New book on cultural institutions in the Middle East

Ibraaz is pleased to announce the publication of our third book in the Visual Culture in the Middle East series, Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East.futureimperfect_cover

Buy the book via the Sternberg Press website and on Amazon.de.

Read the introduction, “Critical Propositions and Institutional Realities in the Middle East” by Anthony Downey, by clicking here.

#FutureImperfect critically examines the role played by cultural institutions in producing present-day and future contexts for the production, dissemination and reception of contemporary art in the Middle East and North Africa.

It offers critical contexts for a discussion that has become increasingly urgent in recent years – the role of culture in a time of conflict and globalization – and an in-depth critique of the historical state of cultural institutions in an age of political upheaval, social unrest, exuberant cultural activity, ascendant neoliberal forms of privatization, social activism, and regional uncertainty.

Organised around three key areas, Future Imperfect draws attention to the specific antagonisms that have affected cultural production across the region, both in historical and more recent post-revolutionary contexts, and offers an in-depth discussion of how cultural producers have developed alternative institutional models through their practices. How cultural institutions operate within the conditions of a global cultural economy, and alongside the often conflicting demands they place on cultural production in the region, is likewise an over-arching concern throughout this volume.

While the politics of contemporary cultural production and institutional practices in the Middle East can tell us a great deal about local and regional concerns, one of the cornerstone ambitions of this volume is to enquire into what they can also impart about the politics of global cultural production, including the multiple ways in which contemporary art practices are being reduced, willingly or otherwise, to the logic of global capital. What, in sum, is needed in terms of infrastructure for cultural production today, and how, crucially, can we speculatively propose new infrastructures and institutions in the context of present-day regional realities?

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Monira Al Qadiri, Myth Busters VIII, 2014.

Future Imperfect contains essays, interviews, and projects from contributors including Monira Al Qadiri, Hoor Al-Qasimi, Anahi Alviso-Marino, AMBS Architects, Stephanie Bailey, Eray Çaylı, Rachel Dedman, Elizabeth Derderian, Anthony Downey, Karen Exell, Reema Salha Fadda, Wafa Gabsi, Hadia Gana, Adalet R. Garmiany, Baha Jubeh, Suhair Jubeh, Amal Khalaf, Kamel Lazaar, Jens Maier-Rothe, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Doreen Mende, Lea Morin, Jack Persekian, Rijin Sahakian, Gregory Sholette, Tom Snow, Ania Szremski, Christine Tohme, Toleen Touq, Williams Wells, Ala Younis and Yasmine Zidane.

The publication is accompanied by a collection of special projects from Leila Al-Shami, Wided Rihana Khadraoui, Lois Stonock, Nile Sunset Annex, Alia Rayyan and Hussam al-Saray. Click here to view the online projects commissioned for Future Imperfect.

 

Other titles in the Visual Culture in the Middle East series, edited by Anthony Downey, include Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015); and Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (2014).

 The production of this book was accomplished through the generous support of the Kamel Lazaar Foundation.

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Palestinian dance troupe Badke head to the UAE

Ahead of dance troupe Badke’s UAE premiere at the NYUAD Arts Centre on 9 September 2016, here’s a re-post of my interview with dramaturg and choreographer Hildegard De Vuyst. We caught up when Badke were invited to perform at the Southbank Centre in London for the Shubbak Festival 2015.

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Badke © DannyWillems

Aimee Dawson: Badke is a take on the traditional Palestinian dance dabke but it is fused with contemporary elements. The performance itself is not an outright assertion of Palestinian identity but is rather trying to find a sense of Palestinian belonging, both nationally and internationally. Was bringing a contemporary side to the traditional dance an important element in getting across that message?

Hildegard De Vuyst: Dabke has been built over years and is the result of an ongoing dialogue with a variety of Palestinian performance artists, whatever their background. We were regularly visiting Palestine and having all of these exchanges in the form of workshops. The three co-creators, Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero and myself, had worked with a group of ten Palestinian dancers in 2009 and it was then that we understood that bringing in contemporary dance was not an easy thing to do or to cope with – you come across a lot of big issues that are related to politics, colonialism, aesthetics and values. Everything in this piece has been negotiated with the dancers – the material is theirs. This was important so that the dancers could really defend it – the dance is made up of their own proposals and they know exactly why it is there and what it means. We started with the dabke dance for this reason but also because this is what the Palestinians have to offer the world of dance – it’s not contemporary but it’s theirs. This is what they all have as a starting point, this collective dance that is connected to the soul. So for us, to start from dabke meant starting with their strength and what they have to offer and not from what they are supposedly lacking.

AD: The ten Palestinian dancers come from a variety of dance backgrounds. Was it important for you to showcase these differences?

HDV: Yes, the other thing that was important for us was working with non-professionally trained dabke dancers. There are lots of trained dabke companies in Palestine that really know what they are doing but we wanted to work with individuals, not an already-established group. We also wanted to work with people who were from a variety of different backgrounds in terms of training, socio-economic position, and geographic location. Two come from the Palestinian Circus School; two have come from Israel and have had training at Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company; three come from Serreyet Ramallah Dance Company; one from El-Funoun Popular Dance Troupe; and three are completely self-taught – two are from a refugee camp near Nablus and one is the Palestinian kickboxing champion! And so the element of ‘contemporary’ comes from each dancer bringing their own experience to the performances and sharing with one another. It is a very diverse group of people with different things to offer. What was a triumph for me was that the piece was actually embraced by the traditional dance companies.

