Precarious Citizenship

Today, as we in the United States live our first day under a new administration, we bring you John Zarobell’s “Precarious Citizenship.” Originally published in Art Practical’s issue 8.1, this article explores the “precarious citizenship” of Gazi Nafis Ahmed, a Bangladeshi artist whose rich black-and white portraits of queer communities have gained unwanted fundamentalist attention, making it unsafe for him to remain in his country. Zarobell says, “Precarious citizenship is a fact for countless artists, and we must seek justice and asylum for these artists who cannot be safe in their home country.” As we take to the streets today, we march with those across the world whose citizenship does not guarantee or accept their very identity.

Gazi Nafis Ahmed. Shahinoor & Nipa #2, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist. “I am a woman and I love another woman. I want to live with my lover. I don’t want anyone to come between us. We don’t want anyone among us to commit suicide, to get hurt, to become addicted to drugs, to cut themselves. Let us live the way we want to. Now is the time to open up and talk about it.”

Gazi Nafis Ahmed. Shahinoor & Nipa #2, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist. “I am a woman and I love another woman. I want to live with my lover. I don’t want anyone to come between us. We don’t want anyone among us to commit suicide, to get hurt, to become addicted to drugs, to cut themselves. Let us live the way we want to. Now is the time to open up and talk about it.”

In the United States, we tend to think of citizenship as a privilege, but it is not hard to imagine how it could instead be a curse when your very right to exist is challenged in your home country. In 2015, Europe received more than a million refugees—many of whom destroyed their own identity cards in order to erase their national identity so that they could not be deported back to their home countries. The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees asylees the right of non-refoulement, which prevents any signatory state from sending refugees back to countries where their lives are in danger due to persecution. This was a response to the persecution of Jews and others under Hitler’s Third Reich, and the Convention constitutes an effort to ensure that such genocides never happen again. But as the global refugee population climbs to sixty-five million, receiving countries struggle to adjust, and many countries have closed their borders altogether so that refugees might never arrive. Forced migration is an issue that often remains in the shadows, but many artists are struggling to find a place where they can express their own views without fear of persecution.

The singer Paul Robeson famously quipped that he was a citizen of the world, and while this sentiment is more common than ever in our globalized age, Robeson’s own experience demonstrates citizenship’s limitations. While speaking out against injustice in the United States, he was hounded by Joseph McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee and was even denied the right to travel abroad in the 1950s. Robeson’s story is tragic and represents a kind of wound that many artists confront to this day. Ai Weiwei was jailed in 2011 and had his passport confiscated for years by Chinese authorities due to his criticism of the government. These cases are but symptoms of a much larger trend of persecuting artists whose work transgresses the norms of their eras or expands social or political conversation beyond the views advocated by the government. Robeson and Ai allow us to see how making art with a conscience can lead to a form of precarious citizenship.

Read the full article here.

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General Strike #J20

We at Daily Serving join our fellow citizens around the world in resistance and solidarity.strike_black

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Mexico City

Juan Acha: Por una Nueva Problemática Artística at Museo de Arte Moderno

Juan Acha is finally getting some recognition. Try searching for his texts in English and you will find a handful of articles about his importance, but little directly from the man who remains one of Latin America’s most relevant contemporary art critics and theoreticians twenty-two years after his death in 1995. As a remedy, Juan Acha: Por una Nueva Problemática Artística (Toward a New Artistic Problematic), at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno, highlights the work and ideas Acha developed in the museum from 1972, when he left his natal Peru to find refuge in Mexico, until 1976.

Exhibition View with Héctor Pérez Frutos (as installed by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba). Las Dos Fridas, 1997; Oil paint; 5 ft. 8 in. x 5 ft. 8 in. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo: Ramiro Chaves. 

Héctor Pérez Frutos (as installed by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba). Las Dos Fridas, 1997; oil paint; 5 ft. 8 in. x 5 ft. 8 in.; exhibition view. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.

