New Dynamics in Museums: Curator, Artwork, Public Governance
International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art- Annual Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 2013
The 2013 International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art- Annual Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 2013 was an eye opener. It introduced me to new ideas and challenged me to seek new ways in which to make the institution which I work in engage the public more effectively. This was because all of the keynote speakers and workshops offered new perspectives from professionals in various part of the world. I certainly was able to glean something from every speaker.
Tania Bruguera was one of my favourite speakers. She is an artist and initiator of Immigrant Movement International (IM International), Havana and USA opened up the conference, and started on a very positive note. I found her overall discussion about audience engagement very interesting. She spent some time emphasizing the fact that the audience has a short term relationship with art. Therefore, more needs to be done to ensure that their experience is more memorable. Thus, allowing them to continue to process later. She argued that short term performance should have a long term impact for it to be relevant. Through Tania’s talk, I learnt that one can use audiences to complete conceptual artwork. Sometimes, the audience may not even know that they are part of the art process and this is not necessarily a negative factor.
Tania also discussed how artists and curators should take responsibility for their actions as they may encounter real danger. This was in light of some of the public performances that she had organized in communities were some forms of expression may not be encouraged. She left us questions to ruminate on such as, what is political art? Why is there a bigger interest in political or social art now? Why is it difficult to know what art is sometimes? How does one re-enact a performance art piece, will a photograph do justice? When the audience becomes art, should you use the same tools of critique?
I was grateful that she offered advice on how to create similar projects like the ones she has initiated in IM International. She suggested that art education must be holistic and must speak to the real issues of the communities that you are trying to engage. She suggested that confidence must be built in the communities; they should trust you not to take advantage of them. She mentioned that one must not be condescending towards their audience. She encouraged us to present art to community even though they may not have any knowledge of the local artists.
She introduced a term that she coined- Arte Util. According to Tania, Arte Útil in Spanish roughly translates as useful art, but also suggests art as a device or tool. Arte Útil imagines, creates and implements socially beneficial outcomes. The Arte Útil Lab is the first part of a year-long investigation initiated by the Tania that includes an online archive, an association of Arte Útil practitioners, an open-call, a publication, and a series of public projects and debates culminating in the transformation of a building at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands into the Museum of Arte Útil in the fall of 2013.
Even though I found her presentation insightful, I realized that I personally may not be able to duplicate or appropriate all of her ideas in Zimbabwe because of different cultural and social dynamics. For example, Zimbabwe does not have the same migrant population challenge that other nations face.
Zoe Butt the director and curator of San Art in Vietnam gave a case study that I could very much relate to. I could relate to the challenges she faced in explaining the role of a curator to her community, since curatorial practise is relatively new. In Zimbabwe, a few artists and members of the public view this role with suspicion. Others over glorify it. Just as in Shona, there is no word for art in the local Vietnamese dialects. From Zoe’s talk, I learnt that one has to find a new language with which to communicate art to the community. This language must be locally relevant, yet have an international consideration. Art institutions must invest in building trust with locals for them to be relevant. Her case study shed light on how you educate a public that is so used to a guarded fixed idea of art. The answer varies depending on context, but in each scenario, patience, creativity and consistency is key.
After listening to the challenges that Zoe faces in her work, I was more grateful for our art scene in Zimbabwe. This is because Zoe talked about how the concept of art guarded by government and permission is required to host the simplest art events and exhibitions. Everything in Vietnam has to go through cultural police. She elaborated on how education sometimes doesn’t do justice to the study of art. This is because it takes more than just education to produce artists. She discussed the line between organizational censorship and government censorship and spoke about whether or not a curator has a social responsibility to assist artists. After all, a curator is not a manager of artists, just a person who uses art to highlight certain ideas.
Dieter Roelstrate, Manilow Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA challenged us to not take ourselves too seriously as professional museum and gallery managers. Dieter emphasized that art starts with the artists and we should respect that. He said that in spite of the emphasis on globalization, your roots matter. He spoke of what it means to be local in an international world. He encouraged us to always trust an artist to deliver even it is a last minute delivery. Therefore, improvisation is integral if one is a curator. For museums, our work is not just about objects and dusting them occasionally. The museum is a memory bank; therefore, the museum has to be a site of improvisation. So we ought to be flexible. Dieter had some very interesting arguments; he said that Art is the negation of everything that exists. They are sites of difference and dissent. He asked, is all art anti-social? He posed; Art is medium to address the complexity of our century. It’s a devise and a tool. The museum should allow much more experimentation and be more malleable. His closing statements were along the lines of “Become more chaotic for your work to have more depth.”
