or “Big International Exhibition” models. It is also apparent that this kitsch factor is the result of their usage of political, geographical and mythological histories that simulate the past but don't seriously negotiate with the present. Rather than structuring frameworks that deal with issues of identity and globalization, the Biennales address these complex issues through off-centered and imposed cultural-political outlooks that are nationalistically impulsive. The result is that the latent issues at hand are represented in an air of confusion and cultural misunderstanding. What complicates the structure even more is the haphazardness in the organization and selection process, which allows for a few examples of “progressiveness” to be exhibited alongside works that can hardly be linked stylistically or philosophically to the current status-quo of the arts in general. Instead of “conquering globalization”, the 9th Cairo International Biennale caused a major commotion for most of the Egyptian audience in that, by far, the best work exhibited came from the American artist Paul Pfieffer. Pfieffer’s multi-screen video installation was the only curated presentation in the Biennale. Curated by Holly Block and Jane Farver, the installation was allotted the largest space for a single artist in the biennale, the lavish expenditure on the artist’s presentation was made possible through various grants from American foundations. The biennale’s organizing committee made an obvious political statement by awarding the installation a mere jury prize instead of the grand prize it rightfully deserved. The Cairo biennale always seems to somehow identify globalization as the main oppressor, it seems to function with the democratic tools of an Olympic sports event that favors internationalism over globalism because the later might disrupt its system of reinforcing the past for fear of actually facing the present. The “past” one is referring to can be witnessed in the majority of works featured in the biennale. The mediocre majority of works that are various derivatives of abstract expressionism, cubism and other modernist vocabularies are selected on behalf of the biennale by the ministries of culture of the invited countries, with no apparent “quality control” practiced by the biennale’s organizers. History takes on an even more nostalgic turn when one investigates the mechanisms behind the Alexandria biennale. On taking a closer look at the biennale’s archives, it is quite evident that the biennale has had almost one theme since it first appeared in 1955. This theme with it’s multitude of poetically reconstructed clones is “Alexandria as a Cosmopolitan City through the Ages” or “The Shared Spirit of the Mediterranean as Embodied by Alexandria”. The latest version of the biennale, which happened to be its golden jubilee, opened in December 2005 under the title of Transparency of the universe, the Mediterranean spell. But what the biennale fails to see is that one cannot create strong and mutual contemporary cultural links with the “New Mediterranean” by enforcing a hackneyed reading of Alexandria’s cultural and historical legacies. It is easy to romanticize about the Alexandria of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet and to highlight its multicultural, multiethnic, and super cosmopolitan past. But what about the Alexandria of the 21st century, where and how do we position and recognize it geographically and philosophically? How do we negotiate it’s identity in the midst of today’s tumultuous cultural climate? The conflictual experiences of globalization and many other inflected phenomena are causing the ancient city to unsteadily exist in a state of constant flux. However, it seems that it is satisfactory enough for the Alexandria biennale in 2005 and 2006 to hold its seminars on topics such as “Greek Mythology” and “Leonardo Da Vinci”… © AICA Press et l’auteur

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ISTANBUL’S INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL: THE CITY AS CONTEXT – OR CONFINEMENT?

Ahu Antmen The Grand Tour has extended beyond anybody’s means! Today, the “art person” – whether s/he is an artist, curator or writer – has to travel from city to city to view huge international exhibitions, sometimes to places never imagined before as having the slightest potential for contemporary art. But we are now faced with the question: the art or the city? Today, every city arouses an interest being a city per se; each and every city is interesting because it is different from the other, each and every city – however “civilized” or “uncivilized” – offers the possibility of discussion for matters that the art world has come to deem of considerable importance. The framework for all those matters seems to be drawn around the idea of cultural identity. The modernizing experience of global culture is perhaps best observed in each and different city because it shows how mutually opposed identities clash, but simultaneously create a new place, and a new way of life in that place. Needless to say that this interest is the outcome of what has come to be called cultural globalism, a phase in which all “others” have been going through in trying to understand each other. Since the early 1990s, Istanbul, greatly owing to the Istanbul Biennial, has written itself on a map that can be considered the new Grand Tour of the contemporary art world. This map has Venice on it, and Kassel; but it also has Sao Paulo, Cairo and Tirana. Each of these cities has a different identity, and each offers a different experience of viewing art. In the context discussed above, it is interesting to observe the ways in which different cities, which are newcomers to the world of international exhibitions, deal with these exhibitions. I believe Istanbul is a particularly interesting case, given its past associations. I have written in the past that Istanbul as a “concept” has always been, and always will be an interesting forum for artistic, cultural and social discourse: It is less Western than Western, less Eastern than Eastern; older than many cities, but then younger than many cities, it is surely on the borderline, on the fringe of both what “was” and what “is”. It is what a great many cultural differences look like. In this sense, I think it is very difficult and perhaps impossible to fully comprehend. (Not only by others, but also ourselves, the Turks!) Perhaps this is why, in trying to understand it, to define it, to talk about it, we always start off with past or present clichés. But perhaps this is also why it is so interesting, because it offers a challenge and a chance at least as a possibility, to try and understand the dynamics of difference beyond clichés. Istanbul is, after all, a historical jumble of preconceived ideas and reflections. Today, a population of nearly 15 million inhabitants surrounds the heart of the past’s heritage; and the “old city” where many and orientalist fantasy founds its object is very distant from poor shanty towns, rich “satellite” towns or any actual reality. Still, the Istanbul biennials have always been confined to the old sites and nostalgic citations of Istanbul, the romantic city said to “inspire” foreign curators conceiving this international exhibition. Let us note that it is quite interesting how concepts considered passé for artists can be used quite comfortably in some curatorial contexts. Curators of the Istanbul biennials have generally stated openly that Istanbul has inspired them. You don’t usually find artists talking about inspiration today! Setting off with the definite goal of trying to find a place for Istanbul in the global map of the contemporary art world, the biennials in Istanbul didn’t really mind being a part of tourism, and its official agenda was (and still is), “to be in the same league with Venice.” So much is the interest towards the international showcase that soon, we will even have a chance to visit Rosa Martinez’s Venice Biennale exhibition here in Istanbul. However, the latest edition of the Istanbul Biennial seemed to have wandered off from that agenda. Almost an ironical reference to all past biennials seeking the poetry of the city, the ninth biennial sought to address the idea of

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Istanbul as a post-postmodern city, beyond its nostalgic or romantic aspect. It tried to show the city growing like an organism despite itself. It didn’t use the sites all tourists have an affinity with, but sites that only a curious wanderer, eager to map out the “psychobiography” of a city would come across, perhaps only when lost… In this sense, it was, in many aspects, a kind of homage to the ideas of the International Situationist. It definitely tried to change the agenda, or at least create an agenda. The concept, as you can imagine, was “Istanbul” itself. In the Istanbul AICA gathering of 2003, I had certain questions regarding the biennial of my city. I was curious, for example, as to what the Istanbul Biennial hoped to achieve beyond a comparison with the Venice Biennale. I wanted to be able to situate the biennial within the context of world biennials according to some idea, agenda, or discourse. I kept on wondering why a critical thinking of our local subjectivities or a greater representation of local art couldn’t be reflected in this biennial. Then this year, in 2005, just before the ninth Istanbul Biennial, I had some other questions : now that the title was Istanbul in quotation marks, what would we see? The bewildered reflections of contemporary tourist-artists, or deep reflections into the current problems of a city trying to deal with the problems of any big city on the margins of the Western world? Would the city again confine artists to its exhausted past or present clichés, or would it succeed in proposing itself as a model for other biennials that focus on the context of cities? Would it be context, or confinement for art? Wandering in the streets of Istanbul during the biennial, I got the answer to some of these questions: unfortunate for artists perhaps, but the city itself offered a much more interesting ‘exhibit’ than many of the works on show. The two curators had cleverly planned a map in which spectators walking from one site to another would see facets of Istanbul never shown to a tourist, pointing to the really interesting places situated at a crossroad between what used to be 19th century minority culture and 20th century immigrant culture. This was Istanbul’s nearer, but still past “past”. In one of these interesting sites, Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov showed his Art and Life, stating within it that his surroundings were definitely more interesting than his artwork, which was an installation of the empty space itself. Solakov had captured the essence of the biennial, creating his work’s context out of that very confinement. The ninth biennial had overcome “tourism” perhaps, but was still stumbling under the weight of the city. Take Austrian artist Karl-Heinz Klopf, who pinpointed in his Mind the Steps the run down public staircases he had found interesting. Or Finnish artist Pilvi Takala, bewildered by the masculine culture in our men’s traditional coffee houses it seems, filming herself with some women friends playing cards in one of these places before the curious looks of locals. Or, Iranian artist Solmaz Shahbazi, interviewing people who had created for themselves a rich, sterile “westernized” world in outer city satellite towns. These works exemplify for me what I will call Istanbul’s confinement syndrome. Based on a form of bewildered observation, this kind of approach seems to me to be a “neo” form of orientalism, and therefore a contemporary form of cliché when looking at Istanbul. Framing, but only framing such local peculiarities, is no more than pointing at how “Western” or “non-Western” things are in this part of the world. Pointing to these differences may be of some interest to a foreigner, but says nothing to me as an insider. This sort of approach appropriated by Turkish artists is all the more surprising, because it implies a neo-orientalizing of the self. Of the more persuasive works linked to Istanbul, I can quote Phil Collins’ Dünya dinlemiyor [the world isn’t listening] a video showing Turkish fans of The Smiths singing in a foreign language. The psychological depth created from a material seemingly so superficial was interesting to watch. Collins’ work said a lot about the future generation of Istanbul, captured the spirit of a city’s youth and invited viewers to think about the spaces in between when cultures clash. This approach is very different to the mere framing of difference. Considering the work on show at the ninth biennial, it can be argued that the city definitely took over; and the interest directed towards the city surpassed the art. Despite the move from touristy sites to seemingly more anonymous spaces, the city was no mere context, but again an area or rather “idea” confining the limits. But then, the title was Istanbul, wasn’t it? It seems that what was on show at the ninth biennial was a curatorial project rather than the works exhibited. Overcoming the city’s confinement syndrome by merely reflecting it, did more to change the agenda than any other biennial in Istanbul, and was very much like an artwork in itself!... Using

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the idea of Istanbul in a different way compared to all the other biennials was the first step. Using alternative sites and inexpensive exhibition solutions to show the work, thus creating a rather more avant-garde “look”, was the second step. Inviting curators, sociologists, historians and architects to theorize about Istanbul and publishing their writings rather than a colourful, expensive coffee-table catalogue focused on the artwork was the third step. While these three steps – alongside the fact that this was a much younger biennial in terms of artists invited – can be considered as a clue to a possible new direction and a new agenda the biennial is taking, it is interesting to view how a city can still create a Catch-22 situation in which nothing can be done despite it : both for artists and for curators, be it through inspiration, or conceptualization! © AICA Press et l’auteur

