Silke Schmickl on body politics, video and the moving image at Beirut Art Fair 2014 – curator interview



The Curator of the Video Projects programme at Beirut Art Fair 2014 tells Art Radar about experimental cinema in Asia and Africa.

Silke Schmickl, Director of Paris-based film and curator label Lowave and Curator of the Video Projects sector at this year’s Beirut Art Fair, provides an insight into the changes in video art over the last decade. Beirut Art Fair will be held from 18 to 21 September 2014.

Sookoon Ang, 'Exorcise Me', 2013, video, 3:13 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Sookoon Ang, ‘Exorcise Me’, 2013, video, 03m:13s. Image courtesy the artist.

Beirut Art Fair was founded in 2010 and is dedicated to art from the ME.NA.SA (Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia) region, stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. The 2014 edition will see the participation of nearly fifty art and design galleries in Beirut, Lebanon. The Fair will include a pavilion dedicated to Indian contemporary art, as well as an exclusive platform for Lebanese designers.

There will also be a programme of experimental cinema and video from the region, curated by Silke Schmickl. The theme for this programme is “Body Politics”, and according to the Fair website, it will consist of 

a series of art films that explore how contemporary artists comment on current political and social issues by means of their own bodies or those of others.

Schmickl is an independent curator, as well as the co-founder and Director of Lowave, which has grown over the past decade to constitute a curatorial platform of research in the field of moving images. Lowave has published a number of DVDs of experimental cinema and video art from around the world and has curated film programmes internationally, including at Contemporary Art Platform (Kuwait, 2014), Incubate Festival (The Netherlands, 2013), Institute of Contemporary Arts (Singapore, 2013), the third Guangzhou Triennial (2008) and across France.

Art Radar asked Silke Schmickl about the upcoming programme of the Beirut Art Fair, and how video art has changed over the years.

Sarnath Banerjee, 'Sophistication', 2009-2010, video, 5 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Sarnath Banerjee, ‘Sophistication’, 2009-2010, video 4:3, 05m:00s. Image courtesy the artist.

Could you tell our readers about Lowave, the label dedicated to experimental film, video art and the moving image that you co-founded in 2002 and presently direct?

Lowave started as a publishing house for video art and experimental film in 2002. We wanted to create a new marketplace for artist films beyond the gallery and festival circuits, and Lowave was one of the first art film labels of its kind in the world. At that time, it was difficult to see artists’ films and DVD was a great way to make them accessible and help them travel outside these established networks. After VHS tapes, DVD technology was revolutionary and allowed us to develop an editorial line to curate thematic, regional and monographic programmes and to enrich them with artist interviews, critical texts, image galleries and biographies.

Our DVDs were mainly sold in museums, film and art shops, as well as bigger retail chains such as Fnac, Virgin or Amazon. They were also bought by educational, film or art-related institutions which started renting the programmes for public screenings and exhibitions. That’s how Lowave became a distributor and a programmer. We later also started some film production with artists we liked and who needed structural support. I always thought that it was interesting how we did everything the other way round – the traditional way would have been to produce, distribute and then publish. Our development was always intuitively driven, based on observations, human encounters and artistic desires, much more than economic strategies.

In recent years, Lowave has turned more into a platform for curatorial research, principally of moving images: exhibition concepts, film programming and performances, production of audiovisual projects, artistic consultations, teaching and workshops are Lowave’s main focus today. Distribution has become a side activity, and we have decided to stop DVD publishing this year as the market is slowly disappearing. The singularity of Lowave’s work is still the same – its international scope, with a strong interest in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, interdisciplinary and intercultural crossings, and highlighting emerging artists.

Lowave is now 12 years old. Over this period of time, how have video art and experimental cinema evolved? And, how has Lowave’s focus shifted or expanded over these years?

The video art changes have been closely linked to the change of technology. Twelve years ago, some of the video artists we worked with just came out of their first experiences with numatic, high-8 or even VHS tapes. The first editing softwares were basic, and the editing style was still very much inspired by analog film editing techniques. There was also a passion for some basic effects, such as the mirror or split-screen effect, which were found in numerous works of that period. It was also the time when all of a sudden video works could be accomplished in total autonomy. Even artists with no technical background dared to experiment with the available and affordable image and sound tools and realised works without support from production houses or galleries. This is still true today, but I feel that many artists have returned to a more collaborative approach, because of interest but also because of the necessity to create a more solid framework to increase the chance for their work to be seen.

The situation of experimental film has always been slightly different. Traditional experimental film coops, which were born out of the desire to share experiences, analog film knowledge, laboratories and technical support, still continue. These groups have always worked closely together and still do, especially now that it has become more difficult to access analog film.

Lowave’s focus has not changed that much over the last decade, and we are still interested in combining works of different genres and techniques. We select the films we want to distribute in regards to our programmes and exhibitions, and pay attention to the sincerity of the artistic approach, the formal quality of the works and how they engage a mutual dialogue. One of today’s key questions is the editing of content, the montage, and this has always been one of our major concerns in the process of curating. In recent years, we have added more works from Asia (Human Frames) and Africa (IN/FLUX) and maybe some more narrative films and creative documentaries than we did in the beginning.

Monira Al Qadiri, 'Oh Torment (Wa waila)', 2008, 10 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Monira Al Qadiri, ‘Oh Torment (Wa waila)’, 2008, 10m:00s. Image courtesy the artist.

You are curating the Video Projects section of the Beirut Art Fair in September 2014. What was your curatorial approach? Who are the selected artists and on what basis were these selections made?

When Laure d’Hauteville and Pascal Odille invited me to curate this year’s video programme for the Beirut Art Fair, I wanted to find a way to connect Lowave’s research and the fair’s innovative approach that goes far beyond a simple art market with numerous side projects such as conferences and exhibitions. I felt that both structures dared to go into territories where not many do.

The theme of “Body Politics” then came quickly to my mind as it is one of the striking themes in video art from the Middle East and North Africa. Due to censorship and difficult production contexts, a number of important video artists from the region used their own body to make a political or social statement, to criticise and reflect on the mobility and also immobility of the region. Based on this idea, I continued my film research in South Asia and South East Asia and selected 16 works in total.

The programme presents video art pieces but also some super-8 films, performance films and documentaries, each less than 10 minutes in duration so that the visitors get a chance to see them in their total duration. I have selected works created over the last ten years by ten female and six male mid-career artists: Sookoon Ang, Sarnath Banerjee, Taysir Batniji, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Halida Boughriet, Khaled Hafez, Barbara Hlali, Katia Kameli, Lucky Kuswandi, Waheeda Mallulah, Ferhat Özgür, Monira Al Qadiri, Larissa Sansour, Shirin Abu Shaqra, Suleiman Brothers and Tan Chui Mui.

