The art of revolution has been hung

BEIRUT: Dressed in patterned Converse, tight dirt-smeared trousers and a camo print vest over a short red dress, the woman stares directly into the camera, feet angled outward in a model’s classic catalogue pose.

Her accessories include an ammunition belt encircling her waist, a black balaclava concealing most of her face and a machine gun, which she points casually in the air – one finger on the trigger, nails polished red, arms smeared with fake blood.

Opposite her, a gunman in a similar pose, his head wrapped in a dark kaffiyeh, stares into the camera from shadowed eyes.

This juxtaposition of images forms part of Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic’s photo collage “Figure and Ground,” which pairs images lifted from an unfortunately timed fashion shoot in the September 2001 issue of “The Face” – featuring models dressed as militants – with portraits of terrorists published in “serious” media outlets such as “Newsweek” after 9/11.

The work encapsulates the themes of “Meeting Points 7,” a series of mutating exhibitions currently touring Europe, Asia and the Middle East, which focus on socio-political movements and transformations.

Taking as a starting point the Arab uprisings of the past three years, each exhibition features a unique selection of work tailored to the local context. They are united thematically in their exploration of the ramifications and manifestations of revolution and counter-revolution, colonialism, decolonialism, socialism and capitalism, the role of the middle class in social change and post-socialist feminism.

The exhibitions in this year’s edition of the visual art platform are curated by Croatian curatorial collective What, How & for Whom (WHW). The team is made up of Ivet Curlin, Ana Devic, Natasa Ilic and Sabina Sabolovic, who have been working together in Zagreb and Berlin since 1999 and who curated the 2009 Istanbul Biennial.

WHW were invited to curate “Meeting Points 7” by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, director of the Brussels-based Young Arab Theatre Fund that founded the biannual multidisciplinary contemporary arts festival in Amman in 2004. The curators were at liberty to select their themes, approaches and the cities in which the show was to be held, as well as the artists and works exhibited, a number of which were specially commissioned.

The exhibitions are entitled “Ten Thousand Wiles and a Hundred Thousand Tricks,” a quote from “The Wretched of the Earth,” revolutionary philosopher Frantz Fanon’s analysis of the dehumanizing effects of colonization.

“‘The Wretched of the Earth’ was written in 1961,” explains Ana Devic, “at the height of the Algerian revolution. While we were thinking about the exhibition, we realized that many of these artists’ works were [produced] while we are living in the throes of revolutionary action and thinking. ... The exhibition mutates from one place to another, but there are certain topics that trend throughout the whole series.

“One of them is this open question of revolution,” she continues. “How can we think about revolution today, not as an abrupt moment of protest but also as a political program? ... Today we are witnessing various countermovements all over the world, and basically they are [against] the capitalist system.

“The second question becomes what is the role of the middle class? Is the middle class also a revolutionary agent, or a kind of force keeping the situation unchanged? The third one is how decolonization as a movement, as an act, can be a constructed. How can we decolonize our thinking? How can we decolonize our action, no matter if we are referring to historical colonialism or the kind of colonization that comes hand in hand with the capitalist system?”

The local iteration of “Meeting Points 7,” which opened in Zagreb in September 2013 before moving to Antwerp, Cairo and Hong Kong, is currently on show at the Beirut Art Center, before it travels to Vienna and Moscow. It features the work of 29 individuals and collectives, including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Marwa Arsanios, Simone Fattal, Iman Issa, Maha Maamoun and Jumana Manna.

Unlike previous editions of the festival, “Meeting Points 7” does not include theater, dance or music performances, focusing instead on installation, video art and film. Its scope has widened even as its media horizons have narrowed, however, and the work on show has expanded beyond Europe and the Arab world to include Asia and Latin America.

In an effort to filter current socio-political events through a historical lens, focusing not just on the social upheavals of the past three years but also those of the past 50, WHW have included several older film and video works along with the contemporary pieces.

A program of film screenings accompanies the exhibition, beginning on April 9 with sociologist Edgar Morin and anthropologist Jean Rouch’s 1961 collaboration “Chronicle of a Summer.” The documentary consists of a series of dialogues with working class Parisians that touch on the war in Algeria, the situation in the Congo and recollections of the Holocaust.

On April 14, Sven Augustijnen’s 2011 feature-length film “Spectres” will explore the legacy of the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of the then-newly independent Congo.

Iranian director Kianoush Ayari’s 1979 documentary “The Newborns” will be screened on April 23. Shot just after the 1979 revolution, the film captures everyday interactions on the streets of Tehran in the period of political vacuum immediately preceding the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ayari’s film will be followed by a screening of Goran Devic’s 2012 work “Two Furnaces for Udarnik Josip Trojko,” combining archival audio and film recordings to explore the history of the Sisak Ironworks.

The final screening, on April 30, will be Marta Popivoda’s 2013 work “Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body.” Popivoda was born in socialist Yugoslavia in 1982, and her intimate cinematic essay retells the history of her country between 1945 and 2000.

“Meeting Points 7” continues at the Beirut Art Center until May 3. For more information, please call 01-397-018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2014, on page 16.




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