AD: There is always the concern when you are reinterpreting a traditional dance of national significance that it will be in some way offensive. But I read that, at a show you did in Palestine, a very traditionally dressed woman came up afterwards and said, “When my girls grow up I want them to be like that”. The audience for that show was also huge despite concerns that this type of dance wouldn’t be accepted. It must be really great to get such a positive reaction, particularly in Palestine where this performance has extra significance and resonance.

HDV: Yes, they somehow really felt like we respected the tradition and that at the same time found a way to deal with something that was contemporary. I think it is mostly in the composition of the piece that you find the contemporary, through the use of space; the use of the group versus the individual and then the re-emersion of the individual back into the group again. It is almost a reflection of Palestinian society on an existential level.

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Behind the scenes: Badke working with the Congolese dance company Ballet Arumbaya Ndendeli in Kinshasa. Photo courtesy of Samaa Wakeem.

AD: One of the things that stands out in the videos and reviews for Badke are the comments on the overwhelming energy and positivity of the piece. Do you think that this is just part of the nature of the dabke dance or is it something that you really wanted to portray?

HDV: Part of it is in the nature of the dance because it’s very affirmative, with a lot of stamping and shoulder shakes. There is an affirmation of “I belong here” and creating a connection with the ground is a very joyful thing. But we were particularly interested in dabke as a social dance rather than the way that it is often portrayed on stage where it’s often used as a representation of Palestinian suffering. For us, the piece is a feast – a wedding but without a bride and a groom! It has this energy that Palestinian weddings parties often have, this wild energy which is also a way to release tension and energy that can’t go anywhere else. So the energy and the vitality of it is one part. But for me, it should also be read as a party that goes on for too long. It’s exhausting itself and emptying itself. For us in the end it’s like the people in this party cannot stop dancing but just have to continue. They turn in rounds and they keep turning – they cannot go anywhere, they cannot stop. It becomes painful. For us it’s a reflection of what is going on right now in Palestine. They are stuck and they cannot stop resisting. They have to go on but it’s not going anywhere. So it ends in a section that is both dream-like and nightmarish, of both joy and pain. That’s what we aim for. Sometimes it’s clearer than others – over time, as the dancers have improved their stamina, it has become more acted whereas before they were genuinely feeling this emotion of pain!

AD: This is the first time that Badke has been to the UK but it has travelled to other places, too. Can you tell us about the tour?

HDV: Yes, it is a tour with a great deal of contrast. Recently we took it to Salzburg and after that we went to Kinshasa. The Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg (KVS, The Royal Flemish Theatre) put on a festival in Kinshasa called Connexion Kin and so we included Badke. For the Congolese dancers there is a lot of traditional material still there but it is sometimes translated rather problematically into the contemporary world of dance – you would never find a traditional Congolese dance company at a contemporary dance festival and we wondered why.

While Dabke were in Kinshasa they met with a traditional Congolese dance company called Ballet Arumbaya Ndendeli and it was an incredible experience. The dancers worked together, like an exchange, for two days. They each taught the other a phrase from their own choreography. The Palestinians were really inspired by the Congolese body movements – in dabke there is no movement between the chest and the knees – and suddenly in Kinshasa they discovered their pelvis! It’s incredible how it changed their relationship to their bodies and I’m sure now Badke will look different than before!

Book tickets to see Badke’s at NYUAD Arts Centre, 9 September 2016, here.

Read this interview on the Shubbak Festival blog here.

Science fiction in the Holy Land

Can science fiction help solve the Israel-Palestine conflict? For the London-based artist Larissa Sansour and her partner and main collaborator Søren Lind the answer could be written in the stars.

Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.
Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (2009). Courtesy of the artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sansour, one of Palestine’s best-known artists, uses video and photography to reimagine current events in the Middle East. The political nature of Sansour’s works has courted controversy: she was removed fr om the shortlist for the 2011 Lacoste Prize, she claimed for being “too-Palestinian”. The prize was cancelled that year.

Her best-known works include A Space Exodus (2009), a video that follows a fictional Palestinian woman astronaut’s landing on the moon, and Nation Estate (2012), a short film that envisages a dystopian Palestine as a skyscraper, with each floor representing a Palestinian city.

In her latest film, In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain (2015), Sansour reflects on a tendency in the region to base political legitimacy and land entitlement on archaeological evidence. Together, the films form a sci-fi trilogy on the Middle East. The films will be part of several exhibitions taking place in the UK this year, kicking off at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham this week (15 January-13 March).

Continue reading on The Art Newspaper.

Studio Daze

From ‘Scenes and Types’ to Shehrazade and El Sham: studio photography in the Arab world

An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock
An early 20th century French Scenes and Types postcard of an Algerian girl published by Lehnert and Landrock

The value of a photograph – its principle charm, at least – is its infallible truthfulness. We may have long revelled in the poetry of the East; but this work enables us to look, as it were, upon its realities1.

So said the 19th century Orientalist, Sophia Poole. Poole’s perception of photography’s unique ‘claim to truth’2 was widely held by early photographers from the West, to whom the colonial realms of the Middle East provided their principal training grounds3. In her seminal book, On Photography, Susan Sontag challenged the ‘presumption of veracity’ that had long been associated with photography, arguing that photographs are ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings’4. But to what extent is this appreciated today? Whilst many claim to have developed their understanding of the art from the idea of a visualised ‘truth’ to a moment of representation, people continue to search for realities within photographs, particularly withinarchives. How useful is it to mine such documents for historical and social ‘realities’? Can these momentary representations of individuals, as captured in a photograph, be extrapolated to speak of an entire society, time, or people?

Continue reading on Reorient website.