(P045)
From Palestine Out: Art and the Political Imagination
Location SOAS Senate House - S211
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Kirsten Scheid (American University of Beirut) email

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Discussant Chiara De Cesari (University of Amsterdam) and Yael Navaro-Yashin (Cambridge University)

Short abstract

This panel takes the ambiguities of Palestinian art-making as an entry point into the study of art's role in constituting community, subjectivity, and political imaginations especially in contexts of state failure. How can art affect the political imagination, institutional change, and citizenship?

Long abstract

Empirical studies have not tested recent forays by artists, philosophers, and political theorists to foreground contemporary art's ground-up impact on politics. Artists are increasingly tasked with proposing alternative imaginaries rather than their traditional representational missions, but how do audiences actually relate to the art they produce? How can art affect the political imagination, institutional change, and citizenship? To provide a comparative look at art as a site of institutional innovation beyond the "West," the panel focuses on historically informed ethnographies of aesthetic encounters, where art objects meet audiences and realign possible interactions and imaginations. If the arts promote social change, how does this happen differently in specific locations? These questions are vital in today's transnationalized art worlds that pit artists, artworks, and audiences in new configurations with atypical resources, rapidly transforming networks at their disposal, and new obstacles in their way. The panel launches from a consideration of Palestinian contemporary art because it is paradigmatic of predicaments art from the Global South negotiates. We know of the "game of expectations and desires" that controls the visibility of artistic practices originating in the Global South as they circulate transnationally, but what about their fate "at home," when home itself is a contested place? How can we understand art that creates "home" as much as it represents it? This project takes the ambiguities of Palestinian art-making as an entry into the study of art's role in constituting community, subjectivity, and political imaginations especially in contexts of state failure.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Reconsidering the Radical: Palestinian cultural production and the politics of legitimation before and after Oslo

Author: Sary Zananiri (Monash) email

Short abstract

The first Intifada and its outcome - the Oslo Accords - marked a previously unrealised political legitimation. This paper explores the dramatic shift in the ways in which Palestinian art circulated before and after the First Intifada as well as the ways such cultural production is consumed.

Long abstract

Palestine holds a place of privilege in the Western imaginary, firstly as a site for biblical narrative and since the 1960s as an emblematic site of anti-colonial resistance. The first Intifada is a seminal political marker in Palestinian history, but also engenders a moment of political legitimation in its ultimate outcome - the Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. This paper unpacks the impacts of political legitimation on Palestinian cultural production. Specifically, the dramatic shift in the ways in which Palestinian art circulated before and after the First Intifada as well as the ways in which such cultural production is consumed.

Prior to the Intifada much artwork was circulated as reproductions on posters or other media through international solidarity networks. Such artwork lived within the immediacy of streetscape, posted on walls as part of a solidarity efforts. With Palestinian political legitimation in the form of the PA, artwork retreated from its exilic existence in the street, auspiced by the politics of solidarity, to a more culturally legible modes of practice in international art arenas.

In responding to the assimilation of Palestinian contemporary art into the international art market, contemporary Palestinian curatorship has employed innovative grass roots strategies reflective of specific political and cultural circumstance. I will explicate these curatorial modes through the two case studies. Firstly, the recently built Palestine Museum and their plural attitude towards Palestinian identity and, secondly, the collaborative, grass-roots nature of Qalandia International, which uses a model that undermines the fragmentation of Palestinians.

Critique of the critique: training artists in oppositionality in Ramallah

Author: Helen Underhill (SOAS, University of London) email

Short abstract

This paper illuminates the strategic adoption of different registers of the political by staff and students at the International Academy of Art Palestine (Ramallah), relating the discourse of the artist as an oppositional figure to the notion of 'resistance' and emancipatory politics in Palestine.

Long abstract

Drawing on ethnographic detail from PhD research conducted at the former International Academy of Art Palestine (Ramallah), between 2014 and 2015, this paper will ask how art functions as a site of oppositional politics for young artists in Palestine. It explores the tension inherent in the fact that art education, with its talk of universal aesthetic (and in some cases moral) values, can be seen as a tool of neocolonialism and western liberalism, yet is also held by students and staff to open a space for much-needed critical viewpoints.

To point to the operation of power and the production of the subject that is involved in this deployment of liberal values within the arts does not necessarily uncover them as entirely negative. This paper draws its questions from a desire to illuminate the complexity of relating to this set of circumstances as a Palestinian artist or art student.

Drawing on a growing body of literature (notably Toukan, 2017) which seeks to analyse institutional critique as a mode of artmaking in the light of the new regional art fairs, institutions and museum platforms in Gulf states with questionable human rights records, this paper asks how Palestinian artists engage in a similar 'critique of the critique' in their artistic practice. Further, it explores the implications of this critique in relation to the current political landscape in Palestine.

