Cultural Memory- Collective Amnesia

The media is overflowing with news of wanton destruction, mindless killing, war and developments that are nightmarish and anathema to our civilization’s principles. We are indeed facing a new era.  A paradigm shift in our belief system and what once was an adherence to political correctness and fair play we find ourselves in a maelstrom of contradictory and frightening backlash: a major swing to conservatism and basic existential fear.

Watching a film depicting the obliteration of 3 and 4 thousand year old monuments… cities of ancient civilizations occupied and destroyed systematically and sadistically  has given us a kind of collective nausea and the methodical and thorough public exposure of these crimes make us wonder how our civilization has failed.

Our universal heritage and our very physical existence are under attack. The public executions of innocent victims broadcast and exposed in such a very brutal manner initially causing widespread shock and alarm is followed by an impotent silence.

The loss of artifacts and monument belonging to our universal heritage through war and purposeful destruction are not the only nemeses to the preservation of cultural memory.

Looting and selling from museums of priceless objects by ill paid workers and corrupt individuals has also over the years been a blight to museums throughout the world.  There are certainly many brave individuals who throughout history have saved works from museums during crises in their countries.

One particular and very inspiring story is that of the director of Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul, Omar Khan Massoudi, who saved the Bactrian Gold a priceless 2000 year old treasure which was hidden from the various marauding armies (mujahedeen, Taliban, Russians) for 20 years.

On the other hand in 2003 the troops (American and British) in the coalition fighting Saddam Hussein did nothing to prevent the looting of museums and libraries and as a result 16 Assyrian bronze reliefs from the 9th century B.C. were stolen from the museum in Mosul — a site Islamic State has now targeted as well. Three members of the White House’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee resigned in protest at the time. Beyond a couple of reports, nothing much was done.

Furthermore fire engulfed the National Library in Baghdad between April 10 and 12, 2003, and 70 percent of the inventory at the university library in Basra and a third of the inventory at the university library in Mosul was destroyed. Concurrently, some 15,000 objects were stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad, including jewelry, ceramics, sculptures and a world-famous marble mask from the year 3100 B.C., presumably by professional thieves working for art dealers.

“Stuff happens,” said former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the time. “Freedom’s untidy.” The loss attributable to art theft in Iraq is estimated at $10 billion (€9.4 billion).

Is this not the worst testimony to the pathetic state of affairs? That a statesman, (if we can give someone like Rumsfeld this respected title), makes such a revealing declaration is clearly an indication of the inability of our society to protect and preserve our heritage.

With the pressure of this doomsday report we are pondering what the future will be.  The risk of conflict and violence disturbing our civilization are not the only threats to the protection of cultural memory.  There is the ever looming heavy and nonsensical “social media frenzy” that brings us to the edge of the abyss. It is at worst isolating and dehumanizing and at best gives us the feeling we are not alone in our all too inhuman society. However it’s appalling and exaggerated importance permeates society to its roots and clearly opens up a door to a very superficial level of communication which presages a shallow and empty cultural future.

How do we explore society’s unconscious and generate a renewed feeling of belonging and wanting to belong to the collective cultural memory and its aspiration to identify, redefine and revive our cultural goals.

This broad and complicated concept is puzzling …what is cultural memory? Cultural memory preserves the store of knowledge from which a group/civilization derives an awareness of its unity and uniqueness, and which determines its identity. The concept of cultural memory comprises that body of texts, images and rituals specific to each society and its history whose cultivation serves to stabilize and convey that society’s self-image.  Obviously the content of such knowledge varies from culture to culture as well as from epoch to epoch. One society bases its self-image on a canon of sacred scriptures, the next on a basic set of ritual activities and the third on a fixed language of forms whose manifestation is architecture and art.

Cultural memory works by reconstructing.

No memory can preserve the past. What remains is only that which society in each era can reconstruct within its contemporary frame of reference. It relates its knowledge to an actual and contemporary context.   Cultural memory functions in a twofold manner… first concerning historical archive whose texts and images act as a reference and second in the mode of current historical context giving it a contemporary relevance.