Is video art a popular medium in the ME.NA.SA region or is it catching on? How is video art in this region different from that in other regions, like Europe – are there any unifying themes, issues or motifs that set it apart?

Video art is definitely a popular medium in the ME.NA.SA region, and I would personally count some of the video artists from the region among the most interesting in the world.

It is, however, difficult to attribute characteristics to a region without stereotyping it. When I initiated Human Frames, a cross cultural video art project on ten human emotions spanning from Portugal to Indonesia, I was interested in discovering regional specificities and differences, especially between Asia and Europe. After a two year-long research and after having composed the ten programmes, we could confirm that there is an omnipresent “globalised” language that appears to be dominant in regards to cultural or regional particularities. By using the same cameras, the same editing softwares and sound tools, it is nowadays often hard to tell where a video was made and how it is attached to a specific visual culture.

What I have always appreciated about video art from the Middle East and North Africa is its commitment to the treated subject matters that are often political or socially challenging. One can feel the necessity of these works. I am also very receptive to the visual and textual poetry that is inherent in many of these works, and also the humour and irony which are powerful means to resist. More than in other art disciplines, these video works have been quickly connected to other international avant-garde movements, which is certainly due to their mobility and handiness.

Taysir Batniji, 'Transit', 2004, 6:32 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Taysir Batniji, ‘Transit’, 2004, 06m:32s. Image courtesy the artist.

The theme of the Video Projects section at BAF is “body politics”. Could you elaborate on the theme, and why it was chosen? How have some artists and films tackled the theme?

I can introduce the text that I have written on the programme for the exhibition catalogue: There is a camera. And a body. Both in motion, meeting and observing each other, reflecting on each other’s capacity to produce forms and consequently a visual idea. Synchronisation, then desynchronisation; frictions appear that reflect the state of a world that is characterised by tensions, obsolete systems and preconceived opinions. “Body Politics” is an art film programme that explores how contemporary artists comment on current political and social issues by means of their own bodies or those of others. Ranging from video art to experimental cinema, documentaries and performative experiences, the selection highlights how the individual can react to the bigger and rigid body of our globalised societies by exploding conventional production modes and viewing patterns. Through personal, ironic and poetic approaches, the artists invent a new visual language and take us on a cinematic journey that reintroduces a notion of humanity.

As I mentioned before, there is a large number of interesting video works coming from the Middle East and North Africa that reflects on the potential of the body to question, denounce or re-imagine the state of the world and in particular the region. If all of the works are political, they use different strategies to communicate their ideas, whether it be humour as in Khaled Hafez’s The A77A project. On presidents and superheroes, Zoulikha Bouabdellah’s Dansons or in The Suleiman Brothers’ Rojak!; irony as in Sarnath Banerjee’s Sophistication, Monira Al Qadiri’s Oh torment (Wa waila) or Larissa Sansour’s As Space Exodus; or self-experienced situations such as Taysir Batniji’s Transit or Halida Boughriet’s Les illuminés, to mention just a few examples.

You have curated film programmes around the world. One such exhibition was “Resistance[s]” at the 3rd Guangzhou Triennial in 2008, which also focused on artists from the Middle East and North Africa. Could you tell us more about it and the response it evoked, especially considering its location?

I was invited in 2008 by Khaled D. Ramadan to be part of the Middle Eastern Video Art Channel that he set up for the third Guangzhou Triennial I in China. I was delighted to participate with our Resistance[s] vol. 1 and vol. 2 collection (vol. 3 was only released in 2010). It was one of the first opportunities for us to show the programme in a museum or triennial context. We installed the videos on a series of monitors, side by side, in a long occulted piece and some of them on a bigger screen.

The reaction of the audience was overwhelming. Many visitors told me that they had never seen these kinds of images from the Middle East before. They were used to the typical media images – war scenes, checkpoints, veiled women – but had never experienced the visual power of video art works and experimental films from the region. It was fantastic to see how these works resounded in this context in a very special way and how the audience could relate to it. The theme of the Triennial, “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” was also the perfect framework for the programme.

Waheeda Mallulah, 'Coloured Photographs', 2008, 1:40 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Waheeda Mallulah, ‘Coloured Photographs’, 2008, 01m:40s. Image courtesy the artist.

As mediums, how do video art and the moving image fare with art collectors? Are people becoming more open to collecting video and film?

I think it is still difficult for emerging artists to sell single channel video pieces within the classical fair context. Many collectors prefer to buy an object that can be easily hung and exhibited within their collection. The format might also be tricky when it comes to sales: do you sell the digital file, a Beta tape, a film reel? What edition: 3, 5, 50? All these questions have to be thoroughly thought through, and there is still no universal answer to it. In the end, every artist has to deal with it in his or her own way. It also depends on the nature of the piece: some more narrative or documentary pieces might enter specific film collections, some more abstract pieces could become part of design collections, and so on.

The situation is different for video art installations or specifically conceived objects that include video art or film. They might evoke the uniqueness and auratic presence of an object or sculpture and are more likely to get sold.

At Lowave, we have experienced some changes in recent years. Ten years ago we had difficulties in dealing directly with galleries as they saw our non-limited DVDs – on which the videos were published in good quality – as a threat to their own limited market where a video that we sold for EUR 25 could be sold for EUR 5000. Gradually, their attitude changed as more and more artists put their videos on Vimeo and other online platforms. I also remember that Zineb Sedira for example had already sold the limited gallery editions of her video Don’t do to her what you did to me and then convinced her gallerist Kamel Menour to agree to its publication on Resistance[s] vol. 2. As a matter of fact, the video had hardly been seen as it was part of private collections. That’s where Lowave’s work always became precious, as it provided a wider exposure to videos that otherwise did not exist because they were sold in such exclusive circuits.

What, according to you, are the issues and challenges that video art or artists face today?

The basic challenges for video artists are the same as for other artists: where to find the money to produce the work, how to promote, distribute or sell it later. With an increasingly permeable fusion of the art and film market, there seem to be more possibilities for artists working with the moving image as they can be produced or exhibited in the gallery and museum contexts as well as at film festivals. Despite these widened possibilities, things are not that easy and artists can also get trapped in between.

In cinema-related events it’s normal to receive a screening fee, which is not the case in the art world. As many experimental works are self-produced this might be the only way to earn some money. A gallery might invest in the production of a work, counting on sales afterwards. If this does not happen, it might be a one-time experience for an artist. There are many scenarios I could evoke where video artists got torn between two systems as the rules are not clear, and not every piece is suitable for both markets. The promotion and exhibition is still another aspect that remains challenging even if today’s technology allows an artists to self-distribute his or her work in various channels (internet, vod platforms, festival distribution etc.). The moving image is certainly the medium of our time and yet as an art form still difficult to handle.