Politics of (im)mobility and possible futures: a geographic perspective on cultural production at the Palestinian Museum

Author: Silvia Hassouna (Aberystwyth University ) email

Short abstract

The Palestinian Museum operates to affirm a national Palestinian identity that transcends its assigned territorial space and status. This paper brings together a geographic perspective with the critical study of museums in anthropology to examine material practices at the 'post-territorial museum'.

Long abstract

The Palestinian Museum at Birzeit operates to affirm a national Palestinian identity that transcends its assigned territorial space and status. This paper brings together a geographic perspective with the critical study of museums to examine the museum as an institution/technology that legitimates its holdings, collections, and activities as 'national'.

While the Palestinian Museum plays a critical role in the process of re-signification of the landscape, it has also emphasized its independence from territorial boundaries as a 'post-territorial museum'. The tension between a non-territorial foundation and national-institutional ambitions generates a space of ambiguity. Political geography has identified the friction between processes of denationalisation vis-à-vis territorial perspectives. Thus, drawing on contributions brought by geographers to the concepts of materiality and relationality, this paper will look at the museum's cultural production and material practices.

The museum's work is embedded in everyday aspects of occupation that limit accessibility and place an array of mundane constraints on its activities (e.g. visitation, access to expertise, sustainability). How is relation between the politics of (im)mobility and the museum's "borderless ambitions" evident in its representations?

The museum is a space for political and cultural imagination of possible futures linked to a nation-building process. Drawing on De Cesari's theorisation of Palestinian art projects as incorporated in anticipatory action and prefigurative politics, what alternative futures originate in the Palestinian Museum? How can a focus on "modes of future-oriented temporalities" (McConnell, 2016) contribute to the study of stateless museums?

Experiments in Living: Art and Speculation in the Settler Colony

Author: Kiven Strohm (National University of Singapore) email

Short abstract

Drawing on conversations between artist and anthropologist, this paper explores the entanglement of three moments within the political capacities enabled by Palestinian art, tracing the lines between them and the what-if and not-yet created inside the impasses of the settler colonial present.

Long abstract

Anthropological theorizing about art has often operated on the assumption that artworks are merely matters of representation; that is, artworks reflect and depict already existing social and cultural worlds. Such an approach, however, consigns the artwork to a secondary status by eliding the agentic capacities of the artwork itself. More recently there has been an effort to direct attention to these agentic capacities, with anthropologists exploring socially-engaged and participatory art. My research with Palestinian artists in Israel has brought to the fore the urgency of thinking about what artworks "do," especially those political capacities they enable for an indigenous minority living within a settler colonial state. Building on these approaches, this paper looks at an artwork by the artist Nardeen Srouji entitled E7tiqan (2012) to think through what political capacities it enables and how it enables them outside of the gallery. The anthropologist and artist engage in a series of open-ended conversations around how the artwork "works" with three moments emerging: the artwork as metaphor for the Palestinian condition under Israeli settler colonialism; the artwork as confrontation with the spectator; the artwork as a sensibility toward the everyday. In this paper I consider the entanglement of these three moments, tracing the lines between them and the what-if and not-yet that is created inside the impasses of the settler colonial present.

Artistic activism in Buenos Aires, Argentina: on political art and social impact

Author: Elke Linders (Utrecht University) email

Short abstract

In what ways do artist-activist groups in Buenos Aires, Argentina, engage in the (de)legitimization of cultural meanings attached to objects, practices and experiences? This paper discusses the paradox entailed by a preoccupation with the social impact of political art.

Long abstract

This paper discusses the ways in which artist-activist groups in Buenos Aires, Argentina, engage in the (de)legitimization of cultural meanings attached to objects, practices and experiences. Ethnographic descriptions of these groups' politico-artistic activities - which include participative mural paintings, theatre and the construction of iron statues - reveal the multiple relations as well as inherent tensions between artistic and political realms.

I will pose the question of how political art - and interdisciplinary theorizations of political art - can engage with the paradox that a preoccupation with notions of social impact entails; whereas often politico-artistic projects are valued for their social and political impact, such focus on impact could be considered an incorporation of the same neoliberal values that such projects often actually envision to contest. At the same time these so-called 'real' impacts are more often assumed than actually measured or demonstrated in writings on political art. One of the ways to address this paradox is by looking at the ways that artist-activists themselves define impact and success of their activities and to reflect on how this relates to both artistic and political theorizations. Through such exercise I analyse in what ways these groups envision and deploy art as a political tool for creating alternative social and political imaginaries without reducing 'the artistic' to its social and political functionality nor reducing 'the political' to an artistic genre.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.