The veil is an item of clothing dramatically overburdened with competing symbolism… For women who wear it and artists who represent it, the veil is a garment whose meaning cannot be contained. It is a garment fought over by adherents and opponents, many of whom claim that their understanding of the veil’s significance is the one and true meaning.
- Reina Lewis, Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art
A former professor asked me one time, “Do you think the veil is one of today’s last uncolonized territories?” What kind of absurd question is that? – at least that’s what I thought. Yet my instructor did have a point. You can’t even begin to address gender and female identity in Middle Eastern art without looking at the one object that encapsulates and defines the average Muslim woman to naked, unknowing Western eyes: the veil. Like the hat in English, it’s a piece of clothing that has no singular name in Arabic and no solitary motivation: job, class, ethnicity, law, religion, fashion–these are just a handful of reasons why a Middle Eastern woman may choose to wear a veil.
Hardly an Islamic innovation, it’s a head covering rooted in the historical context of Arab culture, yet its depiction is entirely in relation to its wearer and its viewer, in how we adopt or reject certain connotations we carry with our own individual perceptions of this piece of fabric. For Westerners, it’s a single-sided image of everything that’s wrong with Middle Eastern culture, a symbol of anything Arab that contradicts so-called “Western values.”
Veiling is legitimized by the element of choice, and it is the presence or lack of choice that creates the context of whether the hejab frees a woman or objectifies her. Yet history, in all its intersections between the Old and New World, shows that patriarchy repeatedly finds a way to sneak in and impose itself on women’s dress, all in the name of “liberation.”
In this week’s roundup Maya Lin invites and challenges viewers, Alfredo Jaar makes history, Mike Kelley, Pepón Osorio, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jessica Stockholder explore everyday things, and more.
- Maya Lin recently launched What Is Missing?, as part of the fifth, and last, of her memorial projects, which began with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1982. The web-based, multimedia memorial coincides with her exhibition in the Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art. The show closes May 13.
- Mike Kelley, Pepón Osorio, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jessica Stockholder have work in Everyday Things: Contemporary Works from the Collection at the Rhode Island School of Design. This show features artworks that depict commonplace objects and imagery, utilize everyday elements in their construction, or serve as functional artist-made objects, including benches, chairs, and light fixtures. This work is on view through February 24, 2013.
- Richard Serra‘s, Kiki Smith‘s and Martin Puryear‘s works are currently on view in Inside|Out at the Speed Art Museum (Louisville, KY). The exhibition illustrates how art and nature connect at the “New” Speed when the Museum reopened after its renovation and expansion project. Inside|Out looks at sculptures and prints made by these artists, among others. The exhibition closes September 23.
- Jeff Koons lent his entire body of work to designer Lisa Perry’s latest collection of apparel and accessories. Perry’s art-inspired collection featuring Koons’s work is available at her boutique and on her website. Some of the proceeds will go to the Koons Family Institute, an initiative of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Alfredo Jaar is featured in Making History at Frankfurter Kunstverein (Frankfurt, Germany). The exhibition addresses how photographs shape our view of history as well as the images that are withheld from us. Jaar’s photographs investigate the potential effect and ideological power of published photographic icons in his work, as well as in a large-scale installation. This show runs through July 8.
- Barry McGee‘s stickers are featured in Stuck Up: A Selected History of Alternative and Popular Culture told through Stickers at the UGLYgallery and New Bedford Art Museum (Massachusetts). Contemporary artists not necessarily known for stickers, such as Jenny Holzer, are shown side by side with anonymous stickers peeled from the streets of New York City. This exhibition will run concurrently at the New Bedford Art Museum and UGLYgallery through May 4.
For a Limited Time: Ask the Artists
Ask the artists a question! Viewers are invited to submit questions for Marina Abramović, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, and Eli Sudbrack of assume vivid astro focus. The artists will respond to select questions, which will be posted on pbs.org in May.
Submission deadline is May 3 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
History—featuring Marina Abramović, Mary Reid Kelley, and Glenn Ligon—premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). The full episode will be available online the following day.
Three ways to participate:
Leave a comment below or at pbs.org. Be sure to indicate which artist—Marina Abramović, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, or Eli Sudbrack of assume vivid astro focus—your question is directed to.
Tweet a question using the button below. Be sure to include the hashtag #art21qa.
Submit a question using the Ask the Artists form on pbs.org. Questions will only be published if selected.
Leeza Ahmady is originally from Afghanistan. She is an independent art curator and educator from Central Asia. She is based in New York and, as the director of Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) at Asia Society (2005-present), Ahmady brings together leading New York City museums and galleries to participate in special exhibitions, receptions, lectures, and performances citywide.
Ahmady’s name is directly linked to The Taste of Others project, which began in 2005 and continues to feed her practice to this day. A performance-based exhibition first launched at Apexart New York, The Taste of Others is an on-going educational program that connects contemporary artists from Central Asia to artists, professionals, and institutions in other parts of the world.