Barbara Hlali, 'Revolution contra Revolution', 2009, 3:56 min. Image courtesy the artist.

Barbara Hlali, ‘Revolution contra Revolution’, 2009, 03m:56s. Image courtesy the artist.

Do you have any personal favourites from among the works you have selected for Beirut Art Fair’s Video Projects?

I would not use the word favourites, but I definitely feel particularly close to some of the selected works and artists. Sookoon Ang’s, Barbara Hlali’s and Taysir Batniji’s artistic sensibility speaks to me in a special way, and not only the works presented here. I am also very receptive to Khaled Hafez and Sarnath Banerjee’s subversive humour and the visual power and subtle irony of Monira Al Quadiri’s work.

What are Lowave’s other current and upcoming projects?

We are currently working on a bigger project with Singaporean artists for the Singapore Festival in France in spring or summer 2015 in Paris. Under the title “Singapour mon amour”, we curate a series of art events dedicated to contemporary photography, video art, performance and literature in order to outline a portrait of the Southeast Asian city state and its emerging art scene. The events will be supplemented by a colloquium and an online publication. This online platform will then be further developed on other subjects and regions. Some components of the project will also be shown in Singapore – the film programme, for instance, will be screened at the Institute for Contemporary Arts during Art Stage Singapore in January 2015.

Kriti Bajaj

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Related Topics: promoting art, art fairs, film, video art, interviews, events in Lebanon

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Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin reflects on oppression in Arab society – in pictures



Shurooq Amin bridges the personal and the political in a new exhibition at Ayyam Gallery Dubai. 

Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin presents a new series of mixed-media works that poignantly reflect on social maladies and political injustices.

Shurooq Amin, 'Pipe Dreams', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Pipe Dreams’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Ayyam Gallery Dubai is hosting a solo exhibition for Kuwaiti/Syrian artist Shurooq Amin from 14 September to 30 October 2014. Featuring diverse materials and themes, “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love” continues to explore the role of women in Arab society and further provokes reflection on wider sociopolitical issues.

A woman in a man’s world

Shurooq Amin (b. 1967, Kuwait) is a conceptual, mixed-media and interdisciplinary artist with thirteen solo exhibitions to date. Amin is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and a professor at Kuwait University. Renowned for creating controversy, the artist fearlessly portrays the taboos and paradoxes that plague modern day Muslim women in Kuwait and beyond.

As the Huffington Post writes, Amin sees herself “as a fighter and an outsider, a point of view she uses to capture reflections of the society around her.” The artist has said in an interview:

I tackle the issues that need to be raised and discussed, and if they want to censor, let them censor away.

Shurooq Amin in her studio. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin in her studio. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

And censor they did. On 7 March 2012, three hours after her exhibition “It’s a Man’s World” opened in Kuwait City, it was shut down by authorities for being ‘pornographic’ and ‘anti-Islamic’. The controversy emboldened the artist, who went on to create more complex, provocative works revolving around freedom, identity, censorship and the oppression of Arab women.

Shurooq Amin, 'Fashionista', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Fashionista’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A personal take on the political

In “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love”, Amin progresses from the personal to the political, exploring a diverse range of sociopolitical issues in Arab society apart from the oppression of women.

Shurooq Amin, 'Pollutoland', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 120 x 187 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Pollutoland’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 120 x 187 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Amin explains the title of the exhibition on her website:

My 2014 series is entitled “We’ll Build This City on Art and Love”, a spin-off [of] the eighties song “We’ll Build This City on Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The title takes on both a serious and sarcastic connotation, with the simple straightforward meaning of re-building cities, minds, and beliefs that have been destroyed/deconstructed due to corruption and dogmatic, hypocritical ideologies.

Shurooq Amin, 'We are the Future', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 87 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘We are the Future’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 87 x 130 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

As the exhibition press release reveals, Amin uses her art to confront a variety of social maladies, which:

rang[e] from child marriage in war-affected areas to the marginalisation of the Bedoun in Kuwait, and the moral and material ramifications of stalled “dream” construction projects such as Silk City.

Shurooq Amin, 'Through the Looking Glass - Child Bride', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Through the Looking Glass – Child Bride’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

The move from the personal to the political is a logical one for Amin, who sees her calling as an artist as one which gives a voice to the oppressed. When asked what she hopes to achieve in her art, Amin once responded:

Simple. I want to be a voice for people who cannot raise their voice [...] I want my art – no matter how long it takes – to be a little part of the war to fight for freedom of expression [...] I want to raise awareness and open up dialogue and liberate minds.

Shurooq Amin, 'The Tangled Tale', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘The Tangled Tale’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A touch of the whimsical

The artist’s signature warm hues and whimsical tongue-in-cheek imagery balance the sombre subject matter and give humour to otherwise grave issues. The titles of the paintings are mostly twists on chapters from Lewis Carrol’s books such as Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark.

Shurooq Amin, 'Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts?', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts?’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

In Piece of the Pie: Who Stole the Tarts? (2014), the young woman has grown tall like Alice from Alice in Wonderland while the men, tiny in comparison, continue to bicker over the largest piece of the pie. The work comments on the mismanaged state of political affairs in the Arab world and gives a nod to matriarchal society.

Shurooq Amin, 'Family Portrait 1', 2013, mixed media on canvas and wood frame, 148 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Family Portrait 1′, 2013, mixed media on canvas and wood frame, 148 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

As with previous works, Amin continues masking the faces of her subjects. This time, colourful flowers are used instead of white-outs and the effect is more whimsical than eerie. The flowers also add a feminine touch to the canvas, suggesting a desire for soft power in a male-driven political world.

Shurooq Amin, 'See the Beauty Here', 2013, mixed media on canvas, 177 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘See the Beauty Here’, 2013, mixed media on canvas, 177 x 128 x 13 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Amin commented on her use of the mask in the interview cited above:

There are two objectives from masking the faces: 1) to hide the identity of the people in the images, because they are all real people, not made up characters; and 2) to symbolise the double lives we lead here and the encouragement that society in the Middle East gives to double standards [...] our society doesn’t condone individuality—it condones conformity. So, if you want to be accepted, you have to conform to the social norms, even if you don’t believe in them.

Shurooq Amin, 'Education and Beyond', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Education and Beyond’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A hint of death

Unique to this exhibition are more sombre works that layer remnants of Kuwaiti history. The grey-toned collages combine reclaimed photographs and charcoal drawings to evoke a haunting sense of the past and invite viewers to imagine a doomed future.