At the same time that we are part of a global village and share so openly, although very superficially, a kind of universal communication and common cultural references the particular and unique cultural memory of each nation, group, civilization deteriorates.

We are today living in a diluted cultural muddle.

Internet is providing general wiki knowledge and references and is available in many languages. How can this replace a book or a scholarly article?  Our academic and educational standards like our cultural values are rapidly declining. Greek and Latin are being eliminated from western curriculums… even in societies like France whose pride was a classical educational system. This absurdity is clear. On the other hand if we look at the situation in other countries in conflict and post conflict we see that culture and education are literally placed on the backburner and survival and existential issues are prioritized.  This does not mean that culture and education are not important.  We must also see that part of our humanitarian interventions into countries that are in the throes of conflict and post conflict should have an educational and cultural program because that aspect of being human is what separates us from other species….an ability to create and evolve intellectually.

In a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan last year two young artists Fritz Best and his wife Noura created an artistic project for the refugees which consisted of drawing their portraits and they would contribute to the artwork with their life stories.  Suddenly these refugees existed and their lives did not seem so insignificant.  They were given back their humanity.

Culture and education are essential for everyone. Giving only food and shelter to refugees and victims of catastrophe and war is simply not enough.  It is food for the soul that is required.

We must remember that the basis of cultural memory is what we choose to reconstruct and preserve from era to era, century to century…. Have we not evolved enough as a civilization to delineate and differentiate between significant knowledge, research and study and what superficial information we can glean from google wiki Facebook twitter etc.? The legacy we leave for the next generations is what will be integrated into the global cultural memory and our universal heritage. It cannot be forgotten that through its cultural heritage a society becomes visible to itself and to others.  What things of the past become part of that heritage and which values and aspirations surface clearly indicate how a society is evolving.

With war and destruction, social media fever and inexorable dehumanizing and isolating trends in our societies the cultural future is bleak.

The challenge is clear, and the reinvention and redefining of our educational and cultural values are essential for the advancement of our society.   Are we up to the challenge? Can we save ourselves from this seemingly inevitable decline?

Nikki Diana Marquardt

Paris August 16, 2015

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Kabul/Afghanistan: Dream to Harsh Reality

Back in Kabul after a break of almost 11 months I was surprised / saddened by the deterioration of the situation and the general atmosphere. The renewed hope promised by a whole new government and the incredibly enthusiastic and optimistic election euphoria has deteriorated into the abyss of discouragement and disillusionment which is strongly felt in the Afghan Capital.

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This is not the doing of the governing bodies or the President and the Chief Executive Officer and their engaged and devoted effort to rebuild and rehabilitate Afghanistan this is the fault of this disloyal and dangerous factions that destabilize and undermine all those who are there to reboot and rebuild a new Afghanistan.

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Afghanistan has had and continues to have a geographically, politically and strategically important position in central Asia. It has thus been historically the theatre of conflict and tumult of invasions and instability. Because of this rather tumultuous past (almost 50 years) and centuries of coup d’état, invasion, civil war and government crises, the current situation in Afghanistan continues to be mired in political social and economic complications.

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The slow and encumbered evolution of the state of affairs makes political strategists, government officials, and military experts cringe with misgiving about the future. Most of them see the no end to conflict and predict the return of the Taliban as the only predictable result. What they do not see which is visible and palpable in the daily lives of Afghans is the incredible improvements and the extraordinary evolution of ideas, feelings, and living circumstances of the Afghan population.

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The Taliban are present and effectively continue to disturb, disrupt and terrorize and are hoping return to a powerful position.  They are even calling themselves Daesh to frighten the civil population.  However there are not many Afghans who would welcome the restoration of this retrograde movement. It is unlikely that Afghans will again so easily bend to the strict, cruel and arbitrary rule of the Taliban. Also Afghans are beginning to have more confidence in the democratic process and the government. Striving for healthier governance is part and parcel of the new face of Afghanistan.