Acha was a Marxist who believed that Latin American artists shouldn’t impulsively follow the trends set by international conceptual art, but instead develop their own practices in line with their continent’s issues. He inspired and accompanied a generation of artists who, like him, witnessed and in different ways suffered the consequences of the continent’s political turbulences. Some of Acha’s ideas about art are laid out in the essay “Por una Nueva Problemática Artística en Latinoamérica (Toward a New Artistic Problematic in Latin America)”[1], published in 1973 in the magazine Artes Visuales.[2] In the essay, the critic states: “The need to give our countries a new social and cultural turn brings with it the need to ask up to what point we can and should give art a new course.” It wasn’t Acha’s role to define what this new course was, but as the exhibition hints, some artists dared to imagine it and put it into practice, aided by his presence and the context they all shared.

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San Francisco

Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art

From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art at the Contemporary Jewish Museum explores Marianne Hirsch’s work on “postmemory,” which posits that even without direct experience, we identify so strongly with some historic events and ancestral stories that we take them as our own. Hirsch’s work and the exhibition examine the role of imagination within memory and the way that it shapes contemporary identity. In a dramatic range of striking works by twenty-four artists, the exhibition invokes the trauma of wars, genocides, and injustices from around the world, while also heralding many forms of resistance. Underlying the exhibition’s conceit, many works create speculative collisions of time and place that position historic moments within the present, moving beyond memorializing to making history resonate in today’s world.

Hank Willis Thomas. Amelia Falling, 2014; Glass mirror and silver, 65 1/8 x 53 1/8 x 1 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hank Willis Thomas. Amelia Falling, 2014; glass mirror and silver; 65 1/8 x 53 1/8 x 1 1/2 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Born in 1944, near the end of World War II, and informed by his father’s stories of being a Ukrainian Jew hiding from the Gestapo, Christian Boltanski has spent his career exploring the Holocaust. In Scratch (2014), the artist presents yearbook photographs of smiling children from a Jewish school in Berlin, many of whom were likely Holocaust victims. The shape of Boltanski’s work is suggestive of a figure; ten images are arranged in a vertical rectangle, topped with a centered image of a single face. A column of empty black frames in the middle creates a void that alludes to the incompleteness of his work, a subtly powerful indication that there are more children than are pictured. This dark column also implicates the viewer’s presence, such that with no faces pictured, one’s own image is reflected in the glass and surrounded by the children of the Holocaust.

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Printed Matters

Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel

In a new book, the esteemed photojournalist Miki Kratsman describes the uneasy recognition by some former students at Tel Aviv’s Geographic Photography College in 2005: The relationship between photojournalists and media outlets was rapidly shifting in a direction that did not favor visual storytellers, as online platforms achieved supremacy and content demands increased exponentially. From their insecurity sprang Activestills, a collective of dedicated photographers whose work challenges dominant media narratives about a range of issues—including one of the most violently entrenched conflicts on the planet—and the critical assessment of photography to affect change. Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel, the group’s second publication, is an incisive critical and personal reflection on its work of the previous decade.

Image from “Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel” (Israel’s Ethiopian community demonstrates against police brutality and racism, following a series of incidents involving police violence directed at Ethiopian youth, West Jerusalem, 30 April 2015). Courtesy of Shiraz Grinbaum.

Image from “Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel.” (Protesters take part in a demonstration calling for animal liberation, Tel Aviv, Israel, August 24, 2013.) Courtesy of Shiraz Grinbaum.

It is vital to understand the terminology adopted by Activestills members and contributors. None of the participants accept the title “documentary photographer.” Photojournalists working in the documentary mode—such as Jacob Riis, Jessie Tarbox Beals, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey—operate by long-standing procedural and ethical codes in journalism that understandably prioritize neutrality when capturing a story. While exposing events to worldwide audiences, photojournalists as a rule do not intervene in the actions that unfold before their cameras.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: Between Truth and Fiction

#truth #history #narrative #Afropolitan #multiculturalism #future

In an age when fact and falsehood are often indistinguishable, The Ease of Fiction is a title that gives pause. The exhibition, now at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, was curated by Dexter Wimberly for the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. Having been invited to participate in the exhibition’s collateral programming as a speaker during its Los Angeles run, I was mistrustful of the proposition to give way to fiction, abdicating the fight for truth when the very concept is being called into question all around us. On the other hand, a fiction need not contain untruths—perhaps personal and political realities are easier or less painful to understand if represented another way. Finding such other ways of understanding was the focus of my talk with participating artist Sherin Guirguis in December 2016, and it is a question I wish to explore further here.

