|We Are Standing Outside Time
An Ongoing Artistic Collaboration Between Shahram Entekhabi and Behrang Samadzadegan
Square the Circle
Last year during my short visit to Berlin in mid November, I met Shahram Entekhabi for the first time in a small Café in Neukölln. So far we only exchanged emails but this time we had shared the similar views about the contemporary art coming from our countries in the global perspective. It was interesting for me to listen to Entekhabi’s experience as a Diaspora artist coming from Iran and living in Berlin; widely exhibited and performing as well. As coming from the similar backgrounds we had a lot to mourn about and we literally did.
I was inspired by Hal Foster, was trying to seek some connections of his theoretical model of repetitive practices in connection with the art of my own country Pakistan, I wanted to see if there is a reaction coming against the frequently used subjects for exhibiting art coming from the Muslim world (1) . As I see the presentation of art from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan is exotified by the west in a new way which can absolutely said to have a Neo-Orientalist approach. Artists have become the tools for institutions that labeled and categorized them as ‘Other’ as ‘different’, it is supposed that they will only work in a particular manner which must address their identity (a result of postcolonial theory).
The point of departure is to raise some questions regarding the problem of the artists those coming from the Islamic countries; how do they look at their practices? Is it exactly the way they want to work or to be presented as? Or they really want to come out of this circling situation?
Oppression of women symbolized with ‘Hijab’, sociopolitical depression, oppressed and victimized intelligentsia, bloodshed, raising religious extremism and revolution are the most frequently addressed issues of contemporary exhibitions in the west under the umbrella of art coming from Islamic world. I wonder, the issues that I mentioned also prevail in the western society but are not raised nor discussed in the art world so dramatically. Why is it so necessary for artists coming from Islamic countries to work with their identity as a primary issue? They are not treated as artists but the social commentators; on the other hand artists from the west are liberated from such categorization and considered as artists only.
The postcolonial theory played a major role in the classification of the art world; it elaborated and emphasized the difference of culture which lead to extremism in the art world and resulted alienation of non-western artists. It also provided the advantage to the institution of museums to legitimate their colonial approach. We can situate artists coming from Islamic world in the context of Bourdieu’s description of artist as a producer of fetish and the ‘postcolonial theory’ as the catalyst in the process of production of the fetish. Art historians, critics and curators reread and reinterpret artworks and put them in a new context according to the concept of the exhibitions; therefore, the certain meaning of works of art can also be produced as collectively in order to certain political and religious agendas of the institutions regardless of artist intention. In my case study of the exhibition Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan which was shown at Asia Society Museum in New York, I realized that the Pakistani curator and artists did not intend to be classified in such cliché categories but they were put in a situation and represented in the American media in an exotic way “coming from Pakistan-the country of terrorists and extremists”.
After 9/11, the artists from the countries like Iran and Pakistan were given spaces in the museums where they were not so welcomed before, the cliché exhibitions of the contemporary Islamic art world were produced by the western institutions. I quote Rasheed Araeen:
Celebration of the exotic Other today is not new. What is new is that the Other is no longer just the culturally exotic Other. Now, we also have a politically exotic Other, who is supposed to be either exiled from, or is critical about, his or her country of origin. (2)
The political Other is celebrated and promoted by the western institutions, the artists picked for the exhibitions were those who speak about their national identities. There is a concrete discrimination is found in the western art world to push back the non western artists from the mainstream for example they can not apply for the mainstream awards and prizes. The political Other is celebrated and promoted by the western institutions, the artists picked for the exhibitions were those who speak about their national identities.
The economics plays an important role in the artistic field and artists coming from Islamic countries are less privileged in their own countries because of the lack of funding and missing institutional support in the field of art. Therefore, the mushrooming residency programs developed during the past decade, in fact, most of these residency programs are funded by the western funding agencies those work under an agenda. Many of these residencies give certain set of instruction to the participating artists to create their work within a specific environment of the cities where they are invited. Curatorial residencies also provide the opportunity to the curators to research and create exhibitions for example right after the Arab Spring the AllArtNow from Syria called applications from the curators having keen desire to work in the city of Damascus while there was still unrest in the city.
I have mentioned few major problems of the Islamic art world leaving others to the readers and to the participating artists in the exhibition. My intention was not to provide a solution but to bring a dialogue situation and I believe this is the time to rethink everything again.
1)- I used the term Muslim world not in the context of entire Muslim world but to condense and combine the use of individual names of countries like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and now very recently included Egypt and Syria after the Arab Spring. These are the countries which are most prominent in the world political arena.
2)- Araeen Rasheed, A New beginning, Beyond Postcolonial Cultural Theory and Identity Politics, The Third Text Reader on Art, Culture and Theory, ed. Rasheed Araeen, Sean Cubitt and Ziauddin Sardar. Continuum, London; New York, 2002. p.341.
* We Are Standing Outside Time, published on the occasion of the exhibition: THE STATE OF ‘IN-BETWEEN’ IN CONTEMPORARY IRANIAN ART, curated by Julia Allerstorfer, Atelierhaus Salzamt, Linz, Austria 2012