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For 15 years now Afghans have been face to face in their daily lives with the community of foreigners who have “invaded” Afghanistan from soldiers and diplomats to aid workers and consultants in every field imaginable. This welcome/unwelcome presence has curiously motivated and activated the local population to new and interesting entrepreneurial pursuits and has spiritually altered many of the deeply embedded traditional ideas that have been entrenched over the centuries which have prevented social evolution. These «ex-pats» as they are referred to have by their presence stimulated the locals into action. There are also the extraordinarily successful and competent Afghans of the diaspora who have returned to Afghanistan to work on site in many and diverse economic, social and humanitarian projects who have breathed life and hope back into the local population. This day to day contact and bonding has allowed many Afghans a chance to move ahead and create a better life situation which would never have been possible under the Taliban rule or during the mujahedeen war or any other occupation for that matter.

We are now in a new organization… a new and innovative and government body who aspires to modernize and globalize Afghanistan… it is not about “westernization” it is about moving ahead economically and abandoning tribal practices that contradict and challenge development.  There is also the ingrained aspect of nepotism and arbitrary financial transactions and favors that confront the society on all levels and it is urgent to address and tackle this question on an official level.

What is significant in Afghan society is that it is and remains a hierarchical society based on traditional tribal codes which includes prearranged marriages and a blind loyalty to tribal rather than to the nuclear family group. This complicates greatly the capacity of men and women to create and sustain a healthy and compassionate relationship. The involvement of external power and authority which undermines the head of the family and creates tension in the family structure leads to violence, misunderstanding and mistreatment of women and children.  This consequential brutality is not to do with men… it has to do with the structure and incredibly powerful group/family pressure to which they are bound. This is not about Islam; it is about tradition.

Moving forward will be a long and arduous struggle with many obstacles and interferences and the question is how long this society can endure the penury, the lack of clean water, the violence, and the everyday struggle for survival.

One can understand those Afghans who leave and look for a better life elsewhere it is only human. But for those who stay, I must say I am in awe of their courage and their endurance and in a very small way I join with them in their struggle.

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France & Armenia. Biennale di Venezia 2015.

The incredible French exception :

after 44 years in France I feel very French when I see such magnificence as the French Pavilion’sRevolutions” presented by the  artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot and curated by EMMA LAVIGNE at the Biennale 2015 ( “All the world s future”  curated by African -American Okwui Enwezor)

I feel very proud to see French technology and science put to work for art. It is indeed a revolution as the title of the piece indicates.  The trees are majestic and silent… you can see them almost smiling with satisfaction.

The discourse that our Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin delivered at the inauguration was outstanding, erudite, and philosophical ….. Which I felt indicated France’s cultural and educational engagement in the world.  The work could have been used and compromised by a political discourse but it was not and that was a flagrant dissimilarity with her colleague ministers from other countries.

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Visitors can immerse or float in the harmonic continuum of this ocean of sounds contemplating and dreaming . The passage of clouds in the sky, the trees rustling foliage a true moment with nature in the chaos of the Biennale preview.  The organic and acoustic island invented by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot seems the only work at the biennale that effectively puts us in touch with nature while reaffirming its contemporaneity and the ecological dimension that underlies it.

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Armenity/Hayoutioun

The National Pavilion of the Republic of Armenia  

The Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni
Venice

This exhibition has won the prestigious Lion D’Or of the Biennale 2015…. A clear and potent message, but not a gratuitous politically correct designation this prize was a fantastic and needed conclusion to this strangely disengaged Biennale.