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OVER TWO DECADES OF CAIRO BIENNALE. CYCLE AND EFFECT PRACTICES

ON

CURRENT

UNIQUENESS, LIFE CONTEMPORARY LOCAL ART

Khaled Hafez The Dynamics of the Region In the 1980s, the Middle East was ravaged by three military events that rendered art practice difficult, if not impossible, in some countries: the civil war, in Lebanon, the Iraq-Iran war and the continuous Israeli / Palestinian war of attrition. The only conspicuous contemporary art scene in the region, besides that in Israel, has been in Egypt, since Lebanese and Palestinian artists have been forced to join the Diaspora, and the Maghreb artists have oscillated between their own countries and France or Spain, respectively. Cotemporary art did not come to a halt in Iraq, but was limited to painting and sculpture and forced to adopt various forms of social realism. The Dynamics in Egypt Egypt is one of the countries in the Arab world that has had a steady, uninterrupted flow of art movements. Although artists in the fifties and sixties worked for the Pan-Arab project (also known as the National Project), there has always been a freedom to experiment with alternative forms of expression, including abstraction, away from the control and support of the state, which, for its part, owned and controlled all cultural outlets until well into the mid-’80s. The main players on the Egyptian art scene in the ’70s and ’80s were the artist, the critic and the state-owned gallery. Most practices, with a few individual exceptions, were confined to modernist to late-modernist painting and figurative sculpture, often heavily influenced by years of social realist practice, since both artists and critics were trained in a Soviet-style political climate, in which all aspects of artistic creation were tightly controlled. The Birth of a Biennale The Cairo Biennale was initially set up in 1984, as a state-sponsored international art event for participants from Arab-speaking countries. The event’s elder sister the Alexandria Biennale was established in 1955, in imitation of the Venice Biennale, though it was – and is – broadly restricted to countries adjacent to the Mediterranean. After the first four editions of the Cairo Biennale its organizers decided to open the doors to participants from countries in other parts of the world, in an attempt to raise the hitherto rather mediocre standard of works submitted and turn this into a genuinely international event. This decision rescued, rather than resurrected, the Biennale, since Spanish, Italian, German, Scandinavian and American contributions over the years primarily had the effect of showing up in the inadequacies of the less good work from other countries (including Egypt itself, on many occasions), when the selection had been determined by issues other than those of strict quality. The involvement of all state owned galleries in the Biennale helped to disseminate the work to a wider public, including students.

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The Biennale at its Peak In the late ’90s, the Biennale was successful in introducing new media and new artistic practices and enabled the Egyptian public to see work by artists such as Nancy Spero, Claude Viallat, Gio Pomodoro, Joseph Kosuth and Mona Hatoum. The exposure of younger Egyptian artists and practitioners to the works of international artists who enjoyed both a career and fame had a massive impact on their practices in the late ’90s and was reflected in the first two Biennales of the new millennium. At one point, this exposure to the work of foreign artists offered young artists and professionals the only window onto the outside world, and the only way, in practice, that they could see and interact, at first hand, with contemporary art from elsewhere. Many Egyptian artists who have an international career today made their debut at the Cairo Biennale, including Hamdi Atteya, Amal Kenawi, Shadi el Noshoukati, Weal Shaky and Moataz Nasr. One unique, and distinct, benefit we may attribute to the Cairo Biennale is that it has now clarified the newly forged identity of the curator. Curators were called commissioners in local Egyptian art practice, and their role was a purely administrative one, devoid of any responsibility for conceptualizing a project, selecting an artist or writing a text. The Cairo Biennale introduced art professionals and the public to the distinctive roles and functions of the international curator and thus added a new player to the now effervescent art movement. A new generation of art historians, such as Aleya Hamza, now develops plenty of new projects each year and is gradually gaining recognition at an international level (e.g. at the both the Berlin Biennale and Dak’Art, in 2006). The fact that international artists with a career behind them have been invited by the organizers to take part in the Cairo Biennale does not imply that the selection procedures have always been flawless and fair: on the contrary, a high degree of arbitrariness in the selection procedures has always reflected the continuing incidence of nepotism, favouritism and major conflicts of interest. Over time, the arbitrary decisions, which have defied both logic and public opinion, have tended to become increasingly numerous, brazen and conspicuous. The Biennale in the new Millennium, in relation to current Art Practices Nowadays, artists living and working in Egypt do not count on the Cairo Biennale as their sole source of art information, education or communication (IEC). Art practices today in Egypt are principally driven by two major factors, working in tandem: a. Sources of information The sources of information are now diversified, owing to the massive increase in the opportunities for art professionals to travel and for direct contact and exchange between artists selected for international manifestations (Venice, São Paolo, Istanbul, Havana, Gwangju and Dakar) and their international peers. b. Sources of influence Egyptian art professionals living and working in Egypt have experienced the effects of the new parabolic satellite culture of the last two decades, dominated by Western/American media and advertising. The ferocious new audio-visual materiel of the budding mass consumerist culture has propelled the previously sluggish societies of the Middle East into a global visual culture, and this, in turn, has induced a dramatic confusion of identities, especially among the young, and a state of cultural ambivalence, in their love-hate relationship to the West. The changes in Egyptian society are conspicuous and are clearly reflected in contemporary Egyptian art. Nowadays, artists are free to experiment with new and alternative visual platforms, thanks to the diversity of sources of information, and the fact that their near-total independence from state

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support has been offset by the growth in private sponsorship from international foundations. This has left them free to experiment with new media and materials, including installation, video, performance, sound and digital media. For this reason, the international cultural foundations must be viewed as a major influence, in providing both information and practical assistance. New and interesting forms of local artistic expression suggest a strongly hybrid amalgamation of East-West visual alphabets and represent an attempt to formulate a new vocabulary, capable of bridging the gap to the “Other” and seeking to accommodate its values. Indeed, expressions like “hybrid values”, “power of the ordinary”, “dialogue”, “fusion”, “the aesthetic versus the intellectual” and “bridging” have replaced the terms that existed in the critical vocabulary of the ’50s ’60s and were kept alive for a further two decades and more – e.g. “decadent western values”, “the modern versus the authentic”, and similar terms drawn from the vocabulary of formalist art criticism. The Biennale at Risk Over the years, the Cairo Biennale has developed a strong platform of supporters, as well as a good many enemies. A new range of challenges has also emerged in recent years, at both local and international levels. a. Biennale Supporters In the ’90s, the participation of international career artists in the Biennale created a wave of excitement among younger art professionals; the organizers of the Biennale also took a successful initiative, in soliciting the participation of young artists who emerged from the Egyptian annual Salon of Young Artists. Today, however, most young artists have turned away from the Biennale, since the artists selected to take part in it are still almost always drawn from the stratum of the officially approved. b. Enemies from within Established critics (i.e. those belonging to the Egyptian Society of Art Critics) have been totally overlooked, from the beginning of the Biennale right up to the present. The problem was aggravated in the very early ’90s, when the President of the Biennale managed to establish a branch of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) in Egypt and still presides over it, personally. This has been the cause of polemics in the press, which continue to this day. Young art professionals find it impossible to be included in the selection for the Biennale, if they do not play the game along approved lines. The Biennale neglects most, if not all, of the artists who decide to work with private galleries. Many artists who manage independently to participate in international events do not find it important to be included in the Cairo Biennale. Challengers from within Private galleries in Egypt are not numerous; Mashrabia (created by Christine Roussillon in 1984, run by Stefania Angarano since 1990), Karim Francis Galleries (established and run by KF since 1994), and the Townhouse Gallery (established and run by William Wells since 1997) are the only one that could be described as professional, by international standards. The Townhouse Gallery (5 spaces and a library, with wireless internet access) will participate in ARCO 2006, as the first Egyptian gallery ever to be recognised in this way. These private galleries provide an alternative space for younger and/or independent artists with personal projects who cannot make it into the Biennale or into the state-run galleries, that seem doomed to extinction. Challenger no. 1: al Nitaq Early in 2000, all private galleries united to create a ten-day event in the streets of downtown Cairo: al Nitaq (this translates as “The Zone”). This event was repeated in 2001, when it opened on the same night as the Cairo Biennale; as a result, the opening of the Biennale was a total flop, due to the overwhelming interest of the international art professionals in the fresher and more experimental art in Nitaq. The effect of this was to provoke an overt confrontation between the official art authorities and the Townhouse Gallery, which had initiated Nitaq.

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Challenger no. 2: Photo Cairo In 2003 - also concurrently with the Cairo Biennale - the Townhouse Gallery single-handedly organised another event in the streets of downtown Cairo: Photo Cairo. This event comprised lens- or image-based art works, including photography, video and video installations, as well as photo-based graphic practices. It was an enormous success and has been repeated twice, since then. Challenger no. 3: Artists-Critics-Curators These are the artists who write and curate, in alternation, to compensate for local deficiencies in these fields. This phenomenon is not exclusively Egyptian, since it started decades ago with the gurus of conceptual art. More recent examples have been furnished by the work of the British artist, Damien Hirst (Freeze and Modern Medicine) and, in Africa, of Olu Oguibe and Candice Breitz. The American pattern of art cooperatives and artist-run spaces has been adopted by a group of image-makers in Cairo, who are in the process of setting up a cooperative that promises to become a major force in the coming years. What all the internal challengers promise, and never fail to deliver to the artists, are professional standards of planning and execution, integrity in the realisation of projects and continuous background support, in general. The events described above, which were held in the downtown area of Cairo, also provided a wider exposure for contemporary art and interaction with a broad public. The fact that these events could be repeated proved that art that has a clear concept and is well produced does not alienate the lay audience and is not an elitist activity, such as state officials perform in front of the TV cameras, for the evening news. Non-Supporters on the outside Art professionals who have taken part as jury members in previous editions of the Cairo Biennale, as well as curators who have participated in projects at the Biennale, are unanimous, in complaining of a continuous, uninterrupted stream of malpractices, the most conspicuous of which are the horse-trading involved in attempts to influence the juries’ decisions on the attribution of prizes – not least, by introducing international political considerations into the discussion. Challengers from outside Emergent international biennales on the continent, such as Johannesburg (discontinued), Dakar and Bamako, attract more international attention and higher visibility than Cairo, as evidenced in the international art press. The Sharjah Biennale, nearby, which was established around twelve years ago and had been undermined for many years by the same kinds of managerial malpractice, underwent a successful reform in 2005, that promises to place it on the international art map. In the international arena, the Cairo Biennale hypothetically had the potential to compete with Biennales like Havana, Istanbul and Gwangju, but its failure, on a qualitative level, as well as the numerous malpractices for which it became known, have put it out of the running, in an art world that speaks a totally different language, when it comes to managerial and curatorial practice. The Biennale on its Deathbed Due to the factors mentioned above, the Cairo Biennale has lost its lustre at the very moment in its history when it most urgently needs a thoroughgoing overhaul of its management methods and rejuvenation, if it is not to go into terminal decline. The fact that it has ceased to inspire and attract either a public or professionals of almost any age is an indication of its failure to recognise the imperatives of contemporary art practice. The Cairo Biennale receives a subsidy in the region of one million dollars. In comparison to this, events such as the Dakar Biennale (only 600 000 $) and the Havana Biennial attract much more attention, due to the continuous process of reform that accompanies each cycle. (Both dollar figures are unconfirmed and based on interviews with officials directly concerned with the events in question). © AICA Press et l’auteur

