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Curating the Region: Reflections from Here and Elsewhere

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Public Programs

Curating the Region: Reflections from Here and Elsewhere

September 27 2014

Contemporary and modern art from the Arab world has increasingly engaged new audiences worldwide—through major museum exhibitions, through an expanding global art market, as well as through the efforts of local art spaces with international reach. In light of critical discussions that have sought to shift emphasis away from geographic or cultural categories of contemporary art, and on the occasion of the exhibition “Here and Elsewhere,” the New Museum and ArteEast have partnered to organize a symposium that brings together curators, scholars, and art professionals whose practices influence how cultural production in the Arab world can be accessed, understood, and engaged.

Over the course of this day-long symposium, speakers will consider the divergent disciplines and methods through which contemporary art from the Arab world—and from the Middle East and North Africa more generally—has been historicized, presented, and discussed. Drawing from a range of contexts with different audiences, participants will examine the parameters of specificity within cultural or regional categories that are themselves immensely diverse. They will address the viability of demarcating geographic or cultural categories when engaging contemporary art, as well as how and why the perspectives of those working locally might differ, cohere, or productively cross with those working at a remove. Similarly, they will consider a variety of expectations, interests, and critical demands of audiences within these different contexts. Questions to be explored include: In what sense can we speak of a region or of regions? Have recent curatorial approaches tended decisively toward or away from specificity? How can specificity be beneficial? How and why can it be problematic? What are the effects of reconsidering the categorical lenses through which contemporary art of specific regions is engaged with?

Session 1: 1:10–2:25 PM
Welcoming Remarks: Alicia Ritson, New Museum
A conversation between Shiva Balaghi, Visiting Professor at Brown University and Sarah Rogers, independent scholar
Moderated by Omar Berrada
Important contributions to the study of contemporary and modern art histories of the Arab world have been made over the last decade through research and translation by scholars as well as by artists with archival- or research-based practices. This conversation examines where this specialized field of art discourse stands today. What concerns are driving developments in the field? How have academic attitudes shifted in recent years? Might scholarship and research produced within particular geographic or cultural contexts offer different perspectives from that produced outside?

Session 2: 2:35–3:55 PM
CASE STUDIES: Speakers whose projects focus on a specific country or region will offer curatorial or programmatic case studies to consider how they have individually approached the language around geographically or culturally specific categories as well as the enterprise of engaging such specificity.
Rijin Sahakian, Founding Director, Sada, Baghdad
Leeza Ahmady, Director, Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) at Asia Society; and independent curator, educator, and scholar

Session 3: 4:05–5:45 PM
A Roundtable conversation with
Natalie Bell, Curatorial Associate and co-curator of “Here and Elsewhere,” New Museum
Antonia Carver, Director, Art Dubai
Deena Chalabi, Associate Curator of Public Practice, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Moderated by Mahnaz Fancy, Executive Director, ArteEast
Closing Remarks: Mahnaz Fancy, ArteEast