Through Dialogues in Contemporary Art (DCA) in collaboration with Independent Curators International (ICI) and ARTonAIR.org, Ahmady conducts interviews with artists, curators, critics, and experts working across a broad field of contemporary art. The program addresses the role of artists, curators, and other art professionals in an increasingly borderless world, investigating the ways in which artistic practices, curatorial strategies, and critical commentary have been reconfigured by intensified patterns of global circulation.
Most recently through her role as an agent and member of the curatorial team for dOCUMENTA(13), Ahmady traveled to Kabul in February 2012 to present a series of workshops in anticipation of the exhibitions in Kassel and Kabul Summer 2012. The workshops covered art theory, perspectives on international contemporary art, and the building of a critical art magazine.
Are you ready for an Art21 Telethon? If you’re in New York on May 6th, be sure to drop by Algus Greenspon Gallery — 71 Morton Street — from 3-11pm for musical acts, animal talents, artist interviews, comedy, audience participation, and much more! If you’re not in NYC, you can catch a live stream at art21.org/telethon. Full details here.
So whose idea was this? Around this time last year, we asked the artists participating in New York Close Up if they had any ideas for public events that we could collaborate on. We were expecting variations on your typical screening or roundtable discussion. What we were not expecting was for artist Tommy Hartung, and his friend artist Ronnie Bass (who we met while out filming one evening), to propose an eight-hour marathon performance that would also serve as a fundraiser for the project.
We’ll let Ronnie explain the idea:
I remember watching telethons when I was a kid and being drawn to the ways in which it broke the rules of television—viewers could directly participate in the program by calling in, and in general, the hosts would speak in a loose, unscripted way. There was room for spontaneity.
In addition to being a functional benefit, I think of it as being a type of performance, with a particular end goal of raising funds. We did a telethon in 2007 as part of my Performa07 project called PERFORMA TV. When we needed additional funding, I immediately thought of a telethon since it’s the most standard way a television station would raise money, at least when I was growing up.
A telethon made sense for Art21. Only this time around, the event will be an extra hour, and in general, will be much more produced. We have a large assortment of varied performers who are all participating, as the organizers are, because they love Art21.
Tommy and Ronnie teamed up with independent curator and writer Miriam Katz to help produce the event. Miriam explains:
I like that we were able to bring together a widely varied group of performers—artists, musicians, comedians—who would not necessarily fit together on a more rigidly thematic bill. Unlike a typical benefit, we expect this event to be more improvised, lively, and fun, along with a sincere expression of our appreciation for what Art21 does for the contemporary art world. We’re not sure exactly what will happen over the course of 8 hours, but we’ve packed in a lot of very special acts to fill the time.
A few of the acts include performances by Dirty Mirrors (Jennifer Coates, David Humphry, Jon Kessler, John Miller, Aura Rosenberg, Dan Walworth), Adira Amram and The Experience, MC Squared, Kate Berlant, DAS, Mike Dobbins, Ryan McNamara, Maria Petschnig, and Art21 artist Mariah Robertson; interviews with Art21 featured artists Lucas Blalock, Kalup Linzy, Shana Moulton, and Mika Tajima; plus special, surprise guests to be announced on the day of the event.
So there you have it. Get your checkbooks ready and shine up those credit cards, because a few of our favorite artists are throwing us a telethon!
History has a way of finding itself in the voice of the heroes. Not so much for the heroines. Women, often the backbone of revolution, almost always find themselves relegated to the backdrop before the honeymoon of victory wears off. Equals during protest, but second-class citizens under new governments and bandaid-approach “reforms.” Empowerment does not necessarily mean equality.
That’s not to say that we’re not making progress, but it’s often uneven and stalled, and in the case of the Middle East, many times marred by either Orientalist ideas of powerless women dominated by men or self-induced inferiority amongst women in the region who suffer from internalized oppression. Both sides play into the stigmatized and negative identity that is best encapsulated by the worn out, overmedicated and clichéd image of the veiled Muslim woman, often dominated by the trifecta of male power: the state, religious institutions and husbands. Rarely is the average revolutionary woman portrayed by her standard strengths: educated, socially aware, politically active. Instead, we latch on to her modest, “traditional” appearance, assuming that if she’s veiled that means she has no voice. As if she were a passive force of internal and untapped strength, what these images really do is reduce women to the one image the West has of her, making her cheap ammunition in an already simplified debate over the complex issues that make up gender inequality in the Middle East.
Feminist debate over the status of women within democratic reforms fueled by the Arab Spring is an ongoing discourse, reinvigorated this week with the publication of Egyptian-American Mona El Tahawy’s controversial article “Why Do They Hate Us?” published in Foreign Policy. Many (including myself) looked at the title and assumed the article to be one about the state of gender rights within the totalitarian regimes that dominate the Arab world. “They,” as it turns out, refers to Arab men in general, portrayed as inherently hateful towards women, as evidenced by all the sexual violations women experience on a daily basis in the Arab world.
For a moment, I really thought we were all going to die. Having waited for 30 minutes in lines snaking around the block, the audience for Cai Guo-Qiang’s April 7 explosion event, Mystery Circle, we stood jammed together, enclosed by a chain link fence next to MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary building, the air tense with anticipation. When Cai’s 40,000 rockets launched in unison, they formed a terrifying cloud of flames, heat, and noise that surged not upwards, but directly toward the crowd.