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WHOSE DOOR? WHOSE ALIEN? Stephen Wright This session comes under the intriguing, but rather enigmatic, heading of “Knocking on an alien’s door”. Enigmatic, because it is not specified whose door it is, nor who is doing the knocking. No one is an alien to themselves; one is always someone else’s alien. So are we to understand that it is Africa which is knocking on Europe’s door, in the hope of being let in? Or is it Europe which, forswearing at least symbolically its tradition of knocking down Africa’s doors, has begun to knock on them, in the hope of finding someone inside, who is able to help it renew its flagging creative energies? In Bob Dylan’s song, it was Heaven’s door – that is, God’s door – that was being knocked on, and it was Bob who was doing the knocking. On the basis of those power relations, it is not difficult to decide who is the owner of the door, and who is standing before it, knocking. Regardless of whom the door belongs to, it remains a door; that is, an unambiguously explicit symbol of separation, particularly when one has to knock on it – because that implies that the door is, for now anyway, closed. A closed door produces envy as well as suspicion, because of the interests which it both conceals and protects. I’d like to say a few words, first about closed doors and secondly about the effects that they engender. Let me reframe the door, so to speak, in slightly different terms – in terms closer to the geopolitical reality, of interest to us here. We live in partitioned times. The sundering of common territories and histories, in the name of imaginary ethnic imperatives – and nothing is more real than the effects of the imaginary – has been one of the most traumatic and yet paradigmatic experiences of the past century; so widespread, indeed, that our age seems better served, as the Indian philosopher Ranabir Samaddar has argued, by the phrase “partitioned times” than the more prevalent “post-colonial times”. From India to Korea to Ireland, to Palestine – not to mention here, in Ethiopia-Eritrea – the vivisected regions that colour the world map have been shaped in a substantive way by greatpower strategies of partition, exerted as the institutionalised form of the universally dominant geopolitical will. Partitioning, however, is by no means confined to geopolitics; rather, it spans virtually every field and discipline of contemporary human activity. Art, in particular, lives partitioned from other forms of intellectual creativity and symbolic production. Which is why many well-meaning artists, in seeking to draw attention to the tragedy, the inanity, of partition of some description have inadvertently ended up reproducing partition’s deadening logic, producing images of partition, without adequately attending to how our partitioned times encompass all walks of contemporary human endeavour, including artistic representation. Art, of course, cannot simply wish partitioning away: its symbolic privileges and market value are upheld by an economy of scarcity, which admittedly ensures that art remains the object of particularly attentive scrutiny. Yet such artificially sustained scarcity, by protecting the highly valuable, commodified art object from the realm of mass-production and distribution (thus ensuring its exchange value), also deprives it of its use-value – that is, of its capacity to do much damage to the dominant order of signs. All which allows partitioning to pursue its work, unhindered. Personally, I am interested in art practices which take the “tautological imperative” inherent to conceptual art, and wrest it from the logic of scarcity, infiltrating the economy of the real. But our concern here, above all, has been with representation – and our common desire and demand for a more equitable representation of what for now remains ‘peripheral’ art practices. Giving visibility to what remains invisible; give a share to those without a share. This is a political question, but it is not the only way – and perhaps not the most imaginative way – of composing our desire, envisaging the future. Is the goal to get to the other side of the partition line? By definition, partition lines only keep us out, when we want to be in. In yesterday’s session, we considered Venice and Kassel as possibly universal goals. Goals? They are certainly not my goals; nor is it my objective somehow to reform them, by focusing on making them more inclusive. If

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numerically perfect, equitable representation in major exhibitions were achieved, would that make them better? It could not make them worse, but fundamentally, from my perspective, such reform would merely reinforce the system of exclusion, by making it more insidious. The problem is at that level. Admittedly, knocking on such doors is politically important. For, like all partition lines, the border between visibility and invisibility is subject to what I yesterday referred to as “police” controls. Here, too, art must consider its own paradoxical regime of visibility: for if it is highly visible, as art, it will be scarcely visible – that is, only within a certain circuit of visibility. However, in sacrificing its visibility, art eludes control, prescription and regulation – in short, it eludes the “police”. As Jacques Rancière put it in his now classic definition, “… the police is thus above all a bodily order that defines the partition between means of doing, means of being and means of saying, which entails that certain bodies are assigned, by their very name, to such and such a place, such and such a task; it is an order of the visible and the sayable, which determines that some activities are visible and that some are not; that some speech is heard as discourse while other speech is heard as mere noise.”33 Seen in this way, partitioning is not merely a profoundly political issue; challenging it is the very essence of democratic political struggle, both in the realm of geopolitics and the realm of art. I sense that what the logic of partitioning has produced that is most perfidious, is a generalised regime of what I shall call exhibition envy. Why are we envious – and ever more envious – of these keynote exhibitions, as if there were somehow not enough to go around? Envy is on the rise. It seems strange to say that about something as timeless – or at least as biblical – as envy, but, historically speaking, phenomena like envy tend to wax and wane, in keeping with broader economic trends. To acknowledge that is to recognise that envy is not so much a psychological category as an economic one; more precisely, it is the psychological reaction to a regime of scarcity. I recently came upon a book by McKenzie Wark called A Hacker Manifesto.34 A hacker, in Wark’s lexicon, is very different from the image of the super-specialised anarcho-programmer, which the term still conjures up for most people; indeed it was only in reading the book that I came to realise I too was a sort of hacker. Art critics, curators – and particularly those in so-called marginal contexts – are hackers. For a hacker, he claims, is someone who hacks into knowledge production networks of any kind, and liberates that knowledge from an economy of scarcity. In a world based on private property relations, scarcity is always being presented as if it were natural; but in the contemporary context, where intellectual property is the dominant property form, scarcity is artificial, counter-productive – and the bane of all hackers – for the simple reason that appropriating knowledge and information by no means deprives anyone else of it. This is a key issue in art-related practice – indeed, Wark discusses hacking as if it were an art practice – for the system of value-production in the mainstream artworld is also premised on an envyfomenting regime of scarcity, underpinned by the author’s signature. Wark hacks his rather unorthodox theory out of Marxism: like Marx, Wark believes human history can be conceptualised in terms of class relations and conflict. Today, he argues, this conflict is most acute between what he calls the “vectoralist” class (which has come to supplant the hegemony of the capitalist class) and the new productive class, that Wark describes as hackers. He derives this name for the new dominant class from its ownership of the “vectors” of our society. A vector is the means by which anything moves: vectors of transport move objects and subjects; vectors of communication move information. Hackers, on the other hand, are the abstract producers of all that flows through the vectors. For now, Wark admits, hackers, like artists, continue to regard one another enviously as rivals, rather than as fellow members of a class with shared interests – a problem that he elegantly side-steps by arguing that “the hacker class does not need unity in identity but seeks multiplicity in difference”.35 In Wark’s mind, it seems, hackers of the world need not so much unite as continue to untie, freeing knowledge from illusions of scarcity. For those who might find Wark’s picture overly rosy, the book is full of accounts of actually existing zones of hacker liberty, including this gem from free software 33

Jacques Rancière, La Mésentente, Paris, Galilée, 1995, p. 51 (Author’s translation). McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2004. 35 Ibid., p. 84. 34

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advocate and producer, Richard Stallman: “It was a bit like the garden of Eden. It hadn’t occurred to us not to co-operate.”36 Wark’s book, it seems to me, has everything to do with art, and can help us partially to refocus our discussion regarding the skewed relations between overdeveloped and underdeveloped artworlds. Of course the mainstream artworld is rife with envy from top to bottom, North to South; still, it would be rash simply to present artworlders as a bunch of jealousy-smitten strategists, intent on one-upmanship, like everyone else, if only because that would miss the key to the story, which is how the symbolic economies of the artworld mirror those of the world at large. The artworld is so good at the strategic exploitation of inequalities in symbolic capital (which it persists in referring to as ‘talent’, so as to sweeten the pill and give culture the airs of a natural science), and having artists and writers not merely accept, but actually insist upon, nonmonetary remuneration and interpersonal competition – which is a fancy way of describing envy – that it has become a model that is studied in MBA-level management courses. But art also has an heuristic approach to the problem. Take one example: one of the vectors of access to the prestige economy of the international artworld is the English language. This point was underscored with corrosive and insolent matter-of-factness in 1992 by Zagreb conceptualist Mladen Stilinovi’s embroidered work entitled An Artist Who Speaks No English Is No Artist. Whereas that sort of quip had critical overtones some fifteen years ago, it has today become a statement of mere fact. And this is the sense of Pristina-based artist Jakup Ferri’s recent video piece of the same title: the artist, in a close-cropped head shot, addresses the viewer, apparently in English. The words, at any rate, are English and in profusion, but they appear strung together by some random alien logic, intent on pulling the language apart. The result is utter gibberish and the effect is dizzying to the point of nausea – like trying to walk a straight line while drunk. Indeed, one cannot but wonder if one is not slightly drunk, and seeks to concentrate more closely – to no avail. In this film, Ferri breaks with omnipresent “English envy”, displacing scarcity with a deluge of surplus. My plea, that we shake ourselves free of the economy of envy and start opening different doors without knocking, can easily be discounted as stemming from position of privilege. Because, of course, the experience of envy is as widespread as it is oppressive. It is so, because the experience of scarcity in the world is all too real. “As more and more of nature becomes a quantifiable resource for commodity production, so the producing classes in the overdeveloped and underdeveloped world alike come to perceive the power the vectoral class has brought in the world: the power to steer development here or there at will, creating sudden bursts of productive wealth and, just as suddenly, famine, poverty, unemployment, and scarcity”.37 On a more positive note, however, Wark senses “a detectable air of desperation in the work of the vectoral class, a constant anxiety about the durability of a commodified regime of desire built on a scarcity that has no necessary basis in the material world”.38 Scarcity, in other words, is the product of class rule, and not an objective fact of nature. That is an admittedly counterintuitive point of view. But until we can grasp that, envy, too, will appear an objective fact of interpersonal psychology. Perhaps in a pastoral society there is an objectively limited amount of arable land – though it is vastly greater than what is required to sustain human needs, and historically was transformed into a scarcity only through forced displacement and enclosures, as Olivier Razac has demonstrated in his devastating study on “the political history of barbed wire”.39 Under industrial capitalism, scarcity was maintained by the cunning ploy of paying workers slightly higher wages, enabling them to buy back at the end of the day a portion of the goods they had just finished producing. But under vectoral capitalism, scarcity has become hard to sell. “The vectoral class commodifies information as if it were an object of desire, under the sign of scarcity. The producing classes rightly take all commodified information to be their own collective production. We, the producers, are the source of all the images, the stories, the wild profusions of all that culture becomes”.40 36

Ibid., p. 70. Ibid., p. 304. Ibid., p. 299. 39 Olivier Razac, Barbed Wire: A Political History, (trans. from the French by Jonathan Kneight), New York, New Press, 2002. 40 See note above, p. 308. 37 38