Contemporary artists from the Armenian Diaspora 
Haig Aivazian, Lebanon; Nigol Bezjian, Syria/USA; Anna Boghiguian Egypt/Canada; Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Turkey; Silvina Der-Meguerditchian, Argentina/Germany; Rene Gabri & Ayreen Anastas, Iran/Palestine/USA; Mekhitar Garabedian, Belgium; Aikaterini Gegisian, Greece; Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi, Italy; Aram Jibilian, USA; Nina Katchadourian, USA/Finland;Melik Ohanian, France; Mikayel Ohanjanyan, Armenia/Italy; Rosana Palazyan, Brasil; Sarkis,Turkey/France; Hrair Sarkissian, Syria/UK

Curated by Adelina Cüberyan v. Fürstenberg*

In this symbolic year 2015, on the occasion of the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocidethe Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia has dedicated its pavilion to the artists of the Armenian diaspora. It is  located at the Mekhitarist Monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

The curatorial concept of armenity implies the notionof displacement and territoryjustice and reconciliationethos and resilience. Regardless of their place of birth, the selected artists carry within their identity the memory of their origins. Through their talent and willpower, these grandchildren of survivors of the Armenian Genocide—the first genocide of the 20th century—rebuilt a “transnational assembly” from the remnants of a shattered identity. Their ingrained concern for memory, justice and reconciliation skillfully transcends notions of territoryborders and geography. Whether they were born in Beirut, Lyon, Los Angeles, or Cairo and wherever they may reside, these global citizens constantly question and reinvent their armenity.

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56TH BIENNALE DI VENEZIA : POLITICALLY CORRECT ? INOFFENSIVE ? CONSENSUAL ? NON COMBATIVE ?

Harry Bellet and Philippe Dagen called this biennale “bien-pensant”….in their Biennale article in   Le Monde.

In English this can be translated as “well meaning”, however for me this is not a strong enough word.  I call it non-combative and complacent…. And far from serene like our wonderful Serenissima:  Venezia. This fantastic città who so thoroughly and lovingly welcomes us barbarians of contemporary art every two years.  Like a bad flu we descend on the city and infect it, overloading the vaporettos and hotels and running hither and thither with our cocktail parties and dinners and our complaints and our social game playing: who has been invited to what seems to be more of a concern than the art itself… a rather sad observation.

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The art in the national pavilions for the most part was uninspiring…excepting the oozing political correctness, it totally lacked personality.  Something ominous and anonymous came forth.  Listening to the speeches (sanctimonious and self-gratifying) of the various ministers of culture and exhibitors  The Belgians  the Germans, the Dutch all made glorious statements about universality and how absolutely wonderfully relevant and politically and socially in tune they were .

Their rhetoric was a strange form of chauvinism and it was alarming.  I thought perhaps art which has already been perverted into a global commercial conspiracy was becoming also a political donkey to promote the “whatever” in somebody’s empty political platform.

It struck a strange note and resonance in me and  like a flash flood of emotion …. I thought, horrified “Is this “Really” the end of the art world as we once knew it?”

I cannot comment on every pavilion and on every nook and cranny expo but will concentrate on a few remarkable bits and pieces… and I unfortunately I missed some of the 400 venues of this mega Biennale.

“Beaming “ in like some weirdo in  Star trek  to the new even « higher » tech Korean pavilion was an experience: pristine and invitingly pure;  stark and totally spaced out… one finds a fascinating seven-channel video installation “The Ways of Folding Space & Flying” by Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho.  It did not pretend to be anything else than what it is… …it was successfully technological and very aesthetically minimal and incredibly soothing in the strange biennale atmosphere!!!!

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The awe inspiring work of Chiaru Shiota in the Japanese Pavilion was the most lyrical musical and sumptuous invitation into a fairy world of fables and dreams…. Keys hanging by bright red threads virtually hiding old fishing vessels far from hermetic it has to do with cultural memory and its vital importance to humanity and personal identity.

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Great Britain’s Sarah Lucas…. Well ah hum…  I thought it quite absurd and frisky …I just relaxed and had a good laugh… at least laughed off the empty provocation… I have chosen to present the least offensive of the various sculptures.