The Ease of Fiction, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of California African American Museum. Photo: Andreas Branch.

The Ease of Fiction, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of California African American Museum. Photo: Andreas Branch.

The exhibition of four artists at the California African American Museum incorporates nonlinear narratives, representation, and abstraction into its definition of “fiction.” Yet for the most part, the subject matter mined by the artists is historical or autobiographical. As such, the underlying assumption is that fiction might be truth offered under a different name. In Guirguis’ large-scale paintings on paper, the Egyptian-born artist makes reference to the mashrabiya screens at Huda Shaarawi’s residence and in the windows of the Cairo train station where the early-20th-century feminist activist removed her veil in defiance of the mandate that men dictate the terms of her body. These are verifiable historical facts and real places. Still, the rich, drip-streaked marks of Guirguis’ paintings, and the soft glow of vermilion that emanates from behind their intricately cut surfaces, suggest an alternate understanding that prioritizes intuition, embodiment, and affect over official narratives.

One truth that proves to be a fiction is that of cultural uniformity among communities of African heritage, a notion promoted through midcentury Pan-Africanist and Caribbean discourse as a counter-narrative to the totalizing universalism of European cultural values. Such idealizations of Africa overlook the continent’s racial, geographic, and linguistic diversity, resulting in well-meaning but primitivizing assumptions from Americans of all races who fail to recognize the cosmopolitanism of the continent. The Ease of Fiction is notable because it expands CAAM’s constituency of African Americans to include artists born in Africa who later emigrated to the United States. Their inclusion brings a vision of Afropolitanism—of a multicultural, urban, globally connected continent—to an institution anchored in America’s Black traditions.

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San Francisco

Border Crossings: From Palestine to Mexico

From our sister publication Art Practical today we bring you an article published in Issue 8.1: Art & Citizenship. Author Genevieve Quick considers Khaled Jarrar’s ongoing project Live and Work, which interrogates the borders between Palestine and Israel, and Mexico and the United States. Quick states, “As larger geopolitical issues are debated between international politicians, Jarrar uses art to enact seemingly small gestures that empower himself as an individual, resulting in a dialogue with the everyday.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016.

Khaled Jarrar. Khaled’s Ladder, 2016; made from parts of the Mexico/USA border. Courtesy of CULTURUNNERS.

Khaled Jarrar. Khaled’s Ladder, 2016; made from parts of the Mexico/USA border. Courtesy of CULTURUNNERS.

As a naturalized citizen, I have crossed international borders as an immigrant and a traveler. My passport verifies my citizenship, tracks my travel, and, as an American, grants me a largely unfettered freedom of movement around the world. For many of us, economic and time constraints may prevent travel, but for others—regardless of their merit, character, or intentions—their very citizenship is an obstacle to entering some countries. While the world’s increasing interconnectedness is widely celebrated, many countries have responded with strict immigration limits, bureaucratic hurdles, or the construction of physical walls.

Palestine’s status as a partially recognized or disputed country is subject to external governments that, in addition to other powers, can regulate the flow of people within the region and further abroad. Through performance and sculpture, artist Khaled Jarrar investigates the ways that passports and borders separate, define, and limit us. Provocatively, the artist also creates ways to transgress borders, breaking them down from the larger geopolitical apparatus into individually manageable acts. Emerging out of his own experience in Palestine, Jarrar’s practice has expanded to internationally site-specific projects that address global issues of migration and our shared concerns and struggles.

Read the full article here.

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