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And it is just that wild profusion which may well make scarcity itself a scarcity! This is truly the irony of ironies, because it is precisely that profusion which the vectoralist class relies on, to produce a surplus of desire (to consume), along with the scarcity of the desired object. There can be no fundamental limiting of the free productivity of the hacker class – whose role it is to fuel the free productivity of desire with images and stories, new vectors in which to channel them, new means of perceiving them – and so the system induces the very productivity that exceeds the commodity itself. Scarcity is destined to be outstripped by surplus, and it is worthwhile imagining the difference between an abstract theory of the productive development of human society, framed in terms of scarcity, and one premised on surplus. The first instance leads to legitimising a ruling class taking charge of scarce resources; the second insists on how the productive classes produce more than their immediate needs and are deprived of this surplus – and want it back. In this respect, the liberal economic theory of the scarcity of objects and the psychoanalytical theory of desire, as subjective lack – rather than as overbrimming, overflowing surplus – are one and the same theory … and both reinforce the same door. © AICA Press et l’auteur

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THE KUONA TRUST’S ACTIVITIES Mutheu Mbondo Background The Kuona Trust is a not-for-profit organisation set up to promote, support, innovate and research contemporary visual art in Kenya and East Africa, by nurturing local talent through international exchange, workshops, residency programmes, exhibitions and innovative outreach projects. Kuona’s mission is to provide skills and opportunities to artists and to make art a valued and integral part of the society. Kuona is the only Trust of its kind in Kenya and has worked with over 900 artists in the ten years of its existence. It offers visual artists much needed services and opportunities to improve their artistic practice. Kuona Trust is housed within the GoDown Arts Centre, a multi-arts space that brings together various art forms, from the visual arts to dance, acrobatics and music recording. Overview of the Kenyan Art Scene The artist Most artists in Kenya are self-taught and, for many, the only form of training that they have received is through the Kuona Trust’s technical workshops programme, which runs skills-based workshops through which artists learn various artistic techniques from well established artists and art teachers. The majority of artists in Kenya are painters and sculptors, but there are also some printmakers. Conceptual artists, or artists working with new media such as video or installation, are rare. Places for artists to display their work are quite limited especially for contemporary artists. There is a strong crafts and tourist-driven market, and there are many spaces that cater for this. However, for contemporary visual artists, creating original artworks, the spaces are few and far between. The galleries Gallery Watatu is one of the oldest of the galleries devoted to contemporary visual arts. It was a highly successful space for painters, sculptors and printmakers in the 1980s and most of the older generation of artists owes much of their exposure to this space. However, in recent years it has lost something of its prominence, though it still attracts art buyers and collectors. The founder, Ruth Shaffner, used to finance the artists she showed in the gallery, enabling them to purchase materials and make work, which she would then buy and put up for sale in the gallery or show internationally. The Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art (RaMoMA), is currently the leading art gallery in Nairobi and Kenya, as a whole. It is donor-funded (Contemporary visual art in Kenya is very concentrated in the capital city, Nairobi, and one of Kuona’s goals is trying to reach the provinces outside Nairobi to tap the creativity and art there. To date, Kuona has run workshops, with public open days, in most of the eight provinces in Kenya). RaMoMA is an active space, with a regular exhibitions calendar that is often booked a year in advance, and shows a variety of painters, sculptors and printmakers. However, in the five years of its existence, no purely conceptual or installation art has been shown there.

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The Gallery of Contemporary East African Art, based at the National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, has also been a significant space until its closure for renovations, late in 2005. Numerous artists have exhibited in this space, which hosts both group and solo shows. The museum has converted an old colonial building in downtown Nairobi, as an additional exhibition space, but we have yet to see what kinds of exhibition are planned for this space. Paa ya Paa Gallery, owned by Elimo Njau, a senior Kenyan artist, and one of the older art spaces, used to be a vibrant international art centre in the ’60s and ’70s, but it burnt down ten years ago and still remains a shadow of its former self. Banana Artist Studios and Ngecha Studios, which are artist-run spaces in the rural outback of Kenya, serve as both working spaces and exhibition galleries. A couple of foreign cultural centres have also been instrumental in showing work, namely, the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut. The main difficulty in Kenya is the lack of an informed art audience; the majority of buyers are expatriates, and local Kenyans and Asians are in a small minority. Young Kenyans with disposable income are beginning to buy art, but there are still very few of them. At RaMoMA, for example, Kenyans buy an average of ten works a year, in total. Kuona’s Role: Alternative Exhibitions The three main spaces, RaMoMA, Gallery Watatu and the Gallery of Contemporary EA Art are all profit-making institutions, with an emphasis on sales. The Kuona Trust, on the other hand, with its non-profit structure, can dare to do exhibitions that do not have a selling focus. This has allowed Kuona to show works that are not necessarily sellable, such as installations and video art. An alternative approach to exhibiting work that Kuona uses is the “Open Day” format. Open Day usually take place at the end of workshops, and the public is invited in, to view the work in progress and meet, and talk to, the artists. Open days emphasise the process, rather than the product. Artists who take part in the workshops show their completed works and works in progress during this day. The International Artists Residency, run by the Kuona Trust, also encourages cultural exchange and alternative types of exhibition, by artists working in different media from those to which the public are accustomed. The residencies take place twice a year for three or four artists at a time. Last year, all seven artists in residence worked in installation and video. The goal in inviting these artists was to encourage different approaches to making art and to introduce new media. The exhibitions organised at the end of the residencies were particularly successful and featured only installation pieces and video art. These exhibitions were particularly well received and drew large and increasingly diverse crowds, who were fascinated by the artwork and turned the opening into a performance, rather than the traditional kind of art event. Kuona’s Role: Alternative Spaces Knowing that gallery spaces are limited in Kenya and are often alienating to the audience, we have been working with other organisations to hold art shows in alternative, public spaces. These spaces include restaurants, cafés, banks and embassies. For five years now, the Kuona Trust has displayed work at various branches of the Commercial Bank of Africa. The bank has large glass windows facing the street, and so artworks shown there are visible to the passing public, on some of the busiest streets of the city. Exhibitions at the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the UN building have also been useful for attracting a wealthier audience. In the last two years, RaMoMA, working with an independent curator, Xavier Verhoest, has begun to display work at a popular chain of coffee houses, ‘Java Coffee House’ and at a restaurant, ‘Le Rustique’. The exhibitions run on a regular schedule and change every month.

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This has served to place art amongst the general public who would not otherwise attend art openings and exhibitions. Conclusion: Pushing the Edges of Art in Kenya Through these programmes and activities, Kuona Trust seeks to educate Kenyan artists, by helping them to improve their practice through training and international exchange and by giving them exposure through exhibitions, alternative art events such as art demonstrations in public spaces, open days and publicity, both in Nairobi and in the provinces. Kuona also seeks to expand the existing art audience through educational and outreach programmes, placing art in public spaces and collaborating with other art organisations, in visual art, live arts and music. Š AICA Press et l’auteur

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ART SCHOOL PALESTINE Sacha Craddock In a time of intensified internationalism, when we here discuss the further breaking of boundaries and borders, I want to introduce you to a fact, of sorts, the story of an organisation and structure that have grown out of a specific response to need in a particular situation. Palestine is a unique place and no generalising on earth will make it the same as somewhere else. There is no general pattern, really. I might even dare to add that all the discussion in the world could not “help” the situation in Palestine, that a combination of nationalist pride and an international intellectual reluctance to act for others, has mean a great sense of rejection and isolation for Palestinian artists stuck there, a sense of frustration for Palestinian artists in the Diaspora, and way down the line, a sense of the impossible for interested parties elsewhere, the world over. Although it might be understood, at one level, that people feel isolated there, an art and academic world of much to-ing and fro-ing, with more money, ability, and freedom to move, it can still be difficult to grasp and appreciate the fact that people really can still be totally “cut off”. This lecture about the formation of Art School Palestine, a website, carries within it elements of naive enthusiasm, great calculation, intense collaboration and single-minded optimism. Something that came out of a sense that “something had to be done” has resulted in a high level of achievement. I am going to explain how caution is not the answer ; how a well worn and somehow over-familiar, academicised, international milieu, can carry within it preconceptions resulting in total paralysis, a sort of numb feeling, that eventually renders the reality of somewhere invisible. As the result, perhaps, of a sort of tragic detail fatigue, I have been asked by newspapers, friends even, not to repeat the “usual stuff” about road blocks, fear, pregnant women stuck on the impossible side of hospital access, that kind of thing. Perhaps I can save you from that too. Always the assumed split between personal detail and general understanding, which reminds me of a different political era, of the simplistic sense that emotional response can undermine calm rationale. The people there in the West Bank and Gaza that come forward to tell stories, like those offering yet the twentieth mint tea to Joe Sacco in his extended cartoon about his visit to Palestine during the First Intifada, certainly do have stories. Artists, too, have much to explain about the relevance, or irrelevance of making work in such a situation. It is just not really imaginable for most people outside and so, somehow the situation, in real practical terms, remains ignored, left alone to stand alone. The difficulty, too, of the national pride and the tendency not really to state the fact that there is no real effective Palestinian police force, and all policing is done by the enemy against the interests of the population, of course. I have just spoken to a friend who lives just outside Jerusalem in the West Bank, and she says that the notorious Khalendria Checkpoint is even worse now, less chaotic but more built up, with a more systematic and structured queuing “system” and much longer waiting; it is virtually impossible, impractical, to work, to move, even when in possession of the right papers. Now for art and critical practice and, eventually, Art School Palestine. I went over there under no “auspices” whatsoever. You would not believe how strange it was for people when I said I was going to go there. Somewhere only known to us for a particular, extreme, political situation is seen somehow as almost off the edge of the world. Of course people go there; lawyers to try to track the abuse of movement and rights, the odd philanthropic business person feels he or she might be able to do useful business, soon to give up; the UN worker, the diplomat, the Norwegian wanting to invest and “help”, and the occasional artist. “Under whose auspices” they would say here. Under my own I would say, and this is where the naive bit came in. Somewhat gung-ho and innocent, I never imagined what it would be like, how the Israelis do not appreciate busybody visitors, how they laugh. That may have changed a little now because in a bid to cut Jerusalem off completely from the rest of Palestine they are not beyond implying that Ramallah is some sort of

