Here are two clips from videos featured in the excellent Subversion show,
featuring artists from the Arabic speaking world, currently on (to 5th June) at
It is carefully, elegantly and thoughtfully curated by Omar Kholeif, who writes:
“Like many of the artists I was looking at, I felt that collectively
curators and writers associated with the politically unstable Arab world were
being asked to step up and perform to an identity that the world wanted us to play.
With Subversion my aim was to do just the opposite. I worked with artists who
referenced this very language but who wanted to dissent, poke fun, critique
and re-define themselves as artists of the imagination, and not of any specific
social or political condition.”
It has to be said that this bending of the stick is eminently successful – none
of the works included has any taint of tokenism, they are rich with a poetry,
humour and humanity that cuts entirely across any notional cultural divide.
Where they do focus upon political subject matter (and one should not form the
impression that this is a show with, in any sense whatsoever, its political teeth pulled)
what delights is the richness and the playfulness with which this is done.
Larrisa Sansour’s “A Space Exodus” is both gentle and devastating.
Gentle, the Sansour persona (and we’ll have another piece of hers next week)
presented in the work, with the rather stylish space suit, the wistful smile and wave
towards the far away earth, having planted the Palestinian flag on the moon:
–“That’s one small step for Palestinians, one giant leap for mankind”.
Devastating when one sets this gentleness by the side of what we know of the Apartheid
wall, the illegal settlements, punishment demolition of Palestinian homes &c.
(Anyone who doubts the piece’s political impact should take a look at the vile racism
of some of the comments on the YouTube posting of this clip
– “Send all the Palestinians to the moon” &c.)
The other piece featured here is from the Gazan twins Ahmed and Mohamed Abu Nasser,
known professionally as “Tarzan and Arab”.
Although (in a disarming interview in which they come across a bit like a smiley
and un-terminally-corroded-by-snotty-cynicism younger version of the Chapmans)
they assert the piece is in some sense about internecine Palestinian conflict,
to me it reads more like a balletic paean of love to the cinema, to the
moving image (including perhaps the video game too – what do you think?).
Until last year Tarzan and Arab had never been to a cinema and have largely
been unable to attend screenings of their own works abroad.
In fact their first works, also shown at Cornerhouse, were old style film posters
for non-existent movies, all given titles from the names of Israeli military
operations: Defensive Shield, Cast Lead &c.(as, indeed, their film has too).
There is a great deal more to this show, which covers diverse geographical slices
of the Arabic speaking world and where therefore the interaction between life
and art has a different tempo and character to the works by the Palestinian
artists discussed here.
And it’s all great – I don’t have space here to properly do the whole thing justice.
In particular, though, I do want to mention Akram Zaatari’s two luminously beautiful
films set in the milieu of gay life in Beirut – though again to outline them thus,
in one line, in terms of “topic”, is to oversimplify – we must distinguish between
ostensible topics and the dense, lyric and dazzling poetry which they engender.
Also Khaled Hafez’s wonderful short “On Presidents and Superheroes”
(yet another political context, that of a staggeringly prescient augury of a victorious
but still contested Egyptian revolution) but I simply am going to just mention it as I
hope to write something a little bit more extended about it when I post a clip here (soon!).
If you possibly can, do yourself a big favour and go and see this show; give
yourself plenty of time, there’s a lot to see and some of the moving image work
is quite lengthy (and hats off to Omar Kholeif for achieving installations of
works that are appropriate, thought provoking and, somewhat banally but importantly at my age, comfortable.)
If you’re travelling from out of town (and I urge you so to do, dear reader, I urge you)
you can also catch the tremendous Roger Ballen show at the Manchester Art gallery,
which is a whole other story.
I’ll be returning to Subversion both here and in a somewhat more extended piece
of writing for MIRAJ next year.