Shurooq Amin, 'Waiting for Dodo', 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Waiting for Dodo’, 2014, mixed media on paper in glass and stainless steel frame, 101 x 135 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Even in these works, a sense of Amin’s characteristic whimsical sarcasm remains. Furthermore, the diverse media create intriguing canvases imbued with the materials’ own sets of histories, enabling a rich viewing experience. As Bazaar Magazine notes:

Merging traditional painting and photography, [Amin's] unique formula portrays a distinctive quality of reflecting various hidden layers and details where one must continue to strip away each layer to reveal the truth.

Shurooq Amin, 'Mara7 7aram', 2014, mixed media on canvas, 105 x 460.5 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Shurooq Amin, ‘Mara7 7aram’, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 105 x 460.5 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

A message of hope

Ultimately, Amin’s message is one of love and hope: this is apparent in her playful imagery, warm colour palette, references to children’s tales and flora-filled canvases. Perhaps it is a hope that clings to a steadfast belief in the future role of women in Arab society as they fight to transgress boundaries and oppressive forces. According to the press release, the artist’s central concern is:

how best to build sustainable relationships, societies, and systems so that the legacy we leave behind is that of strength instead of fracture or stagnation.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Kuwaiti artists, Syrian artistspainting, mixed media, photography, art and the community, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in Dubai

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7 curatorial training programmes in Asia-Pacific



Art Radar selects 7 curatorial training programmes in the Asia-Pacific region.

Emerging and professional curators can find a variety of curatorial training programmes around Asia-Pacific. Here is a selection that provides intensive, academic, as well as hands-on curatorial experience.

Lionel Wendt and Mrinalini Mukehrjee at Gwangju Biennale 2014, installation view. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

Lionel Wendt and Mrinalini Mukehrjee at Gwangju Biennale 2014, installation view. Image courtesy Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

ICI – Curatorial Intensive | various

Independent Curators International (ICI) organises its Curatorial Intensive programmes at various locations worldwide, including Asia. The week-long programmes involve debate, discussion and dialogue around curatorial practice in the global art world, and each programme examines a specially designed theme or issue.

Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course | Korea

The Gwangju Biennale’s International Curator Course was launched in 2009 by the Gwangju Biennale Foundation. It is aimed at emerging curators and art practitioners who want to cultivate expertise in curating and organising exhibitions. The month-long intensive programme helps alumni build specialised knowledge of contemporary art and sharpen their curatorial skills through hands-on experience and professional tutors, including the biennale’s curators and director.

CuratingLAB: Curatorial-Intensive & Internship Programme | Singapore

CuratingLAB: Curatorial Intensive and Internship Programme is organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum in partnership with the National Arts Council of Singapore and lasts for six months. Beginning with a curatorial-intensive workshop, it is followed by internship assignments. Participants are guided by facilitators and mentors, working towards a final exhibition project.

VADA Curatorial Mentorship and Training Programme | Singapore

The Visual Arts Development Association (VADA), with support from the National Arts Council (NAC), organises a mentorship and training programme in Singapore for emerging curators within the first five years of their professional practice. The development programme requires the participant to plan six to eight exhibitions over a 24-month period (12 months of planning and 12 months for exhibitions).

Screen shot of ICI Independent Curators International. Image by Art Radar.

Screen shot of ICI Independent Curators International. Image by Art Radar.

Curatorial Assistant Programme | New Zealand

The nonprofit initiative ArtSpace in Auckland, New Zealand, holds an annual Curatorial Assistant Programme (previously Curatorial Internship) aimed at recent graduates and emerging curators in New Zealand. It offers a unique opportunity to work and build curatorial skills with professional mentorship from ArtSpace curatorial staff. The one-year training will culminate in an exhibition curated by the trainee.

Art History and Curatorial and Museum Studies | Australia

The National Gallery of South Australia, in conjunction with the University of Adelaide, offers a graduate programme in Art History and Curatorial and Museum Studies. Academic teaching at the university coupled with hands-on training at the Gallery provide graduates with the skills and knowledge to enter the professional art and curatorial fields.

4A Curators’ Intensive | Australia

The 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, Australia, has developed an initiative to encourage professional advancement amongst early career Australian cultural practitioners with an interest in curatorial practice. Now in its second year, the four-day intensive programme is led by three leading curators working in the international context and focusing primarily on the Asia-Pacific region.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: curatorial practice, curators, courses, lists, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea

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Art in a suitcase: Is miniature art becoming a new trend?



From miniature artists to miniature exhibitions and collections, small-format art is gaining popularity.

Miniature art has a long history in the arts worldwide. In recent years, from the revival of miniature traditions in Asia to miniature-focused exhibitions on a global scale, small format art might be becoming a new trend in contemporary art.

Shahzia Sikander, 'The Last Post', 2010, single channel HD animation with 5.1 surround sound. Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. Image courtesy Studio Sikander.

Shahzia Sikander, ‘The Last Post’, 2010, single channel HD animation with 5.1 surround sound. Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai. Image courtesy Studio Sikander.

Miniature art’s historical significance spans centuries of tradition in various cultures and civilisations around the world. A recent focus in the arts of Asia has put miniature art from South Asia on the global contemporary art map, reintroducing the age-old medium through a re-interpretation, re-elaboration and revival in the work of internationally acclaimed artists such as Imran Qureshi, Aisha Khalid, Shahzia Sikander and Rashid Rana, among others.

Such artists and artworks are also widely collected by institutions at an international level and, specifically in Asia, Hong Kong’s M+ has a dedicated collection for miniature art.

In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific, Shahzia Sikander said:

Miniature painting for me has always been heroic in scope and not limited by its scale—it is a space to unleash one’s imagination. […] my interest in miniature painting was to expand the medium from within, embracing its craft, technique, rigour, detail and small scale, as well as its historical contexts. I was invested in its beauty and illustrative lushness too.

Although many of these artists take the miniature tradition to a conceptual level, creating large-scale installations, video works and other revisitations of the medium, there now seems to be a new trend at work: small-format works based on the traditional format, but with contemporary themes.

Some advantages of small-format artworks may include:

  • economic: affordability for collectors, lower cost of shipping
  • logistic: easier to transport and display, both in an art fair context as well as individual collectors
Vibha Galhotra, 'ABSENCE PRESENCE (Homage to our missing neighbours)', 2011, metal and digital prints on archival paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist.

Vibha Galhotra, ‘ABSENCE PRESENCE (Homage to our missing neighbours)’, 2011, metal and digital prints on archival paper, dimensions variable. (Work at Beirut Art Fair’s India Pavilion 2014). Image courtesy the artist.

Small art at art fairs

Recently, the Beirut Art Fair introduced, for the first time, the India Pavilion entitled “Small Art is Beautiful – Dharma”. Its curator, independent critic Fabrice Bousteau, chose to focus on contemporary miniature art from the Subcontinent, with a presentation of small format artworks. Apart from gaining benefit from the simplicity and low cost of shipping small art internationally, the exhibition explores the symbolic, conceptual, aesthetic, economic and strategic dimensions of small art. Bousteau explained that the small works represent a

mini India with all of its richness and diversity.