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cultural centre, the odd visitor allowed through is encouraged to entertain the myth of two equal states which exist side by side, one just with bad roads and the other … As I speak, overnight, the surprise election result shows a victory for Hamas, and this will change the political map of the area. Nobody knows what to think, it is too soon, but I want to add a note of caution about the scope and power of a democracy trapped behind an incredibly high wall. You would not believe how strange it was for people when I told them I was going to go there. How somewhere that was only known to us for a particular, extreme, political difference is seen, somehow, as off the edge of the world. Of course, others go there; lawyers to try to track the abuse of movement and rights, the odd philanthropic business person who feels he or she might be able to do useful business, but soon gives up, the UN worker, the diplomat, the group of Norwegians wants to invest and help. I arranged to do what I admit I am good at, a “crit” of the work. An artist friend in the West Bank managed to get as many artists as could possibly travel to come to Ramallah, to bring either their own work, or documentation of idea and thought. It was a difficult situation, because their work was removed from context and I was new to it; in a way this is makes up a fair exchange. My openness displayed vulnerability, their vulnerability normal when facing criticism. ASP is intended to work at many levels. It is practical; it can provide an umbrella, an overall structure, a virtual place for enquiries, interest, and the need to pass through. The situation has been, is, fragmented, and so this use of the Internet is very deliberate. There are some amazing institutions in Palestine that work with artists, but the principle of Art School Palestine, a website, is that it brings all together under one imaginary conceptual roof. If there is no school, if you can not move, if you are studying at Birzeit, for instance but from Gaza, and so there illegally, and there is a road block at the bottom of the hill, you keep a low profile and never venture off campus for three years. There needed to be a real unified place for contact about residencies abroad, as well as news of a nearby exhibition. The web is brilliant for its range of possibility. Of course since a soft launch back in September, I think, we have had to cope with an amazing range of scope and possibility. We have one administrator in London and one in Ramallah, an editorial board in both London and Palestine; and, of course, articles are translated into Arabic. What started with a meeting between me and Charles Asprey and a desire to do something, has become a functioning, equal relationship between Palestinians in the Diaspora, artists in Palestine unable to move and with problems, and art organisations and individuals here. We have supported filmmakers coming to the Kerry Film festival, arranged for a residency for a young photographer in Delfina, set up relationships with many art schools in Britain. It seems that many people elsewhere had “wanted to do something”, but only find it possible now that there is a sort of place, something called something, for institutions, especially, to work with and through. There is also, of course, the political dimension, where the sheer impossibility of a situation can give birth to something totally different. ASP is not a substitute school, it is something else. So much happens in Palestine, there are many local workshops, much art is done by “young” people, taught by young artists, untrained themselves; there are exhibitions, of course, just no easy contact between the institutions and centres in which they are held; art centres are starved of funds and material. A day’s work is not necessarily possible as the infrastructure is broken down, and with many people depending more heavily on the family structure for support, more traditional attitudes - to women especially - have started to prevail. If you call some something, though, it becomes something and the very principle of the site, when it started, was that the structure be padded out by the fragments of reality, by action, art making and discussion. It is believed, in the end, that a different pattern will emerge, a different model which will mean that the old university art college model, given the situation, is not necessarily the perfect answer. Of course in Palestine there was some initial doubt about the idea and, to begin with a sense of threat. Also another kind of fatigue which comes with ruined opportunities, ideas squashed, grand gestures that implode and stand empty through lack of consistent attention and ability to act. Art centres, like the Peace Centre in Manger Square Bethlehem, have been opened, but have mainly stayed empty, unsupported, because of the impossibility of bringing people, let alone art

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works, in and out. Grand schemes, initiated by Norway, I think, in this case, are never able to maintain a programme, The once director of the Sakakini in Ramallah, Adila Laidi, was wary, exhausted, angry even, at the thought of our initiative, another fresh faced idea from outside which would soon founder from lack of support, equipment, funds, expertise, time. Here are notes from the visit we made to Palestine in 2004, to discuss plans for the website with artists and organisations: We go to the Sakakini Centre, showing photographs of Tibet by Richard Gere, to meet the thin, well turned-out director, who immediately explains her fears. She explains what is really the matter, Young artists lack contact between each other and the world. There is a real lack of facilities, there are no cameras, there is no etching press, there are no sculpture workshops, the public is not really into art, the education system is a major problem, and anyway, the artists do not have the conceptual tools. Every one ends up doing painting. She would like to educate children in visual arts, but is looking for the right teachers. “We are needing so much”. We do not need another hit and run workshop conducted by an English/ German artist. Young males cannot travel; artists have a real problem with travel. Everything is left to the whim of the Israelis. When asked by a newspaper journalist on my first visit, two years before, at the beginning of the second Intifada, if I liked Palestinian art I said not really, not necessarily, not particularly. There really is a massive range of art and experience there and now, anyway, no such thing as a generic Palestinian art, despite a once strong national and political need to characterise such a thing. Emily Jacir, for instance, an artist who can, and does, travel from her working life in Ramallah to New York and back again, through various Biennials exhibiting her work, does show an increasing dexterity with her medium and an ability to edit. Emily, who can travel, has gained experience and is able to make sophisticated work as a result of criticism, while other artists are still metaphorically making pictures from earth, a residue of the 1980s boycott on oil paint, because it had to come through Israel. Well, some of the work is great, some old fashioned, some held back by a lack of discussion, criticism; some is made by those under pressure to represent the situation, some use sentimental language that can be embarrassing; but what matters is that people have the facility, opportunity, chance to make and develop work and place it in a context that extends the possibility for audience, understanding, and a greater level of sophistication. Still, if it is a matter of running from the front of the house to the back to protect a child from shrapnel, the painting with raw earth upon it can look meaning less, a little pointless, and an artist can feel a fury at such useless, inanimate images. Over the last few years much has changed, and a new generation of artists has started to emerge. Art School Palestine uses the web for practical and conscious means. The web is the only medium, short of letters which don't get easily through, and the radio which is blocked, that at least provides a possible relationship with the world, despite the fact that on our last visit there, a group of young men were rounded up and taken out of an Internet café in Ramallah. Generally the need seemed, still seems, simple, and my impression was that something had to be done to counter the isolation felt by people who want to, do manage to, make art there. The object of Art School Palestine is not to make the everything the same, to encourage a false idea of an international language of art, easier access to the market, but to set up a situation in the which an artist in Gaza might have an idea of what is going on in Nablus, an artist in Bethlehem can see, with the aid of digital images placed on the site, an exhibition in Bethlehem. The medium is virtual, to a certain extent, but the result, or results, are practical, multiple and complex. It ranges from the sense of contact through to real travel and discussion. The commonly held sense that we all live in an equally virtual world is counteracted by the fact that all is not equal, in terms of access and understanding; that even in a virtual, let alone any other, world, real political differences and disjunctures exist. As a title Art School Palestine has a deliberately blunt and naïve tone to it. It promises something different; an idealistic, optimistic, take on the impossibility of one thing being replaced by another. In the initial stage of developing the site, I argued that the Modern Institute in Scotland sounds really effective, and that all reality can happen around a name. Art School Palestine, a rather skippy, schooly-sounding title, makes a sweet conceptual place for the exchange, encouragement, debate, discussion; a centralising force for contemporary art. It was

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stated that the principle is to talk about what happens now, there, and here in England, about real happening and current process, rather than either a website or agency dedicated to individual artists and their imagery, or a homage to Palestine’s considerable cultural heritage. So often, when a young Palestinian is asked to participate in a project or scheme with a young Israeli artist, it is thought that these measures make a difference to “understanding”. Art School Palestine has been adamant, from the start, that it is structurally, and strategically, about something else. The insistence that the site is purely for a relationship to and with Palestine has been crucial. The idea that this may cut down possibility is wrong. It extends possibility by being clear, in terms of place, space and function. When, for instance, an Israeli artist wants to use the site, and many do, that is good, but the possession and contact are concentrated, rather than liberalised out of existence. The site is accessed from everywhere; there are thousands of hits from all over the world. The idea of a website such as this Art School Palestine holds within it a possibility for the future - a template, it has been suggested, to support artists in Burma, for instance. This at least creates the illusion of a structure, a reality that really can undermine any oppressive attempt to destroy or curtail independent creation, culture and communication. © AICA press et l’auteur

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ART

CRITICISM AND CURATORIAL PRACTICE. THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN EXPERIENCE Doreen Sibanda Major historical, ideological and philosophical movements such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, the Industrial Revolution and, more recently, the revolution in Information and Communications Technology, have influenced the ways in which art in the Western world has developed. Formal training, economic patronage and curatorial support have also influenced the development of the arts by national and international pacesetters. In these circumstances, western modern and contemporary art has tended to mirror the major social developments, although at times it has tended to be opposed to the mainstream ideological thrust, reflecting the individual artists’ preoccupations, perception and interpretation of the geo-political environment. In Third World countries, art has tended, in contrast, to be largely functional, reflecting the major aspects of people’s lives and activities of people (i.e. their religious, social and economic activities). The various forms of interaction between the Western World and Third World countries, first through trade, then colonialism and later as interdependent “partners”, have tended to be reflected in artistic developments, and Western art has tended, in consequence, to shed some of its purely formalist attributes. In the end, this has resulted in a closing of the gap between function and contemplation, leading to an art practice today which reflects both modernist and contemporary trends, with an African flavour. Taking Southern Africa as a case study, I will show how art criticism and curatorial practice have undergone a transformation, largely determined by the various historical epochs experienced in the last 100 years. Although the paradigms have differed greatly from those pertaining in the West, there is, indeed, a strange meeting ground and this ground is increasing its territory, as works from both Europe and Africa appear to converge in similar form and content, in the arena of contemporary art. The main historical periods that may be said to have had a bearing on modern and contemporary art in Southern Africa have been the Pre-Colonial era, the Colonial period, the period covered by the Struggles for Decolonisation, the period of Reconciliation and Reconstruction, the Post-Colonial period and the Age of Globalisation. The Pre-Colonial Era Throughout this time, the local population was engaged in art practice, and the earliest known examples were in the area of Rock Art. The early hunter gatherers criss-crossed the country and left behind numerous examples of rock art, wherever they went. These drawings, which are usually to be found on the underside of protected granite outcrops, provide vast galleries of images, mostly of human and animal forms engaged in a variety of activities reflecting the desires and aspirations of the artist, who created this imagery on behalf of the community. Extensive research has been conducted on these images, in order to decipher what they represented and also to understand the state of mind of the artists and what they were seeking to achieve. The work done by Leo Frobenius 41 and Peter Garlake 42 is the closest yet to stating that these early artists were able to put themselves into a trance-like state, and that the images they created in this semi-conscious condition embodied the possibility of some kind of thought or action that would enable them to make sense of the challenges they faced in their daily environment. 41

Rock Paintings from Zimbabwe, ex. cat., Munich, Goethe-Institut, 1983. [??] P.S. Garlake, “Archetypes and Attributes: Rock Paintings in Zimbabwe”, in World Archaeology, vol. 25, no. 3, Reading List. London and New York, Routledge, 1994. 42

