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[Nettime-bold] article for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago fa
JSalloum on Sat, 20 Oct 2001 08:32:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] article for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago faclty newsletter

‘everything and nothing’
or art and the politics of ‘war’

Let’s pay attention to language now. It’s getting us into a lot of trouble.  
But, then again it always has been especially when we forget to recognize it. 
And now that seems like an important thing to do. To question how things are 
being said, how we are saying things, framing, conceptualizing, grasping, and 
coming to terms with our lives as artists and citizens of this whole wide 
world. So now, how do you position yourself in the midst of all this. Is your 
relationship to your neighbours different? Has our role as artists changed? 
If it has then we’re in more trouble than I thought. What I mean is that.. 
what makes us decide to have an agency in our work? an embracement of the 
social sphere or an engagement with politics that would make others want to 
do the same. Or what makes us want to run away from it all, maybe it’s the 
same thing.

As artists we do pay attention to these things, language and relationships to 
the social and political. I fell into the trap of believing that I understood 
what that meant. Being identified as an Arab now has the same repercussions 
as before except they are heightened. The repulsion and exoticism of ‘us’ 
still exists side by side, collapsing into each other and swallowing us with 
it. We cannot just have an art exhibit without somehow having to relate it to 
Sept. 11th. We are not allowed to,  it is the first or second question out of 
the journalists’ mouths and they demand an answer, one that fits into a sound 
bite, or is said in a way  that they can rewrite you as being one of ‘us’, 
or one of ‘them’. So, how can this be used in a productive sense. Well, with 
difficulty. In our recent little struggle with the Museum of Civilization 
(MOC), in Hull, Quebec (across the river from our nation’s capital, Ottawa), 
a few of us ‘arab’ artists (Rawi Hage, Laura Marks, and myself) found out 
that a story has a life of it’s own whether true or false. And this is what 
gets picked up on. On a recent Monday after a recent Tuesday the MOC 
directorship postponed an exhibition of 26 Arab-Canadian artists that had 
been in the works for 5 years. It was stated as an ‘indefinite postponement’ 
with the need to ‘revisit and review the content of the exhibition’ and to 
provide a ‘broader context to the work’ following the events of Sept. 11th. 
The MOC is the largest public museum in Canada and has very little experience 
in working with living artists, one thing they always provide though, is a 
didactic context. To make a long story short(er), we sent out an email letter 
of protest that afternoon, by Tuesday over 200 responses were coming in from 
around the world directed to the museum and our politicians, by Wednesday the 
Prime Minister spoke up in our favour in the Parliament (again calling for  
‘tolerance’ – as opposed to empathy), Thursday it had unanimous support in 
the Senate, and by Friday the Minister of Culture had spoken up and the MOC 
which is supposed to be an arms length institution reneged and reinstated the 
exhibition as originally planned ‘due to political pressure’. With all 
factors combined and snowballing, it became a national and international news 
story (even my friends in Beirut and Chicago were able to catch it on CNN). 
Well, the show is open, about 3,000 people came to the opening last night, 
and the directors have not taken any responsibility for their actions and 
avoided mentioning any of this like the plaque. They didn’t apologize nor 
admit any error. They also never bothered to discuss anything with the 
artists at any point in the debacle to try to resolve their ‘concerns’ 
before going public. At a time when public institutions need to show the most 
leadership, this museum failed profoundly. Their need for ‘spin-doctoring’ 
and packaging of the artworks backfired and inflamed the sensitive content of 
the works bringing the issues into a context of sensationalism, hysteria, and 
(their) arrogance. In the current climate of suppression and repression of 
any debate and dissention, discursive activities such that art can be, may be 
one of the few domains left to us to express unpopular ideas, resistance, and 
the complexities of our lives. We need to protect our right to be 
self-inscribed. This is one arena that we should not give up on easily, this 
cultural sphere, these domains of discursivity. We have struggled for this 
space to call our own and it is one that we can still use to champion 
difference and provide a means of contemplation that can counter the  
'manufacturing of consensus’ that goes on around us.

-Jayce Salloum, 10/19/01

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