Earlier in 2014, the 100th edition of the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore also featured a special exhibition containing works donated by 100 artists across the world, each of which was A5 in size and priced at SGD 100 (USD 79).

Dan Kim, 'Sixteen Cats and Seo Nuri', 2013, (ed.1/16) photograph attached on canvas, ed. 1/16, 12 x 10 cm. "Imago Mundi", Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

Dan Kim, ‘Sixteen Cats and Seo Nuri’, 2013, (ed.1/16), photograph attached on canvas, ed. 1/16, 12 x 10cm. SOUTH KOREA COLLECTION – Greetings from South Korea, “Imago Mundi”, Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

A miniature art map of the world

Italian fashion icon Luciano Benetton has been collecting miniature artworks from all around the world and compiled the works into a collection entitled “Imago Mundi”. Comprising works of ten-by-twelve centimetres, commissioned from lesser- and well-known artists he met during his travels, the collection has been exhibited during the Venice Biennale in 2013 and at this year’s Dak’Art 2014.

Benetton told Art Radar about his fascination with miniature art:

It is a journey on which I feel I am in good company. The miniature, for example, is an aesthetic approach that I learned to appreciate in Japan, whose culture, more than ours, recognises the beauty in the little things: in bonsai as in poetry, haiku, or even in the hi-tech world.

An Chang Nam, 'The Pine Tree of Mt. Kumgang', 2013, Chinese ink on paper, 10 x 12 cm. NORTH  KOREA COLLECTION - North Korea: A Unique Country, "Imago Mundi", Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

An Chang Nam, ‘The Pine Tree of Mt. Kumgang’, 2013, Chinese ink on paper, 10 x 12cm. NORTH KOREA COLLECTION – North Korea: A Unique Country, “Imago Mundi”, Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

Benetton goes on to mention some important historical works and figures in conjunction with miniature art:

But we can go even further back in time. The “Leiden Plate,” one of the greatest masterpieces of ancient American art (320 AD), is a ceremonial Mayan stele reduced to the size of an envelope for business letters (just 6.9 x 21.7cm). Flemish artists also painted miniatures in the fifteenth century: Van Eyck, for example, whose masterpiece Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata is a mere 12.7 x 14.6cm. It is oil on vellum applied on a panel and is now housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Rainbow Tse. "Closer", 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Rainbow Tse, Untitled, 2014, watercolour on paper, 4 x 4in. “Closer”, 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Hong Kong: Feeling closer to art

ArtHongKong is holding an exhibition entitled “Closer” at PubArt Gallery from 12 to 19 September, which comprises two-by-three and four-by-four inches miniature artworks by ten Hong Kong-based contemporary artists. The curator and Director of ArtHongKong, Philip George, says about the attraction of miniature art:

Foremost in importance in miniature art is the highly skilled and painstaking techniques that are evident upon viewing the artwork. A fine miniature can be magnified many times, and it will still hold together as a fine work of art of much greater size. It should draw the viewer’s eye deeper and deeper into itself with amazement at the details of the works. We hope that the viewers attending this exhibition will enjoy the exploration that only Miniature art can achieve.

Beverly Fung, 2014. "Closer", 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Beverly Fung, ‘The Tools’, 2014, Chinese ink and colour on paper, 4 x 4in. “Closer”, 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

The tradition of miniature art is a ripe ground for experimentation. The exhibition press release states:

Miniature art is bound to its own past and national origins, often preceded by the words “traditional” and “historical”. By asking Hong Kong artists to reflect on its tradition, and by labelling the show “fresh miniature,” this exhibition treads a fine line between imposing the century-old burden of reconciling tradition and modernity and allowing artists to react to it.

Atsushi Suwa, 'Head of a Woman', 2013, watercolour, chalk paint and pencil on cotton cloth laid on panel, 12 x 10 cm. JAPAN COLLECTION – Contemporary Japanese Art, "Imago Mundi", Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

Atsushi Suwa, ‘Head of a Woman’, 2013, watercolour, chalk paint and pencil on cotton cloth laid on panel, 12 x 10cm. JAPAN COLLECTION – Contemporary Japanese Art, “Imago Mundi”, Luciano Benetton Collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

A new trend in contemporary art?

Asked if miniature art might become a trend in the art world, Benetton tells Art Radar:

I do not know if miniatures will represent a new trend in the art market – our project is totally detached from any business dynamic – but what interests me is to build and pass on to future generations a collective map of art. Because, in synthesis, “Imago Mundi” is a cyclopean journey to comprehend our world through many small worlds.

However, Philip George tells Art Radar that there might be a new trend forming in the art world, which features miniature art as its protagonist:

There is certainly a trend hitting the art world in miniature works of art. These works are all original pieces and are unique and one-of-a-kind. There are many different styles of art to be found in this category: painting, model and minute sculpture; popular today are the tiny models artists use in creating humorous real life situations such as artist Yuri Yamamoto or the amazing works by Willard Wigan. Collectors are often spellbound by the “WOW” factor of ‘how did the artist do this?’ and Miniature has a lot of display possibilities in either a home or office.

Lori Ho, 2014. "Closer", 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Lori Ho, ‘The Rabbit Hole of Reality’, 2014, watercolour and pen on paper, 4 x 4in. “Closer”, 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

The tradition of ink art has also seen a revival in recent times, and Philip George says his initiative to bring miniature art to Hong Kong might be in some ways compared to the success of ink:

We wanted to bring something new and different to Hong Kong’s art scene, and whilst we were following the public interest that Fresh Ink has recently gathered, in contrast to its recognised traditional and modern forms. We wondered whether we could apply the same theory and re-introduce Miniature art in a new and contemporary way in contrast to its own very strong historical lineage.

Amelia Wong, 'Florals in Ink', 2014, pen on paper, 4 x 4 in. "Closer", 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Amelia Wong, ‘Florals in Ink’, 2014, pen on paper, 4 x 4in. “Closer”, 12-19 September 2014, ArtHongKong in collaboration with PubArt Gallery. Image courtesy ArtHongKong.

Small things fit in a suitcase

Life in the city often means restricted living space, as is especially evident in Hong Kong’s urbanscape. Philip George speaks of how miniature art is an easily collectible form of art for the Asian art hub’s urban dweller:

If one looks at the average size of homes here in Hong Kong and other populated cities, it often restricts collectors from the opportunity of buying larger pieces of art. The beauty of owning an original piece of art in miniature is that you only need a few square inches of space to display them. They also make great gifts that are often very affordable and portable.

Lucian Benetton and his "Imago Mundi" collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

Lucian Benetton and his “Imago Mundi” collection. Image courtesy Fondazione Benetton.