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The stone architecture and the accompanying carved stone images found at the court of the Great Zimbabwe and other similar sites in Southern Africa provide us with further examples of pre-colonial art. The appeal of these stone edifices, constructed without mortar consists in the fascinating insight they offer into the architectural and engineering skills of these early inhabitants, whilst the existence of carved stone birds at the site has intrigued many scholars and even politicians, since the time of their discovery. Colonialists assertions claimed that other groups of migrant peoples had created these structures and that it would have been beyond the technical capacity of the African occupants to have created stonework of this quality. Nonetheless, the literary references and archeological finds that have come to light have revealed beyond any shadow of doubt that these buildings were, indeed, an indigenous achievement, and that these structures represented the highest pinnacle of social organisation and nationhood that existed anywhere at that time, on the African continent or beyond. Thus, Pre-Colonial art and aesthetics were largely communal in conception and execution, and there is little doubt that the creators of this work played a privileged role in the community, as they seem to have been given the time and space, fully to exercise and develop their skills. Zimbabwe is thought to have the richest collection of Rock Art anywhere in the world and is richly endowed with stone structures, scattered all over the country. Other aspects of pre-colonial artistic expression largely consist of handcrafted objects that are mainly functional in nature. These include intricate dÊcor, scarification and symbolic patterning on objects such as funerary sticks, dance masks, weaponry, basketry, textiles and objects such a snuff boxes, clothing and adornments, as well as headrests and stools. Extensive research has been conducted on all of these manifestations by a number of local and international scholars including Matenga43 (3), and William Dewey44 (4) . These scholars have contributed to the posing of critical theories on the creation and meaning of all of the above. The existence of both the Natural Museum and Monuments of Zimbabwe and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, with their extensive collections amounting to millions of objects, has meant that they are able to create permanent and special exhibitions that offer insights and interrogative interpretations of these works for the public. Curatorial representation of these pre-colonial items has been mainly ethnographic, although the National Gallery of Zimbabwe staged a number of shows during the 1980s that placed more emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of the work, thus awakening a new interest in their artistic quality and, in the process, stimulating the development of a number of subsequent publications and even enterprises, based on the creation and export of a wide range of hand-crafted objects. Today this type of entrepreneurial production provides the main stimulus for the handicrafts, as the original communal and traditional needs have largely been displaced by modern technology. The Colonial Era Some of the settlers built elaborate art galleries and museums, ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining contact with the metropolis and showcasing aspects of their own heritage and culture. Thus, the National Art Gallery was opened in Rhodesia in 1957 and other National Galleries were also opened in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The National Gallery of Rhodesia featured several international Western European exhibitions and showings, and acquired works by established European Masters. A permanent collection was assembled, at the time of founding the National Gallery and consisted of various collectables hand works created by the settler artists, most of whom lacked professional training, but were able to produce an artistic response to their new environment. Many works acquired during this period depicted the land and the rugged, inaccessible nature of the landscape. Many were also abstract and thus avoided any representation of the human figure – notably, any depiction of the local indigenous population. The colonised peoples also found expression through the creation of works of art. Much of what they created, as early as the 1940s, was of religious inspiration and reflected the teaching and imagery of the Bible, as it had first been presented and interpreted to them. Gifted students 43

Edward Matenga, The Soapstone Birds of Great Zimbabwe, Harare, African Publishing Group, 1998. Legacies of Stone - Zimbabwe Past and Present, vol. 1. Artifacts, ed. William J. Dewey, Tervuren, Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1997. 44

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were encouraged to express themselves, and a biblical iconography was developed, and flourished, at a number of mission stations and churches, including the Serima45 and Cyrene 46 missions in Zimbabwe. It was at these centres that indigenous artists began to practise their craft and to express themselves in modern artistic idioms and materials. Some of the missionaries worked hard to encourage and promote these early works, and some of the artists later resurfaced in the next phase of artistic development, when stone sculpture was introduced and gained increasing popularity in the country, from the 1950s onwards. The story of the development of stone sculpture in Zimbabwe is well known and documented, and the newly founded National Art Gallery played a salient role, in encouraging and supporting would-be artists to work in this newly identified medium. The early stone carvings depicted familiar narrative figures, including simple, rudimentary human and animal form. Shortly, the forms grew more complex the choice of harder stone more challenging, and the tendency to explore ethnographic and ontological ideas more widespread. This was largely as a result of suggestions from settlers, who acted as mentors and were able to convince the emerging artists of the interest such subjects could generate. This was at a time when artists like Picasso were embracing African art, which was depicted as exotic and grotesque and offered an alternative to the bland, conventional images usually associated with European sensibilities. Contemporary Zimbabwean artists, in this formative period, found a niche in the environment provided by the National Gallery and happily embraced the new trend in stone sculpture – the more especially, as their works came to be admired, and even purchased, by well wishers and those interested in forging connections between Rhodesia and Europe and North America. Additional workshops and artists’ colonies emerged during this time in different parts of the country, the most famous of which was the Tengenenge project, situated on a farm several miles from Harare, which became known for its prolific production, strong ethnographic and sometimes grotesque representations, that provided an insight into the nature of the characteristic farmerartists, who came from different part of the region and were first attracted to the farm by the prospect of finding work there. The development of this art form reached it zenith in the 1970s, when it was able to capture the attention of important museums in Paris and New York. This work, constituting a revival of the stone-carving tradition, has subsequently been subjected to a good deal of criticism and discussion. Several international scholars entered the field in the 1980s, including Marion Arnold, with the first book on the subject, entitled Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture. Many other scholars and writers have subsequently written extensively about the stone sculpture of Zimbabwe, and today the literature on the subject is quite extensive 47. In the early days, much of the sculpture that was produced was exhibited at the National Gallery of Rhodesia, but it soon captured the imagination of curators and art critics elsewhere, who were convinced that it offered possibilities for the development of a modern African art, in advance of anything that was being produced anywhere else on the Continent at the time. Curatorial practice in the 1980s and ’90s tended to be more commercial in nature, and the over-exploitation of the work, with high volumes of sales leading to considerable economic success led increasingly to expressions of critical doubt about its intrinsic value. The emergence of other art practices coupled with the death of most of the pioneers of the tone carving movement have led to the displacement of stone sculpture from its once dominant position of critical esteem. The Struggle for De-colonisation As the liberation struggles began to take root in these territories, new elements began to appear in the works of some artists, who sought to depict aspects of the conflict in their work. The new element of discomfort was clearly evident in the work of the Mozambican artist, Malangatana, as well as that of Helen Sibidi from South Africa, among others. Of greater 45

Serima, ed. Albert Plangger, Gweru, Mambo Press, 1974. ‘Cyrene Mission’, in Insight, 1980, vol. 1, Zimbabwe, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, 1980. 47 “Published Books and Writing – the Theoretical/Critical Background to the Stone Sculpture”, a paper presented by Celia Winter-Irving at The Condition of Sculpture Forum, staged at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, September 2005. 46

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importance, however, was the conspicuous absence of images of protest and resistance from the wider body of creative output. Most of the work that was produced at the height of the liberation struggles avoided any direct reference to events. For example, for the ’70s one could count the number of works that directly referred to the struggle in Zimbabwe on one hand. No memorable images of this were created, even in cartoons or illustrations. Few artists of the period made any reference to the events in their work, and the stone carvers continued to explore traditional myths in their work; only John Takawira, from among their number, managed to create a sculpture of a figure with something in his hand which, he later told me, represented a stone and related to some of the disruptions that had occurred in the high density townships, as part of the protests against colonial rule 48. For most artists working in stone, it was business as usual, and one explanation for this could be that the artists were already assured of economic success and simply worked to meet the demands of their patrons and promoters. The painters did not fare any better, in this respect and the only provocative works that were produced during this period were some paintings created by visiting artists and by some artists that began returning to the country around the time of Independence, on completion of some training overseas. Most of the other work was characterised by innocuous landscape imagery, abstractions and mythological scenes and elements. This was seen by a number of commentators to represent a failure of nerve, and became a bone of contention immediately after Independence had been achieved. In spite of this, at the time of Independence the country was the beneficiary of a rich and successful artistic heritage, which was to be nurtured and promoted by the National Gallery, as well as a host of private and commercial galleries, over the next twenty-five years. Post Independence: Reconciliation and Development The period following Independence has seen artists demonstrating a remarkable unity of purpose, in order to gain a foothold in the international art world. For instance, in South Africa, the Johannesburg Biennale was born in 1995 and generated interest worldwide, as art enthusiasts and curators converged on the new city, in order to witness the transformations that were taking place and the role that art was called on to play. International art lovers were ecstatic, and by the time the second edition was staged, it had moved on from being a mere sideshow to attracting the foremost international curators, critics and commentators on contemporary art from all over the world. Throughout the nineties, South Africa seemed to be pulling ahead of the rest of Africa and managed to field artists in many international shows, from which Africans are normally absent. The global art world’s fascination with South Africa resulted in the presentation of many exhibitions of art from this region at international contemporary art events, such as Documenta and the Venice Biennale. In Zimbabwe, this period was marked by the staging of a number of shows that also contributed to presenting a more united face to the world. A number of private galleries which came into being sought to profit from the steady stream of tourists and buyers who came in search of new art and to purchase paintings by a particular artist or collect the stone carvings that had begun to make their appearance in new parts of the world, such as the Netherlands, in the case of the Tengenenge sculptors and a number of other countries, including the United States and South Africa. In addition, the idea for the Harare International Festival of the Arts was mooted in the mid1990s, as a new inclusive festival, that would go on to become one of the most attractive art events of its kind in the annual Zimbabwean calendar and, by the turn of the new millennium, has come to be identified as one of the best festivals of its kind, anywhere in the world. This unity of purpose has helped to attract donors and corporate support, with the result that the sector has begun to take on a more cohesive quality, characterised by a new professionalism in conception, quality of execution and accountability. Moreover, this period showed a marked increase in the number of black art professionals involved with all aspects of art practice and curatorship. Most of the art galleries and museums in 48

Doreen Sibanda, Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture. A Retrospect 1957 – 2004, Harare, Weaver Press, 2004.

