“Global” and “international” are words often used in the art world; they mean different things to different people in different contexts. Here at Art21, those terms signify inclusion and our efforts to serve more people, particularly outside of the United States. What other resources can we provide to help provoke deep, personal conversations abroad and in communities that do not readily address topics that arise in our films? How can we support the efforts of our partners to develop innovative contemporary art programming in societies that might be, arguably, more restrictive?
In 2012, our Access screening program boasted over 300 partners and nearly 800 screenings of Art in the Twenty-First Century worldwide. The festivities kicked off in Karachi, Pakistan. For 2013, we’ve set a goal of 1,000 screenings and we anticipate that a good number of them will also take place outside of the United States.
To help us gauge the temperature around the reception of our films abroad, we convened in late 2011 our first ever International Council, bringing together thirteen arts advocates and cultural workers from four different continents. Their role is to provide insight and advice on how Art21 can better address the distinct needs and interests of their respective audiences. With their input, we can better understand how Art21 resources are or can be used as entry points into conversations about difficult topics, such as gender inequity, sexual identity, race and cultural relations, and economic disparities.
With our International Council, we often discuss our cherished print materials (postcards and posters, for instance) while at the same time examining our website. They look critically at how printed matter can draw attention in places where our website cannot. And advise us on cultural opinions or current events, such as recent elections, that can dissuade programming of Art21 films.
It was during one of our Skype meetings that I learned that gatherings of more than a few dozen people in a library in Cairo potentially constitute illegal assembly; and that offering an English-only screening sends a classist message that offends a large percentage of an audience we want to reach. But this is quickly changing. Last month, we launched the Art21 Translation Project, teaming up with Amara, a platform to facilitate crowd-sourced translation. Possibilities abound as our films and segments slowly but surely become available in multiple languages.
Some issues prevent screenings from happening at all: Reports from Beijing revealed that, in spite of hard work by institutions like Ullens to support contemporary art and artists in China, Ai Weiwei’s segment could not be shown in Beijing.
But then there are also tales of progress and exchange and even serendipity. Tushar Jiwarajka, director of Volte Gallery in Mumbai, recently shared this incredible story:
“About 2 years ago, I sat in my gallery in Mumbai watching William Kentridge: Anything is Possible. It was late, I finished watching and was wrapping up to go home, when two visitors walked into the gallery: it was William Kentridge and his wife Anne! They were transiting through Mumbai, were staying at a hotel near by, and had just stumbled upon the gallery. I was stunned! I pressed the eject button on my laptop’s DVD player, and showed them what I had just been watching and said, ‘Anything is Possible!’ I then offered some words of what a big fan I was of William’s works, and how I had just a few minutes ago been dreaming doing a William Kentridge show at the gallery. I think William was quite astonished by the serendipity and fortuity himself. He liked the gallery, and we decided to make an exhibition happen right then! That was followed by several meetings in New York, Venice, Johannesburg, Boston, Kassel and finally culminating in our [current] exhibition Poems I Used to Know, William’s first solo exhibition in Mumbai. I had been screening Art21 films at the gallery for the local art community, and that’s why I was sent the Kentridge DVD by Nick Ravich, Art21′s Director of Production. At the time, I never thought that the screenings would pay me back in any way. Yet, it set off a chain reaction of events, which enriched my life in a way that is quite indescribable. And of course, now the mantra of my life is ‘Anything is Possible’!”
At Art21, we know that much of our work is about context—we are making films about artists, speaking about their work in their own words, and from their own studios. Through our International Council, we finally have a forum in which we can ask open questions about how this plays out in other contexts; and the correlations of resistance and boundaries, both perceived and real, that sometimes prevents us from treading fearlessly into difficult conversations.
Are you attending an Art21 screening? Are you one of our Access partners? Do you have a story to share? We welcome your anecdotes, images, links, and invitations!