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Other orifices (let you imagine which) are methodically presented with the cigarettes strategically inserted (Yuk) and I giggled like a school kid at the playful vulgarity;

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The Belgian Pavilions… trying so hard to be Avant Garde simulated being cosmopolitan and universal and pounded us sanctimoniously with the obsolescence of the notion of the   “National Pavilion “.  Vincent Meesen invited various artists to work with him on the pavilion.  They explored artistic and intellectual cross pollination between Europe and Africa and yet  again expressed  the permanent  mea culpa references to the Belgian Congo without the essential ingredient : an African artist.

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Tamar Guimaeraes and Kasper Akhoj “The Parrots Tail.“2015

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In the Central Pavilion

Tetsuya Ishida, super touching and sensitive paintings are a sad commentary on the extraordinary boom and the subsequent unhappy and abrupt crash of the Japanese economy in the 80’s and 90’s … he sadly died prematurely, hit by a train. His work feels lonely and immovable … frozen in time and lifeless.  It is intensely surreal and hyperreal … one is touched by its  simple and direct didactics.

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Tetsuya Ishida, “TOYOTA IPSUM” 1996 acrylic on canvas.

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Andreas Gursky, true to his art has produced yet another utterly beautiful and poetic photo this time related to the global micro economy. His sensitivity and experience has given him the ability to capture the very essence of his subject in the photo. The pattern at a glance is of a beautiful design and a with more astute observation we see the industriousness and get a sense of the diligence and the life of those individuals in the photos.   As with the piece he is exhibiting at the Biennale… he demonstrates yet again as with Isa Genzken and Georg Baselitz that “chef d’oeuvre” is still a valid appellation.

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Andreas Gursky : Workers- micro economy 2014

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Isa Genzken and Walker Evans

I was blown away by the incredible and compelling coupling of photographs from Walker Evans’s  images of Great Depression  rural Americans (‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’, first published in 1941) with Isa Genzken’s architectural models for ‘Realized and Unrealized Outdoor Projects’. Plaster white and phantom like they converse with Evans’s photographs, they speak of defeat and fatigue, fragility and anguish. (on the other side of the Giardini  Genzkens  pair of huge white orchids stand silently  Two Orchids (2015)  reminding us of Genzkens  contradictory and distorted size concepts.

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The Swiss artist Christoph Büchel has been invited by the Islandic curator Nína Magnúsdóttir to represent the national pavilion of Iceland. His idea far from complacent and well-meaning was to temporarily dedicate to the Prophet Mohamed a small Catholic edifice:  an ancient deconsecrated church – Santa Maria della Misericordia dell’Abbazia built in the tenth century.

Inside, several imams in turn organize the reception and prayers until the end of the exhibition of contemporary art on 22 November. The Swiss artist wants to show that despite the lack of mosque, Islam has exercised a profound influence on Venetian history and culture.

This is not the first time that Christoph Büchel’s work relates to this theme. In 2007, during an exhibition at the London branch of his Zurich Gallery, he exhibited hand woven prayer rug with patterns related to the September 11 attacks. This rapidly created controversy. The Italian authorities fear that the “Mosque della Misericordia” will intensify extremist threats. They warned the Icelandic Art Centre that this artistic intervention exposes the city to potential danger from extremists.

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In light of the extreme situation in the Middle East and the relentless destruction of world heritage by the ISIS this pavilion is perhaps the most challenging and interesting concept and work at the Biennale.  It deservedly celebrates and pays homage to the contribution of Islam and its enlightened Caliphates of the 10th and 11th centuries.

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More on the Biennale … tune in May 16: Abu Bakarr Mansaray,  Georg Baselitz, Qiu Zhijie, Hiwa K, Lorna Simpson, Bedri Baykam, Latif al Ani. Sadegh Tirafkan, Shamsia Hassani,  Furat al Jamil,  Farideh Lashai.