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Southern Africa are now staffed by local professionals, and this is an indication of the increase in local capacity and in the availability of suitable training. Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism Well into the postcolonial era, we are once more witnessing a significant shift. This period has begun to be distinguishable, as an outgrowth of the heady days of achieving National Independence. In contrast to the first ten to fifteen years of optimism, the most recent period appears to be marked by some kind of realisation of the fact that Independence often does not mean that all things will be rosy forever afterwards. In fact, the challenges of limited social and economic resources, as well as the increasing flight of human resources in pursuit of new pastures, have resulted in a slowing down of progress and the process of reform. In addition, what at the time of Independence appeared to be a fairly homogenous population fixed on the attainment of the same goal, now turns out to be a cacophony of diverse voices, and this, in turn, impacts on the artist and forces him or her to adopt a certain position, in the face of changes in society and people’s aspirations. Societies are growing more complex, with the divisions between the classes and rich and poor growing ever wider. Social pressure on the limited infrastructure and other resources has led to a crisis of expectation and an explosion, in terms of disadvantaged people and the fallout of sectors of the community that find it increasingly difficult to earn a decent, and honest, living. All this has brought undue pressure to bear on the authorities, and increasingly divergent voices have begun to make themselves heard. The work of artists during this period has likewise begun to reflect growing diversity and some have turned to focus on social issues. Admittedly, the growth of new expressive skills has contributed fundamentally to the work that is now emerging in the region. Firstly, some artists respond in a positive way and several exhibitions have been made of the new sculptures being forged from the recycling of weapons and ammunition in Mozambique 49. In addition, the growth in painting and the two dimensional media in Zimbabwe has led to many more artists choosing to represent their immediate environments in a manner that is objective and narrative. A major cause for this has been the NGZ Art Training Workshop that opened in 1982 and has been the single most important training ground for the schooling of the young would-be artists, many of whom are the main contributors to local and international showings of Zimbabwean art. Most of these artists continue to make their living through the sales of their work, and many works are sold across borders, by artists plying their trade between South Africa and Botswana, where the market is far more buoyant than at home. The growing popularity of installation has lent itself to more outright political engagement, and some works have addressed concrete current challenges such as agriculture, the voting process, the media and food, in sometimes very graphic and explicit ways. This content is a far cry from the early images of traditional myths that dominated much of the local art expression, at its inception. Much of this kind of artistic social realism has surfaced in a variety of group shows with a social theme and shows based on an open submission, but the biggest single demonstration of this was provided by a recent show staged at the Manchester Art Gallery, in England, under the direction of the independent curator, Raphael Chikukwa. Zim VISIONS became one of the most talked about African shows last year, partly for its presentation of contemporary art and, no doubt, partly, because it could be perceived as presenting the Zimbabwe of divergent voices, the sound of which would undoubtedly bring music to the ears of the former colonial power. Within the country, in spite of isolation and other challenges, the artists continue to create art, participate in exhibitions and expand both their aesthetic vocabulary and imaginations. Many more artists are working in the installation format, as well as with photography, and more sculptors are expanding the form and content of stone sculpture, to include a variety of media and a wide range of content. The increase in formal training, the renewed vision of the National Gallery and the proliferation of workshop opportunities has led to diversity in the kind of art that local artists attempt. The rise in media interest and challenges of new curatorial practices have combined to contribute to a much more contemporary outlook to 49

Barbara Murray, “Memento Mori: Art from Arms�, in Gallery Art Journal, September 2001.

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art, and a division between work that is strictly commercial and that which is directed at meeting curatorial challenges and portfolio and residency opportunities, both locally and internationally, is beginning to emerge. The Era of Globalisation The era of globalisation has meant that there is a renewed interest in African art, and this has been demonstrated by the staging of several blockbuster exhibitions in America and Europe over the last ten or so years. In 1995, the Africa ’95 festival was staged in England and sought to present the entire spectrum of African art practice, from the early ethnographic works and established masterpieces to the more modern movements, punctuated by the stone sculpture of Zimbabwe, the Makonde of Tanzania and the new art from South Africa. Various curatorial directions were adopted and showcased in a variety of venues, with a central focus on the role of art education. Contemporary art was largely absent, due to the fact that the organisers found it difficult to establish criteria for “quality”, in relation to the new work that was eligible for consideration50. The last ten years have seen the advent of a new wave of biennales, in which space has been given to African art and art from the Diaspora, and several successful biennales have been established on the continent itself. The most successful of the latter are Dak’Art, in Senegal and the Bamako Meeting of African Photographers, in Mali, which now have a legitimate place alongside the long-established Havana Biennale, in Cuba Africa 05, in the UK, provided a focus for contemporary visual and performing arts from Africa at a selection of venues across the country and the exhibition, Africa Remix, itself one of the components of Africa 050, was a high point in the presentation of African art in Europe, since it travelled to Düsseldorf and Paris, in addition to London and was seen by large audiences in each city. A celebration of artists from the entire continent and inclusive of those residing in the Diaspora, Africa Remix showcased the cutting edge, the experimental, photography, new media and installation, as well as “junk art”, or the transformation of everyday objects into works of art. This exhibition brought together a wide variety of works in different media, in an elegant setting and managed somehow to combine the traditional with the new and to celebrate both functional and aesthetic forms of narrative, shot through with light-hearted gaiety and humour, under the general headings, “Identity and History”, “Body and Soul”, and “City and Land”. In many ways, globalisation has tended to work to the advantage of the contemporary art from Africa and stimulated the appetite for presenting and celebrating the artistic languages that have evolved out of years of cultural conflict and shortage of materials and other resources. African artists are now adept at improvisation and innovation, and at home with exploring new depths of meaning and the symbolism that is a natural aspect of life in Africa and contributes to its constant re-invention and survival. African contemporary art depicts African realities in a manner that demonstrates that, in spite of the years of polar division between the “haves” and the “haves not” and between the dominators and the dominated, what now passes as international contemporary art has retreated back to the basic, the essential, the essence, into the point of intellectual engagement, where the relationship between hand and brain is anchored in the marriage of tradition, technology and ambiguity, in such a way as to open up an entire range of new possibilities. © AICA Press et l’auteur

50

Margaret Garlake, “Africa -95”, in Gallery Magazine, no. 6, December 1995.

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STRATEGIES FOR CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE IN A DEVELOPING CONTEXT: THE YOUNG ARTISTS’ PROJECT Storm Janse van Rensburg My presentation will illustrate innovative strategies, embarked on in the establishment of a platform for experimental visual arts practice in the city of Durban, South Africa, with specific reference to the establishment of the Young Artists’ Project (YAP) at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA). Overview of the Contemporary Art Scene in South Africa Since the advent of democracy in 1994, the visual arts sector in South Africa experienced some radical shifts and changes, the most significant of these being, to date, the opening up of the international art arena after years of isolation, sanctions and cultural boycott. The world opened up to our artists in unprecedented ways and events such as the 1st and 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in 1995 and 1997, that contributed to the interest and promotion of our artists. For more than ten years we have had an international art-world interested in our practice. This “opening up” also exposed our artists to new trends and media and gave legitimacy to marginalised contemporary practice – i.e. artists working in new media, photography, installation and video. It foregrounded neo-conceptual, postmodern practice, and a new generation of artists started to take up its tools and modes of expression. Institutions and audiences did not respond particularly well, and Jane Duncan comments and quotes on this issue in an anthology titled Culture in the New South Africa in an essay on the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, Trade Routes: History and Geography, curated by Okwui Enwezor. She states that “The fact that the works were overwhelmingly multi-media installations, videos and photographs – and in fact all the Trade Routes exhibitions steered away from “Modernist” media like painting and sculpture – also contributed to the exhibition's contemporaneity. This suppression of painting and sculpture – as media that are arguably more popularly accessible as “art” – was heavily criticised as “neither demotic nor democratic”, alienating to South Africans, and “excluding an untold number of artists and artworks”, apparently in an attempt to conform to “valid” international exhibitions such as Documenta'.51 Thus a resistance from institutions, the public and the art market needed, and still needs, to be overcome, and a charm offensive, of sort, is required. That said, the South African art world is a diverse and complex sector, with a vibrant art market, growing infrastructure and increasing State support, with the first Directorate for Visual Arts in the history of the country created in 2004, within the Department of Arts and Culture. The Durban Context Durban is a port city located on the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu Natal province. With its subtropical climate, humidity and moderate winters, it is a popular holiday destination for local tourists. A city with a diverse and heady mix of cultures and influences, Durban is home to approximately three million inhabitants, with an estimated 850 000 living in informal settlements.52

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Culture in the New South Afirca: After Apartheid, ed. R. Kriger and A. Zegeye, vol. 2, Cape Town, Kwela Books, 2001, p. 296. 52 Faizel Seedat, (Manager of Planning: eThekwini City Council), ‘Housing Management and Development in the eThekwini Municipality’, October 2005, www.ddp.org.za/ddpprogrammes/ lg/lg_conference/Seedat%20updated.pp

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Although the busiest container port in Africa53, Durban often suffers from isolation, and culturally is often overlooked. Located off the Johannesburg – Cape Town trajectory, it is still derisively referred to as “The Last Outpost”, a reference to its British colonial heritage, when it was, for a part of its early history, the last colonial outpost in South Africa. It is thus a marginal city, geographical and otherwise. However, the lack of visibility within the larger South African visual arts sector sometimes leads to bigger frustrations. Media focus on the two other large cities is guaranteed, whereas the ability to generate interest and visibility for local practice, artists and activities often requires a thick skin and persistence. The irony is that Durban has produced numerous important South African artists and is known as a breeding ground for interesting and innovative work. However, retaining many of these artists is not a regular occurrence, many leaving the city due to a lack of opportunities and a limited art market and infrastructure, to pursue successful careers in other centres in South Africa and abroad. In comparison to the other large South African cities, Durban has a limited visual arts infrastructure, which comprises the Durban Art Gallery (a museum), various smaller commercial galleries and a Visual Arts Department within the Durban Institute of Technology. Three nongovernmental organisations focus on the visual arts spectrum and collectively span contemporary craft, community-based practice and contemporary art. These are the BAT Centre (home to music, visual art, dance and poetry), the African Art Centre (dedicated to contemporary craft development and housing a small gallery) and the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts, known as the KZNSA, which comprises a complex of four gallery spaces, a gift shop and a restaurant. The KZNSA The KZNSA Gallery is a non-profit, membership-based organisation, with its governing council annually elected from its membership. Established in 1905, it is the oldest visual arts organisation in South Africa, and emerged as a force in the visual arts sector in the mid 1970s. Shedding its colonial, Edwardian image and mentality, the organisation has, for many decades, promoted the visual arts in the province and city. Located in numerous shopping centres and temporary homes, the organisation took a brave and unprecedented step in 1995 and built a custom designed gallery complex in Bulwer Park, close the city centre. Designed by Walters and Cohen, a firm of architects educated in Durban and now based in the UK, the award-winning building catapulted this volunteer-based organisation into a new sphere. The focus of the organisation has shifted since 1998, with the inclusion and promotion of not only member and locally produced work, but also national and international exhibitors. A high turnover of exhibitions is the norm, with an average of 22 exhibitions hosted annually, many coinciding in the various venues and housed for an average of three weeks. A balanced exhibitions programme is maintained, including some commercial exhibitions, as well as non-selling and educational shows. This diversity also describes practice in many media and genres. The phrases “contemporary art” and “contemporary visual culture” were introduced into the organisation’s mission statement in 2000, to describe KZNSA’s activities and its aim of promoting critically challenging and engaged work. This shift was met with resistance from some sectors, particularly from artists working in more traditional and modernist modes, on the basis of a misconception, that such terms would exclude their practice and undermine their relevance. The organisation is largely self-funded, through the generation of sales in the gallery (a small percentage of annual turnover) and, mainly, from the income from the restaurant and gift shop. Grants for specific projects are received from various sources, such as the National Arts Council (nominal) and the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (substantial), as well as from international donors, embassies and the private sector. Overview of the Young Artists Project

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http://www.durban.kzn.org.za/durban/about/129.xml

