on an art of two-sides, mathaf interference at ICA

Shumon Basar and Jack Persekian Wash Hands…

Jack Persekian’s performance of Nablus Soap at the ICA, as part of the Mathaf’s Interference weekend, was brilliant.

The work takes off from a show he put on with Mona Hatoum back in the early days in Jerusalem. It recounts that earlyness, the basic space, cold and uninviting and the process of arriving at the piece –Present tense [1996]- by Mona H., its installation and the historical context of a disastrous willingness to compromise with Occupation in the form of ‘Oslo’. An apologetic Abu Amar is scratched-in which raised a big laugh and the whole piece is damn fine, not least as testament to Nablus.

As Jack and Shumon talked, the film was paused on one of the many Occupation watchtowers that terrorise the Palestinian Hills, lest any of us forget the bloody stain it represents… Jack had paraphrased MH’s response to press questions about Oslo, in which she said ‘with this soap I wash my hands of the matter’. Shumon wickedly drew her into the conversation in a very nice gesture towards the intimacies possible [only] on occasions and in company like this…

A packed house enjoyed, admired and reflected. I reflect too, on how it took Mathaf’s commitment, clarity as well as resources to bring this benign colonising of London’s attention about. Usually events of this kind in London are pale imitations or belated attempts to catch-up by often well-intended natives. This was an extremely welcome interference with normality; a high calibre taste of MENA cultural work at least. Credit to the new ICA Director too [wink].

Jack’s piece is excerpted in the youtube clip below of the original performance with Tarek Atoui in Abu Dhabi;

Later there was a very interesting panel about artistic instigations of cultural spaces/interventions/learning chaired by the brilliant Deena Chalabi. Zineb Sedira [star of ongoing Folkestone Triennial] spoke of her work towards a programme of residencies, artistic collaborations and conversation in Algiers, centring on a family house there.

Emily Jacir -on a much too rare visit to London!- spoke of her extensive involvements in the Palestine International Video Festival [2002], the International Academy of Art in Ramallah since 2007, and al Qattan’s Young Artist of the Year Award with characteristically fine tuned fire [against “cyclical amnesia”] and generous clarity about what a visual art education needs. She didn’t talk about the year she’s about to spend at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut because, as she said, it hasn’t started yet.

Finally, Wael Shawky [Delfina artist in residence] spoke of his generous commitment to establishing a new school of art in his own large [did he say 5000 sq metres?] studio in the middle of bustling Alexandria, where he wants to take it -the aim is to be able to employ two permanent members of staff- and why.

This is what I wanted to hear, this is what London needs to grasp, this -alongwith everything said and done inbetween and afterwards [warm thanks!] of course- is what’s up…

The audience was promised a publication with transcripts of the event in time…

Mathaf is here.

Mathaf Interference at ICA details here.

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