Stephen Wright, Art Writer and Professor at the European School of Visual Arts in France had a key note speech about making way for Usership. Part of his main point was in regards to finding out what function art has. He argued that it’s not always necessarily about aesthetics when it comes to art.
An important question about ethnographic art came about during Rodrigo Moura’s case study. This came about after discussing the development of the Instituto Inhotim and Claudia Andujar’s work with the Yanomami (indigenous population). Rodrigo had organized an exhibition of Claudia’s work who is a Swiss Born photographer who spent time in the rain forests taking pictures of the people there. He made it seem as though she had been instrumental in helping that population and documenting them to the world. The question was, is it right to show an ethnographic body of work in this day and age. Can it not be seen as condescending, or selling the idea that indigenous peoples need the West to “save” them?
For me, Ravi Sundaram from the Study of Developing Societies, India shed light on how technology can be useful in museum practise. One such example is Sarai- a cultural space in Delhi. “This program followed a unique and radical model of distributed research using the network design of the early internet; creating collaborative communities of fellows.” (CIMAM 2013 Conference Booklet) He spoke about how Asia was eager to join the West but was anxious about losing identity. It was interesting to hear his views on how the State was monopolizing culture in post-independent India.
One speaker who I will remember for a very long time is Paulo Herkenhoff, the director of Museu de Arte do Rio MAR Rio. His emphasis on using art to transform and educate the community was inspiring. As the Curator for Education at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, I certainly took away valuable information and ideas that could be implemented in Zimbabwe. Though Paulo’s institution is very new, it was encouraging to see how they had implemented key changes based on audience interaction within a short space of time.
Samuel Sidibe the Director at the National Museum of Mali, Bamako also made a key note speech. Sididbe’s case study on the National Museum of Mali made me realize that Africa needs to engage more with the rest of the art world. African institutions need to be more creative in their museum and gallery programs as they face unique challenges compared to the rest of the world. It was interesting to see how Samuel had transformed the art scene in Mali, or West Africa at large through the National Museum of Mali.
After Sidibe, there was a case study by Joanna Mytkowska, Director at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland. It was interesting to learn that she had made a link between Poland and Brazil using the famous Christi Redenti monument. Hearing the challenges that she had faced in trying to secure an ideal space was fascinating. It made me realize that every museum all around the world faces similar challenges that are resolved in different ways.
The Museum Is the World– Panel Discussion featured local art professionals who are creatively engaging their communities in unique ways. The presenters were Luiz Camillo Osorio, Ivana Bentes, Marcus Faustini, Lia Rodrigues and Jailson de Souza. They were from different backgrounds including communication, curatorial, social welfare, film and dance. I am still pondering on some of the points they mentioned:
“What are you doing to create access through art” – Jailson De Souza
“Favelas are museums of capitalism, the museum is really the world”- Ivana Bentes
“Don’t see the young of the favela as a commodity, see them as curators. Artists are method makers. Create an inventory of yourself to start creative process”-Marcus Faustini
In terms of workshops, I chose to be part of the New Dynamics between the Knowledge the Institution Is Disseminating and Other Knowledge Sources throughout the conference. This was facilitated by Abdellah Karroum of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha as well as Zoe Butt. We spent much of our time sharing experiences from the communities from which we come from. We discussed and debated definitions of knowledge, dissemination and language. We asked ourselves what it meant to be universally relevant yet appealing to a local audience. It was fascinating to see that many of us faced similar challenges, and that new dynamics do need to be implemented in order for us to accomplish our visions.
What I most appreciated about CIMAM was that it created an incredible platform from which we could network. In just a few days, I was able to meet art curators and directors from all over the world from myriad institutions. I am hoping that very soon, collaborations and cultural exchanges will come to fruition because of this. In addition, the location was exceptionally beautiful. It was wonderful to see so many galleries and museums in Rio de Janeiro and understand the local art scene there.