This roundtable will bring into conversation curators and art professionals working in various contexts—Dubai, Qatar, San Francisco, and New York—whose experiences with art from the Arab world range from focused studies to open-ended, long-term engagements anchored by specializations within museums and other art organizations. They will explore questions of how curatorial approaches to contemporary and modern art from the Arab world might have shifted or developed in recent years, and consider whether these changes reflect the attitudes of cultural practitioners worldwide as much as they reflect changing conceptions within the Arab world. The conversation will explore to what extent discourses within different art scenes influence curatorial approaches to geographic or cultural specificity in local and international contexts. And, while a specific geographic or cultural focus may remain essential to building institutional or private collections, could a less-specific or non-categorical approach more appropriately represent art from the Arab world within the broader international discourse on curating contemporary art?
Leeza Ahmady is an independent curator and educator noted for her foundational work concerning art practices in Central Asia. She directs the educational platforms AhmadyArts and Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW), which partner with multiple institutions in New York and elsewhere to contextualize the works of artists from all regions of Asia, including the Middle East. Ahmady was member of the Agents/Curatorial Team for dOCUMENTA (13) exhibitions and seminars in Kassel, Germany, and Kabul, Afghanistan (2010–12). She has presented numerous artists at notable events and venues such as the Venice Biennale; Istanbul Biennial; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Independent Curators International, New York; Asia Society Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, among others. Other curatorial projects include “The Taste of Others” at Apexart (2005); “The Paradox of Polarity: Contemporary Art from Central Asia” at Bose Pacia (2007); “Parable of the Garden: New Media Art from Iran and Central Asia” at the College of New Jersey Art Gallery (2008); “I Dream of the Stans” at Winkleman Gallery and MARTE Museo de Arte de El Salvador (2008); “Tarjama/Translation” at the Queens Museum of Art (2009) and Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University (2010); “No-Mad-Ness in No Man’s Land” at Eslite Gallery Taipei, Taiwan (2013); and “Arahmaiani: Fertility of the Mind” at Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York (2014).
Shiva Balaghi is a cultural historian who teaches History and Art History at Brown University. She has written extensively on Iranian visual art and contemporary Middle Eastern art. Her edited and authored books include Saddam Hussein: A Biography; Picturing Iran: Art Society and Revolution and Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East. Balaghi is a contributing editor of Jadaliyya and is Trustee of the American Institute of Iranian Studies.
Natalie Bell is Curatorial Associate at the New Museum.
Omar Berrada codirects Dar al-Ma’mûn in Marrakech, a residency center for artists, scholars, and translators, which includes a lending library and conducts educational and literacy programs. Previously, he hosted shows on French national radio and public programs at the Centre Pompidou. He curated the Tangier International Book Salon in 2008, as well as the literary program of the Marrakech Biennale in 2012. In 2014 he was a codirector of Dubai’s Global Art Forum. He edited, with Erik Bullot, Expanded Translation—A Treason Treatise, a book of verbal and visual betrayals; and, with Yto Barrada, Album—Cinémathèque de Tanger, a multilingual book about film in Tangier and Tangier on film. He co-translated books by Jalal Toufic and Stanley Cavell into French and contributed to Story Mapping, a monograph on Bouchra Khalili’s video work. With Taraneh Fazeli and Alicia Ritson he curated the Temporary Center for Translation, currently on view at the New Museum.
Antonia Carver became Fair Director of Art Dubai in August 2010, overseeing the annual fair and devising a diverse program, including three gallery exhibition halls; the Global Art Forum; initiatives such as commissioned projects, artists’ residencies, a film program, and radio station; and the art school Campus Art Dubai. Based in the UAE since 2001, she has written extensively—and often on Middle Eastern art and film—as a correspondent for The Art Newspaper and Screen International, among other publications, and edited books and journals. She joined Bidoun as an editor in 2004 and later became the director of the Middle Eastern arts organization’s projects division, co-organizing educational programs, film and video series, the touring Bidoun Library, and artists’ commissions and talks, among other projects. Carver is on the Arab film programming committee for the Dubai International Film Festival. Before moving to Dubai in 2001, she was based in London and worked as an editor at Phaidon; in development and projects at the Institute of International Visual Arts; and in publishing at G+B Arts International.
Deena Chalabi joined the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as Associate Curator of Public Practice in January 2014. From 2009 to 2012 she was the founding Head of Strategy at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar. She co-curated the inaugural exhibition of Mathaf’s permanent collection, “Sajjil: A Century of Modern Art,” with Wassan Al-Khudhairi and Nada Shabout and was responsible for developing the museum’s public presence across several platforms. She created the “Pop-Up Mathaf” program for collaborative international partnerships, beginning with Interference at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in July 2011. She guest curated three additional Pop-Up Mathaf programs, partnering with the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2012 and with the Serpentine Galleries and the Liverpool Biennial in 2013. Her writing has appeared in Bidoun, ArtAsiaPacific, and the New Inquiry, among other publications. Deena received her BA in Social Studies from Harvard University and her MA from the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
Mahnaz Fancy is Executive Director at ArteEast.
Alicia Ritson is Research Fellow at the New Museum.
Sarah Rogers is an independent scholar whose work focuses on modern and contemporary art of the Arab world. She received her PhD in 2008 from the History, Theory, and Criticism section of the Department of Architecture at MIT. Her writings have appeared in Arab Studies Journal, Parachute, Art Journal, and American Art Review. She has held fellowships from Southern Methodist University, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Palestinian American Research Center, and Columbia University Global Centers-Amman. From 2010 to 2012, she was Director of Research at Darat al Funun in Amman, Jordan, where she coedited Arab Art Histories: The Khalid Shoman Collection. She is a founding member and President-elect of the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA).
Rijin Sahakian received her MA in Contemporary Art and Cultural Policy from New York University and was awarded a graduate Fulbright Fellowship for research in Amman, Jordan, where she was also a visiting scholar at the Columbia University Middle East Research Center. In 2011, Sahakian initiated Sada, a non-profit project conducting arts education, advocacy, and production programs for Baghdad-based artists. She has contributed writing to various artist projects and publications including e-flux journal, Ibraaz, and Jadaliyya, and conducted seminars, presentations, and workshops at a variety of arts and education institutions internationally, including the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; California College for the Arts, San Francisco; Darat al Funun, Amman; the Delphina Foundation, London; Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates; and the American University of Beirut. Sahakian was recently a visiting faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles County, and is currently guest curator at the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.