Hello Eindhoven, Remco and I are on the way to Alexandria. We will meet with the middle east group except Amirali, for whom we could not get a visa given Iran-Egypt relations. This is the fourth meeting in the series, the others happened twice in Eindhoven and once in Fes. The idea behind them is to try and find a way of working together across the region and with a western museum that avoids some of the usual pitfalls. These latter may be obvious but it is worth defining what we are trying to avoid on order to understand what options remain. Some of the problems for the western museum involve the instrumentalisation of ‘otherness’, especially an Islamic or middle eastern otherness that is close to us. This relates to the idea that art shows us all to be human and the same in our fundamental or emotional nature. According to this idea, the problem of otherness is the influence of culture or ideology in a certain place that stops us understanding each other and making world peace. While this is no bad desire, the logic hidden inside is that the other’s culture and ideology is inferior to own western norm – this has to be because the former west is the place where these people can show their culture and express their common humanity with us. In this way, even the western museums own self criticism is evidence of its superiority. This on turn excludes any real chance of some exchange in which western values are put at risk, which naturally makes those who are invited to share their sense of commonality and humanness in the museum very mistrustful. We want to avoid this by trying to put our place as a museum at risk on the discussions by asking the others what they think is useful to them about our museum. The answers are slowly beginning to come…
A second aspect to avoid is to treat artists from outside the former west only as representatives or worse illustrations of their cultural specificity. Then their voice as an individual is diminished. This is a issue that ha wide implications and I am not sure we always avoid it in the museum because on part art does often speak about the time and place it comes from – just not only and not always – sometimes it prwdicts, sometimes it asks is to remember. We are struggling on the group to recognize the complexity of this question.
Finally, one of the other tasks of this project is to bring artistic actors together who would normally not meet. Especially in the middle east, many lines of communication are bilateral between one state and Europe or occasionally America. These meetings are intended to create a strong interregional exchange that can be built on gradually in the future. To that end, the plan to bring the contemporary art museum Palestine to VAM next year for an extended stay is important as it will offer a new regional resource from which others can lend and gift. More on this later but that is all for my first entry.