After glimpsing my own mortality, I could barely absorb the subsequent explosions of 100 so-called pyrotechnic UFOs – fireworks that hover and spin in the air—which launched from the ground, exploding against the museum wall to leave a smoldering design of circles mirroring crop circles. At the far end of the wall, Cai’s gunpowder mural ignited last, forming into the kitschy shape of a cartoonish “alien-god,” complete with conehead and cat eyes. Part of the impetus for Cai’s pyrotechnic art comes from a fascination with the human quest to fly, and his related interest in communing with extra-terrestrials. I had been skeptical about the sincerity of his latter exploration, but when my friend pointed to an X-Files fan poster on Cai’s studio wall, visible during his Season 3 Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, I began to think that his efforts might be earnest. And after experiencing the Mystery Circle explosion myself, I think it might actually work. If they’re out there. Ahem.
But last week I had the chance to catch Zoe Strauss’ exhibit, “Ten Years”, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there I was walking around in circles, revisiting works multiple times, looking into details I missed on the first and second go-round. Is it a coincidence that Strauss’ 2008 book, America, just happens to hold the same title as the Glenn Ligon show from last year? I wonder.
This mid-career retrospective was epic, not in breadth or scale, but in the quality of composition and the framing of content. Strauss, who as an untrained photographer explores “the most disenfranchised people and places” through photographs that share a “poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America,” literally exhibited annually in a space under I-95 in South Philadelphia from 2001-2010. She plastered the walls of the space with her work, gave visitors a guide to the show and made herself available to sign prints for $5 each. And while she was included in the Whitney Biennial in 2006 I think moving from an I-95 underpass to the Philadelphia Museum in about ten years isn’t half bad.
In her recent show, which closed on April 22nd, Strauss gave us lots to chew on. Whether gazing into her portraits of strangers, picking through photos of cityscapes and skylines, or laughing out loud at her precisely composed pictures of signs and text, Strauss most certainly attained her goal of creating a “narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life”. One look at “Mattress Flip” (2001) or “Ken and Don, Las Vegas” (2007) will attest to this. Her photos are somber and simultaneously joyful. The way she frames her subjects keep us coming back for more and quite frankly, she doesn’t need to print the photographs larger than life to get her point across. Many works, at 12 by 18 inches, are plenty big without needing a team of handlers and a forklift.
Teachers who want utilize Strauss’ work in the classroom will find that she can be a huge inspiration to students who want to chronicle their own place and time, much like LaToya Ruby Frazier. But unlike Frazier, Strauss often works with strangers and has photographed other parts of the country, such as Biloxi, Mississippi and Camden, New Jersey, to shoot the personalities and landscape of similarly struggling towns and neighborhoods.
I kept hearing nervous laughter while visiting the show. Were people laughing at the work? Were they laughing because they recognized some of the local storefronts Strauss pictured? Or was that nervous laughter because many people somehow saw themselves in these moments of peace and distress?
Please take a look at the slideshow that accompanies the narrative of the Strauss retrospective and share any ideas you may have for working with her photography in (and out) of the classroom.
My thesis is due in two weeks, so let’s keep this short. April has been a kicking month for the New Aesthetic – a term so nascent I feel like it’s redefined after each new blog post on it. And there has been a whole lot written this past month thanks to a SXSW panel that brought it to the attention of those beyond the tech art cognoscenti. As a student of ITP, I find it interesting that my work is almost immediately categorized as New Aesthetic. But also that a number of works by classmates and alums of my program are being used to define the movement.
My take on what the New Aesthetic is: we are beginning to live in a world where our machines are learning to see, to hear, and to think, but not quite in the way that we humans see, hear or think. Our growing reliance on these technologies have forced us to empathize with these computational devices. Pixelization, the loading icon, and the blue screen of death–visual anomalies created by computers that don’t happen in our reality –are recognizable and understood because we have become comfortable with how computers process the world. While fifty years ago the public saw the Earth from space via satellite for the first time, this view of our planet from above has become the norm thanks to mapping technologies like GPS and Google maps. Continue reading »
Every Sunday after church, I like to look at myself in the mirror for an hour and then look at my website and all the artwork on it for another hour. Each time I visit my website, I’m disappointed with the categories I’ve listed in my Curriculum Vitae: so depending on the week you visit, my CV will describe me in different ways.
The world of art demands many things from its contributors, and artists themselves place a lot of emphasis on accomplishing multiple endeavors. Everyone has myriad roles to fulfill and artists are no different. Aside from the captivating myth of an artist creating work in a messy studio while listening to NPR, an artist seeks to contribute in a variety of ways to an artistic endeavor.
For me, the most obvious contribution outside of my formal studio and cliché art production is art writing, i.e. art blogging. My online writings appear on a handful of blogs and consistently cover some kind of personal confession as a player in the art world. I rant about my journey towards some existential art goal and the obstacles I face to unlock that achievement. Occasionally my writings take on the guise of art criticism, but only when I feel like I have a firm grip on the subject matter in an art historical context. Sometimes I wish that a simple thumbs-up or down were enough for an art critic, but that would put some brilliant folks out of a job.