Today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you Jordan Amirkhani’s article from 8.1: Art + Citizenship. Amirkhani discusses the recent work of artists Ai Weiwei and Bouchra Khalili as they respond to global crises. Amirkhani quotes Hannah Arendt, who speaks to citizenship and those who lack the “rights to rights,” saying, “If a human being loses his political status, he should, according to the implications of the inborn and the inalienable rights of man, come under exactly the situation for which the declarations of such general rights provided. Actually the opposite is the case.” This article was originally published on November 10, 2016.
In an age when rapidly intensifying globalization, migration, and the afterlife of colonization challenge traditional European-American notions of belonging in the aftermath of 9/11, citizenship has transformed to produce dynamic entanglements of inclusion and exclusion that have ignited national, racial, ethnic, and ideological tensions across the world.1 Meanwhile, new racisms, ethnic conflicts, and fundamentalisms mix with the unfettered operations of capital to produce ever-greater inequalities within and between nation–states. Transformed are the roles of nationally bounded social formations as well as the ability of the state to secure justice and belonging for others.
In the midst of this constellation of intersectional global crises, where borders, migrants, and refugees continue to float in spaces of non-belonging across the world, how are artists and institutions of art responding to these issues? This essay examines recent installations by two artists, Ai Weiwei and Bouchra Khalili, whose radically different responses to this global crisis demonstrate how works of art may either act as modes of resistance to the regressive forms of nation–state propaganda and racism that have thickened in the 21st century, or tread an ambiguous line between empathy and insensitivity in the effort to create aesthetic accounts of citizenry.