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Durban, with its hot and humid climate is often seen as a breeding ground for challenging and ground-breaking practice, though there is a paradoxical lack of appropriate platforms for the dissemination of such practice. Even the annual programme at the KZNSA Gallery, a space dedicated to the showcasing of contemporary practice, is limited in the ability to showcase experimental and challenging work, owing partly to the resistance and apathy of a broad section of the exhibition-going public and the lack of familiarity with new forms of contemporary art practice, locally and at an international level. The Young Artists’ Project (YAP) was established in 2002, to provide an institutional platform and framework for the presentation and promotion of new and challenging work, due to the absence of such a forum locally and – as eventually became apparent – started to address a national absence, too. Originally framed as a project for artists based in Durban and other parts of the province, the project now also include artists from other parts of the country and further field. The idea of the Project is to present work in a non-threatening manner, introducing audiences and public to a diversity of contemporary forms and idioms. The Project also encourages debate and seeks ways to engage the public through publications and other communication tools (email, postcards etc.), including public discussion forums and walkabouts. In addition, it attempts to create awareness and larger participation in a local discourse of contemporary art through engaging young writers and critics in its non-exhibition based activities. It creates opportunities for exchange, networking and peer review, thereby establishing a system of interlinked activities, that represents a comprehensive supporting programme. The YAP issues regular open calls for proposals from artists working in all media, including performance, new media, installation, video or sound, to present a solo exhibition of their work or project, of one kind or other. All artists who have not previously held a solo exhibition are eligible, regardless of their age. Four such proposals are selected, each year. The resulting exhibitions and events are accommodated in the multimedia room, a small space measuring 7 x 4 meters, located at the back of the gallery complex. The YAP only accepts new work not shown before, and encourages site-specific installations. Participating artists are assisted, financially and curatorially, in realising more ambitious projects and are provided with, ongoing support and encouragement. They are thus relieved of some of the pressures associated with mounting a first exhibition. Unusually, for the African art world, it awards commissioning fees, provides equipment, installation technicians and expert advice, as well as installation and other materials. To date, sixteen artists have participated in YAP, and the list of participants provides an interesting overview of emerging artists in South Africa. One of the more successful or the early participants has been Thando Mama, then based in Durban and currently living and working in Johannesburg. Mama developed a body of work, which interrogated black male identity, through a series of searing and intense self-portraits. Since his participation in The Project, Mama has developed a considerable profile in the contemporary art world in South Africa, and internationally. His installation, Back to Me, first presented in the YAP, won the Prix de la Communauté de Belgique at the Dakar Biennale, in 2004. However, the YAP is not fixated on producing young art stars, but attempts critically to engage local practices, by focusing on, and harnessing, existing experiments and activities. Equally, it also attempts to bring practice that might not fit strictly into preconceived notions of a visual arts format into the rubric of contemporary visual culture and to provide a platform for it. Thus, practitioners that fall outside, and prefer to work outside, the strict parameters of their given discipline can find a temporary home for their practice at the KZNSA, and are provided with a supportive environment and a critical audience for their work The practice of Doung Anwar Jahangeer, an experimental architect based in Durban, falls into this ill-defined category of “alternative practices”. Jahangeer presented his installation, the Parking Plot Project during 2003, and explored in-between spaces in the city and the means by which the management structures of the state and the city control and manipulate the lives of the inhabitants. Jahangeer’s interest in, and work with, a homeless community living within the Central Business District of Durban, has informed his practice for a long time and culminated in the installation he made for the YAP, in conjunction with two leaders from the homeless

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community. The installation became a site for criticism of the municipal government and its inner city rejuvenation policies, which favour the “beautification” and clearing away unwanted elements such as the homeless, as opposed to long-term solutions incorporating humane and socially responsible programmes. A collaborative project was presented in 2004 by Dean Henning and Rike Sitas, a team that has produced video and sound collaborations, as DJ. and VJs, in the alternative club scene in Durban. Working as a computer programmer and social researcher, respectively, Henning and Sitas presented an interactive, digitally scripted narrative, that invited manipulations from the audience, through interaction with an-old fashioned control desk. By pushing buttons at random, viewers could manipulate images projected onto a screen and change the narrative elements. The installation, which was aptly titled “a city”, constituted a potent and visually compelling, exploration of the urban landscape. It was also accompanied with an especially composed electronic music score. The presentation of interactive environments is a recurring theme, and offers a challenge to the passive viewing habits associated with the traditional white cube. In 2005, Vaughn Sadie presented Spill Light, which required a minimal action from the audience to activate the installation space, by switching on lights in a random grid; whilst Colleen Alborough created a more challenging spatial, aural and visual experience, in her installation titled Night Journey, where viewers negotiated a maze of handmade felt screens, activating sound and video elements, to discover an environment reference dream and deep sleep. Performance practices in a gallery environment are, by their very nature, paradoxical. On one level, the gallery is seen as a public space, but more often it attempts to replicate the “black box” conditions of the theatre. Mlu Zondi challenged these notions with his performance installation, Identikit in 2005, by presenting a site-specific work within the gallery, and adding to this a parallel performance project, taking place simultaneously in the public domain, such as the inner city market and the beachfront. Documentation of these public performances was introduced into the gallery at intervals throughout the exhibition, so that the amount of visual material on display increased, as the project progressed. Peter Van Heerden’s Bok (or “goat”, directly translated from Afrikaans), presented in 2006, similarly broke out of the safe confines of the gallery walls, by creating an environment in the public park adjacent to the KZNSA Gallery. This environment, built from found objects and scavenged materials, became a performance space that could also be described as a live art installation, with the artist living on site for the duration of its set-up, engaging with passers-by and residents from the surrounding neighbourhood. Together with a collaborator, André Laubscher, Van Heerden presented a challenging work interrogating masculinity and “whiteness” based on an historic photograph of an Afrikaner being executed by a British firing squad during the Anglo-Boer War. This point of departure led on to an exploration of other political executions during South Africa’s turbulent history, such as the torture and killing of people by the apartheid government, and showed up the links between violence, patriotism and patriarchy. On completion of each cycle of four exhibitions a year, a small format catalogue is produced, and young, preferably unpublished, writers are invited to interpret and contextualise the practice of the participants and their projects. The editorial process involves a three-way conversation between the curator (who also acts as editor), the artist and the writer, with drafts circulating and being shaped through a process of amendment and discussion. It is a time consuming process, but has paid off considerably, as this is also an empowering process for young writers. The resultant publication is an important resource in the YAP chain of products, and a useful tool for promoting the artists and writers concerned. The publications are distributed to museums, galleries, curators and other VIP’s in South Africa and abroad. Each new project ended with a three-day seminar, at which the project is examined and discussed in a variety of formal and informal forums – Four prominent South Africa speakers are invited to speak at this, and to deal with an overarching theme related to current trends in contemporary art. The most recent conference, held in May 2005, explored the connectivity of South Africa with practitioners and institutions from the rest of Africa and went under the provocative title of Back(s) to Africa: Contemporary Practice and our Links with the Continent.

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This title attempted to articulate the disjointed and complex relationship that South Africa has with the rest of the continent. On one level the country returned to being a part of Africa after the collapse of apartheid policies, and this not only isolated it from its neighbours, but attempted the seemingly impossible feat of cutting it off from them altogether. At the same time, this relationship with Africa had been fraught with xenophobia and distrust, and generally informed by a lack of knowledge and cultural disengagement. Large South African companies are avidly seeking to exploit the new markets opened up in the region, but cultural institutions and artists have failed to follow suit and continue, instead, to focus on the more easily accessible markets and exhibition spaces in Europe and North America. The potential to explore and develop intercontinental networks is further impeded by poor infrastructure and underdeveloped communication channels. It is within this context that the YAP and the KZNSA started to articulate their own relationship and position within the context of practices on the continent. This also locates the institution’s experience and reach, as something that is not bound by the limitations of geographical location, but becomes an arena for action and intervention within the complex and unarticulated spaces for contemporary visual arts practice throughout the region. The seminar format has been devised to function as three equally weighted forums. The first of these provides ample opportunity for social and informal networking and is closely followed by a closed session, where the artists themselves have an opportunity to address and present their projects to a small invited audience consisting of curators, gallerists, academics and artists. This allows constructive feedback on their projects and also introduces visiting delegates to the context of the artist concerned. The third, public or open, session is arranged for the last day, when delegates present formal papers to an audience consisting of students and the general public. The seminar is intended to provide networking opportunities for the participants and for other artists and practitioners, working and living in Durban. Often the invited guests from elsewhere come to Durban for the first time and get an opportunity to engage, and get acquainted, with local artists and practice. A new addition to the project is the establishment of an annual critical writing workshop, titled Critical Voices, which is intended systematically and professionally to empower new voices with the skills for analytical and critical reflection on contemporary art, through writing. The idea for the workshop developed out of a need identified in the process of finding writers for the project catalogue. The course is broken down into eight sessions, over a total of four consecutive weeks. The workshop is led by Sean O’Toole, a respected local journalist and the current editor of Art South Africa magazine who also developed the curriculum. Selections of writings emanating from any of the workshops are printed in the form of newssheets, which are then distributed to everyone on the organisation’s mailing list. Over the past couple of years, The Project has been supported by numerous fenders, and I would like to acknowledge ProHelvetia and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for the first grant that kick started the venture, in 2002. The most recent fenders include the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. In conclusion, Sue Williamson, the founding editor of the South African contemporary art website, www.artthrob.co.za and a prominent artist, had the following to say: “… the YAP project has found its way into the national art consciousness… (it) is being seen, in a country where scraping together the money to pay for the production costs of an exhibition can be almost impossible, as an ambitious programme which offers funding, curatorial support and a showcase exhibition to those young artists putting forward a sufficiently strong proposal… one felt that the YAP process had given each (participating artist) the opportunity to properly think through their ideas, their concept and their presentation, and thus the final work which was put before the public was rounded and satisfying.” © AICA Press et l’auteur

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LIST OF SPEAKERS Ahu Antmen Lecturer at Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts, Istanbul and a founding member of AICA Turkey. Meskerem Assegued Director of Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Bassam El-Baroni Independent critic and co-founder of Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF). Sacha Craddock Art critic, incl. The Guardian and co-founder, The Art School in Palestine. Zoran Eric Ph.D Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, since 2002 Niilofur Farrukh President of AICA Pakistan; art critic and founding editor of Pakistan’s new art magazine, Nukta. Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa. Khaled Hafez Artist and curator, Cairo. Storm Janse van Rensburg Independent curator, Cape Town; formerly curator for the KwaZulu Natal Society of Art Gallery, Durban; founder member of the Visual Art Network of South Africa. Mutheu Mbondo Programme Manager, Kuona Trust, Nairobi. Henry Meyric Hughes President of AICA; President of the International Foundation Manifesta (IFM); independent curator and writer on art. Sajid Rizvi Publisher and Founding Editor of Eastern Art Report and East Asia Journal; publisher and editor of Art Criticism Today, a new quarterly magazine for arts criticism; series editor for Saffron Press, incl. the African Art and Society Series. Doreen Sibanda Director, National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Ramόn Tio Bellido General Secretary of AICA; independent art critic and curator; chief editor of Ars Nova Mediteranea, Barcelona and AICA Press, Paris. Stephen Wright Independent curator and art critic; Programme Director at the Collège internationale de philosophie, Paris and Professor of Philosophy at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Toulon.

© AICA Press, 2007.

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ADDIS ABABA - Three-Day Combined Seminar and Workshop Organised by the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) Paris, and Zoma Conte...

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