It is also especially befitting our times that miniature art is also equal to easy transportation, in an era when moving one’s life from place to place is becoming more common. Luciano Benetton lays much importance and faith in miniature art and cites an icon of the history of art in this regard:

I like to remember, moreover, that it was Marcel Duchamp, in an interview with Life in 1952, who said: “Everything important that I have made can fit in a small suitcase.”

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: miniatures, painting, collections, gallery shows, South Asian artists, Hong Kong artists, trends

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Palestinian photographer Steve Sabella declares independence through mental images – book review



Steve Sabella, a Palestinian photographer in exile, is releasing a monograph documenting an innovative body of work. 

Sabella celebrates nearly two decades of work in his new book titled Steve Sabella: Photography 1997-2014. This compilation represents an intimate look into the work of an artist from the Middle East pushing beyond the thresholds of the digital age and takes on topics such as identity, life under occupation and liberation after exile. 

Steve Sabella, 'In Exile', 2008, Lambda print mounted on aluminum with 5-cm aluminum box edge, 136 x 125 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘In Exile’, 2008, Lambda print mounted on aluminium with 5-cm aluminium box edge, 136 x 125 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Born in Jerusalem, Steve Sabella is a photographer whose portfolio depicts the challenges and struggles of the human condition in familiar yet abstract forms. As a Palestinian visual artist who has lived both under occupation and in exile, Sabella’s work brings into focus a sharp and sometimes uncomfortable view of contemporary life in the 21st century in a way that begs reflection by the viewer.

Steve Sabella: Photography 1997-2014 is published by Hatje Cantz in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste Berlin. In addition to Sabella’s body of work, a foreword and six essays complete the monograph.

Steve Sabella, 'Settlement—Six Israelis & One Palestinian' installation shot, 2008–10, LightJet print on with 5-cm aluminum box edge, 230 x 164 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘Settlement—Six Israelis & One Palestinian’, installation shot, 2008–10, LightJet print on aluminium with 5-cm aluminium box edge, 230 x 164 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, 'Beyond Euphoria', 2011, Lambda print on diasec with 3.5-cm aluminum box edge, 205 x 117 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘Beyond Euphoria’, 2011, Lambda print on Diasec with 3.5-cm aluminium box edge, 205 x 117 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Well-known Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata pens the book’s foreword. Boullata, living in exile since 1967, provides a fascinating and moving narrative about the history of the oeuvre of photography in the Middle East and the innovative characteristics of Sabella’s work. He notes:

After Sabella opted to move from Jerusalem to London and later on to Berlin, each of his photographic abstractions have seemed to float amid a space that lacks the gravity of a focal point. In their highly defined details all of the compositioned components call for equal attention. [...] The absence of the focal point and the allure invoked by the unfailing exactness of each detail are features that have long characterised the aesthetic of Islamic miniatures.

Steve Sabella, 'Metamorphosis', 2012, LightJet print on diasec with 3.5-cm aluminum box edge, 160 x 160 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘Metamorphosis’, 2012, LightJet print on Diasec with 3.5-cm aluminium box edge, 160 x 160 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

The book is divided into sixteen visual journeys, chronicling the artist’s trademark “mental images” replicated from memories of an artist living under occupation, exile and liberation, offering up a rich pattern of abstractions. Quotations from celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish are sprinkled throughout the book, providing a palpable link between past and present.

Of particular interest is Sabella’s progress from witness to exile to freedom and, finally, independence. Essays by Professor Dr Hubertus von Amelunxen, member of Akademie der Künste and the President of the European Graduate School in Sas Fee, add insightful content and bookend the images. According to von Amelunxen, Sabella’s artwork speaks directly to modern-day concerns, such as displacement and migration:

“My exile is the backdrop of the epic scene,” we read in a line of Darwish’s poem “Counterpoint”. The displacement from Palestine is the existential basis of Sabella’s art. Irony, as a movement of indignation, carries his concept of the genesis of a picture. That movement harbors hope, not lament. Sabella’s work is borne by a movement of doubt; it binds the chasms of loss of helplessness into contiguous moments of sensibility and vulnerability that, in each work, throw the world into another order.

Throughout the book, Sabella’s images take us from one world to another. His fresh, early work leads to the pivotal series “Six Israelis and One Palestinian” and “Metamorphosis”, ending with the painterly, rich series “38 days of re-collection” and “Sinopia”.

Sabella’s monograph stands as one of the very few records for those interested in learning more about contemporary art and artists from the Middle East to peruse and study.

Steve Sabella, 'Independence', 2013, Lambda print on diasec with 3.5-cm aluminum box edge, 81 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘Independence’, 2013, Lambda print on Diasec with 3.5-cm aluminium box edge, 81 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

 

Steve Sabella, '38 days of re-collection',2014,  B&W white film negative (generated from a digital image) printed with b&w photo emulsion spread on color paint fragments collected from Jerusalem’s Old City house walls, 20 x 15 cm. Photograph by Stephen White.

Steve Sabella, ’38 days of re-collection’, 2014, B&W white film negative (generated from a digital image) printed with B&W photo emulsion spread on colour paint fragments collected from Jerusalem’s Old City house walls, 20 x 15 cm. Photograph by Stephen White.

More about the artist

Steve Sabella (b. 1975) holds degrees in Photography and Visual Studies from the Musrara School of Photography in Jerusalem (1997), the Empire State College of the State of New York (2007) and the University of Westminster in London (2008), where he earned the Caparo Award of Distinction. In 2009, the artist earned a second Master’s Degree in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Sabella’s work is found in public collections, including the British Museum (London), the Contemporary Art Platform (Kuwait), MATHAF: Arab Museum of Modern Art (Qatar), the Salsali Private Museum (Dubai) and the Samawi Collection (Dubai). His work is also held in select private collections worldwide. Several TV documentaries and short films have featured his work, including Jerusalem in Exile, Kan Yama Kan and In the Darkroom with Steve Sabella. In addition to being a visual artist, Sabella is a writer and has published essays. His autobiography, The Artist’s Curseis forthcoming.

Through the end of the year, Sabella is involved in a number of art fairs, solo shows and monograph launches. The artist’s work can be seen at The Contemporary Art Platform in Kuwait (21 September to 21 October 2014), ArtInternational Istanbul (24-25 September 2014), the International Center for Photography Scavi Scaligeri in collaboration with Boxart Gallery and Berloni Gallery (8 October to 16 November 2014) in Verona, and also in London, Dubai, Berlin and Miami.

Steve Sabella, 'Sinopia', 2014, LightJet print mounted on diasec with 3.5-cm aluminum box edge, 270 x 180 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Steve Sabella, ‘Sinopia’, 2014, LightJet print mounted on diasec with 3.5-cm aluminum box edge, 270 x 180 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: art and the community, book reviews, Palestinian, photography, political art

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Of waiting rooms and lost homes – interview with the Foundland Collective



Foundland Collective’s new installation is an intimate window into the Syrian refugee experience.

Artists Ghalia Elsrakbi and Lauren Alexander are recipients of the first United State’s artist residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program to take place in partnership with Edge of Arabia and Art Jameel.  Art Radar spoke with them to learn more about their brainchild, the Foundland Collective, and their current installation being shown at ISCP through 26 September 2014. 

Foundland Collective, "Escape Routes and Freedom Mirage" installation view (detail) at the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, Gdansk, Poland, 2013, image projection. Image courtesy Foundland Collective.

Foundland Collective, “Escape Routes and Freedom Mirage” installation view (detail) at the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, Gdansk, Poland, 2013, image projection. Image courtesy Foundland Collective.

The Foundland Collective’s work has been shown in exhibitions and festivals including Kadist Art Foundation, Paris (2012), Impakt Festival (Utrecht, 2011, 2012) and Visual Arts Festival Damascus (Istanbul, 2013). They have given various masterclasses and lecture presentations, and contributed essays and visuals to international magazines and journals such as Open, Krisis, Esse and Ibraaz. In 2013, they completed an artist residency at the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo. The Collective comprises of the artist duo Lauren Alexander and Ghalia Elsrakbi.

Lauren Alexander (b. 1983, Cape Town, South Africa) is a graphic designer who holds a BA in Graphic Design from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and an MA in Design from the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam. In addition, Alexander began an MFA in Design from the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem in 2009 and is currently part of the tutoring staff at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague.

Ghalia Elsrakbi (b. 1978, Damascus, Syria) received a BA in Graphic Design from the Artez Hogeschool voor de Kunst, Arnhem and an MA in Design from the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam. Elsrakbi attended the Jan van Eyck Academy in 2009 to do postgraduate research.

Art Radar caught up with the dynamic duo during their residency in New York to find out more about their collaborative projects, their pivotal experience in Cairo and what they’ve learned about “Little Syria” and its displaced population in New York.

Could you tell us more about the Foundland Collective? How did it get its name?

Foundland Collective (established 2009) is a Syrian–South African collaboration whose work draws on design, art, writing and research. Foundland focuses on critical analysis of topics related to political and locational branding through visual and written forms.

Our name “Foundland” comes from our invested interest and fascination in topics related to place and politics. At the start of our collaboration, we were based in the Netherlands. As non-European citizens, we wanted to forge a space where, as outsiders, we would be able to comment on our position within society: hence our feeling of forging or creating our own space or platform and the name Foundland.

Foundland Collective, "Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms" installation view at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Foundland Collective, “Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms” installation view at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

You were awarded the first Edge of Arabia and Art Jameel residency at ISCP. Has this experience spawned any ideas for upcoming projects or future installations?

We were very lucky to be awarded the first Edge of Arabia residency at ISCP, and as part of our application procedure, we formulated a research proposal before we arrived in New York City. We had the idea of investigating an immigrant community which existed in Manhattan in the late 1880s. This Syrian, Lebanese and mixed origin migrant neighbourhood, located close to where the 9/11 memorial site is currently located, was a bustling community with plenty of cultural and gastronomical influences on New York City. The area existed until about the 1940s, when the community was forced to move to make way for the Battery Park area.

Our goals are to find out as much as possible about the area formerly known as “Little Syria”. We will be doing this by meeting various political and activist groups who are working towards engaging more attention for the area and [saving] the last remaining buildings preserved from this period. We will be collecting and gathering research from all sources, and we aim to use the material that we collect to crystallise an artistic response in the form of an action in public space, a written piece or a visual manifestation. Besides this, we are enjoying meeting curators and artists from around the world and expanding our network.

In 2013, you spent six months in Cairo meeting and witnessing the displaced Syrian population there. Did that experience lead to a shift in your work? What was the result of this shift?

The time we spent in Cairo during our residency at the Townhouse Gallery was crucial to our practice. We began to observe events in the Middle East as they were taking place at much closer proximity, in comparison to our work before 2013. During this period, Ghalia’s family migrated from Damascus to Cairo because of the conflict in Syria. These events are relevant to our newer work, including Friday Table (2013-2014). Ghalia’s family’s story is an example of displacement that many Syrians are currently experiencing, particularly middle class Syrians who do not have a specific engagement with politics.

We draw on the specifics of her family’s story, which plays a part in a collective narrative – namely, those of families and communities that need to move when they don’t want to, yet feel they need to. Despite not being involved in politics, they are always in some way implicated in the complex and dangerous context inside Syria. They have the feeling that they need to move in order to secure a future for themselves, for their families and businesses. Such stories form the beginnings of new migration patterns and shifts in entire communities within the Middle East. We witnessed this, for example, in 6th of October City, a satellite town outside Cairo, where thousands of Syrians have settled in the last few years.

Foundland Collective, "Friday Table" installation view at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Foundland Collective, “Friday Table” installation view at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms presents small, intimate stories as a contrast to what the general populace knows about present-day events in Syria from mainstream media. Does your art capture both the personal and global aspects of this conflict? How?

We are concerned with the way in which an image of the Middle East is created through the lens of mainstream media. In Map Projections (2014), the third component of the exhibition, we re-appropriate news imagery to create a projection that is a flickering map of the image of Syria. News images and reports are formulated by many different factors like the limitations of journalists and photographers to move freely, the interpretation and translation of information, the politics of broadcasting and the media industry’s desire to sell their products. We don’t aim to create a better or more truthful narrative. We would like to use the visual language of broadcast media, which is how most people learn about current affairs, to provide the audience with an alternative perspective.

Our foremost intention for using domestic tropes and intimate stories is because they are understood by the general public. It allows us to speak about topics related to politics in a way that is accessible and provides an alternative image to news media. Most viewers can easily relate to the image of a dining table and the ritual of family dinners, and will be able to project their own imagination about these occasions onto the work. When collecting and editing information related to Friday Table, it was important for us to include images of the past as memories that exist around the setting of the table. For those who used to participate in daily meals but can no longer be present, the ritual of communal meals only finds a place in the images that remain. Images or memory, which were once ingrained in daily habits, become a more important leftover than the table itself.

Foundland Collective, "Friday Table" installation view (detail) at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Foundland Collective, “Friday Table” installation view (detail) at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

What did you find surprising about the responses to the instructions for the Waiting Room installation: “draw the house you left behind and add any stories or details that you wish”?

In the case of Waiting Room (2014), the tent installation included in the exhibition, we re-visit a very well-known image in the media: the white tent, commonly associated with refugee camp dwellings. The tent reminds us of displacement, helplessness and emergency resettlement. However, many of these tents that are being set up at a rapid pace at the Syrian borders with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, are proving to be far from temporary. For the tent installation, we asked displaced people from different backgrounds to sketch their housing situation prior to departure from Syria, as a way to depict and make visible what has been left behind.

Juxtaposed with the instability and reality of their displaced situation is a collection of houses’ ground plans that enables the viewer to consider emergency living habitation as an involuntary yet permanent reality. For some people, it was a very painful experience remembering their previous home. Many no longer have visuals or evidence of the places they left behind. By re-tracing the living structure of the home, one remembers the permanence, ritual and structure embedded within that place. Different people volunteered different kinds of information. Some mentioned the view or places that were visible from their former home, other people mentioned the way in which their houses were altered once refugees moved into their homes. Stories depict unique and subjective experiences.

Foundland Collective, "Waiting Room" installation view (detail) at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Foundland Collective, “Waiting Room” installation view (detail) at the International Studio and Curatorial Program, New York, 30 July to 26 September 2014. Photograph by Julie Jamora and courtesy of the artist, Edge of Arabia and the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

Please tell us about your field research in what used to be New York’s “Little Syria”. What did you learn about being displaced in New York City?

“Little Syria” was formed in around 1880 by immigrants who were searching for a better life in the United States, many of whom settled on the lower West side, near to what is now the 9/11 memorial site. To this day, there are a few buildings which are officially left over in the “Little Syria” area. There is a group of activists working hard to maintain publicity and awareness for the area. Not much is known about the area by the general public and the valuable contributions made by early settlers. “Little Syria” was host to well-known Arabic writers, thinkers. Many publications about art, culture and literature were published in the area in Arabic and English as early as the late 1800s. Middle class Americans at the time were fascinated by stories of religion and lifestyle in the Middle East and immigrants made a living by sharing stories and traditions from the region to a United States audience.

We are interested in tracing – through early Arabic publications, found objects and stories – the experience of being an Arab immigrant in the United States, how this was perceived by American citizens and how Arabs perceived themselves within this new context. In contrast to the generally negative perception in today’s America of what it means to be an Arab, this early period in history harks back to positive narratives of entrepreneurial flair and ingenuity.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Art and the community, Installation, Interviews, Migration, Syrian

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Demons, saints, penitents and pop: Filipino artist Ronald Ventura in New York – in pictures



Filipino artist Ronald Ventura traces a bloody history of faith and identity in a unique series of oil paintings.

Internationally acclaimed artist Ronald Ventura returns to New York with a new series of works, taking inspiration from gory religious rites, pop culture and European Old Master paintings.  

Ronald Ventura, 'Turn Around B', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Turn Around B’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura (b. 1973, Manila, the Philippines) ranks as one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists from Southeast Asia. The 41-year-old auction star broke records in a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction in 2011, fetching the highest auction price recorded for a contemporary Southeast Asian painting at the time.

Ventura’s latest solo exhibition “E.R. (Endless Resurrection)” opened at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York on 4 September 2014. In a series of arresting, often unsettling paintings, the artist continues to explore history and national identity with a new focus on the uncanny role of faith and religion. The exhibition runs until 25 October 2014.

The dark side of faith

As the exhibition press release explains, “E.R. (Endless Resurrection)”

takes its inspiration from the intense, often quite bloody rites that are still performed during Lent in certain parts of the Philippines, such as San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga province.

Ventura reveals the horrific nature of such rites in all their blood-soaked glory: penitents flagellate themselves using bamboo sticks tied to cords or spend hours nailed to wooden crosses.

Ronald Ventura, 'Reflection Repetition', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 26 x 16 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Reflection Repetition’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 26 x 16 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

The artist’s sophisticated hyperrealism is combined with a greyscale palette stained with vivid, sinister reds. Poised as re-enactments of Christ’s passion and crucifixion, the depicted activities are not officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Ronald Ventura, 'Visiting Artist's Demons', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 72 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Visiting Artist’s Demons’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 72 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Saints and demons

In Ventura’s characteristic and well-honed layering style, demons and monsters swirl around the central images of disillusioned flagellants, seeming to aid the pious penitent’s self-torturous acts. As the press release explains, Ventura took inspiration from European Old Master paintings, such as those of Hieronymus Bosch. The effect is at once elegant and haunting, melancholy and vicious.

Ronald Ventura, 'Carne Carnivale', 2014, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Carne Carnivale’, 2014, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

In others, black and white figures resembling biblical saints mingle and merge with colourful, whimsical circus motifs. Such imagery is taken from vintage carnival posters and advertisements. The incongruity is jarring, eerie and disorienting: a nightmare in which a circus show breaks into a classical museum, wreaks havoc and makes statues come alive.

Ronald Ventura, 'Armor', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Armor’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Comics and pop culture

Global pop culture also finds its way into Ventura’s story of faith. Japanese and American cartoons and comic book characters creep onto the canvases, lurking in corners or behind pillars, folding into the layered collage of figures.

Ronald Ventura, 'Cross Turismo', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Cross Turismo’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Meanwhile, graffiti and cartoon text in speech or ‘explosion’ bubbles litter both foreground and background, creating another uncanny dreamlike concoction of motifs, metaphors and cultural references.

Ronald Ventura, 'Cross Roads to Nowhere', 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Cross Roads to Nowhere’, 2014, graphite and oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Skins of histories and cultures

With his complex layering of images and styles, Ventura weaves a dynamic history of the Philippines through intermingling stories in religion, popular culture and colonial influence. The press release states:

Ventura has long been fascinated with how tradition and faith shape identity in his native Philippines, and the ways in which the powerful influences of contemporary global pop culture continue the process of cultural syncretism that has been going on in the country since the beginning of Spanish colonialism in the 16th century.

Over centuries, the multifaceted Filipino identity was shaped by various occupying powers, such as Spain, Japan and the United States. Ventura explores and captures this uneasy sense of identity by amalgamating Eastern and Western influences, high and low culture, and old and young references (old masterpieces versus cartoons).

The explosion of cultural signifiers results in a compelling series of work, where the boisterous aggression of contemporary motifs is muted by the mournful faces and bodies of the martyrs. The press release explains:

[Ventura] draws our attention to the “second skin” of cultural signifiers that each person carries with him [...] Ventura views skin as an expressive surface – written on with tattoos, concealed under layers of imagery, or exploding outwards to reveal an inner world of fantasy and conflict.

Ultimately, the skin being flagellated in Ventura’s paintings may refer to the layers of histories and cultures being torn apart to reveal the stories within.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Filipino artists, oil, painting, religious art, identity art, gallery shows, pictures feasts, events in New York

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