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 The artist as Catalyst for Change

I have always been committed to projects where the visual arts are a vector not only of artistic expression, but also a reflection of a social or political engagement, where the artists involved are questioning and commenting their own contemporary history.Nikki Diana Marquardt

……And thus my two dimensional approach to contemporary art.

As well as presenting works by more established names of the Contemporary Art world, I have actively used my Gallery to launch fresh talent from the vast emerging international art scene. Far from a purely speculative approach, I have always considered the political and social framework of artworks and the artists that make them and how they bring a new viewpoint to the surface.

For 25 years now, I have focused on contemporary artists from emerging countries, and conflict zones (Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Bosnia, Algeria, Syria, Palestine, Iraq…)

It struck me in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall that art/artists had not only an aesthetic responsibility but a social and political responsibility. In 1990 I traveled extensively in the former east bloc and was literally blown away by the extraordinary artwork that had come out of 50 years of repression and totalitarian government.  Astoundingly sensitive and relentlessly critical: a feast for a political animal like myself.

I like so many of us had been so thoroughly frustrated by stale and relentless media coverage so prone to exaggeration and pathos when reporting the vast changes that had taken place in the east bloc and the adjustment to democracy as beautiful as it might seem. Artists  came out of hiding and blossomed and the 50 years of misery became the leitmotiv of their work … so much human tragedy and suffering surfaced like a recurring nightmare and a new art form was born.: Political and conflict art… art which grows as a reaction to   repression, tyranny, social injustice and human misery.

From there inspired by the artists in ex-Yugoslavia, during the war in Bosnia I traveled extensively to Sarajevo organizing exhibitions and financing cultural projects during the siege… Culture, art are fundamental to what makes us human … a necessity like food… or water. The Bosnians taught me this… the theatres and concert halls never closed and there were art galleries that continued to function during one the 4 year siege of the city.

This art form brings another kind of message and support to those living in terrible conflicts…it is an art which is identifies, defines and comments on problems afflicting contemporary society and is created by artists who are interested in spreading that message and in doing so finding a way to move towards resolution and reconciliation. This unique artistic vocation where indeed the artist is a catalyst for change, transforms this ineffectual media message to one that changes the world and helps relieve the distress and grief associated with conflict.

Instead of frustration we discover an extraordinary way of looking at what was once an impossible situation through the eyes of these extraordinary individuals who reveal the truth, who intervene, create and share their vision motivating  and encouraging individuals to become themselves catalysts for change.

My personal direction was dictated from 1993 on (Bosnia) by events that shook my world and that of my neighbors… (Which basically means everywhere on this planet)…  Belfast (The Bridge1996…. Religious intolerance)… (Algeria 1997, Algerie, Je ne quitterai jamais mes amis » Civil War,)  (Palestine1999-2000, “Palestine in Progress a room with a Viewpoint” unjust  social and political situation) (Lebanon, 2000 “Welcome to Khiam” revelation of an illegal detention camp in South Lebanon) and then in 2003 worked closely with Palestine state and a political solution. .. (Afghanistan 2007-2015 artistic projects and events in Paris promoting Afghan artists (2009, 2010, 2011, “Making of an Artist, “the Contemporary Challenge,” ) and Iranian, Iraqi, Indonesian, Lebanese, Egyptian artists…  and now With my NGO “Work in Progress” whose goal is to rebuild conflict and post conflict society through culture and education we are now reactivating and rebooting the art scene and educational projects in Afghanistan  and Iraq and hopefully Syria.

What I personally find inspiring in this genre is that there are no interminable studies or rational interfaces here…just direct, straightforward human dealing: person to person. Interrogating and probing the society on a grassroots level by the artist catalyst is effective and at the same time human and poignant. There are those artists that are indigenous to a crisis in a society and therefore directly implicated in such problems and also those who travel from across borders to intervene in a conflict zone …Both through their artwork generate and inspire reconciliation and resolution in these troubled areas. Then there are those artists who might be inspired or outraged from afar by a human catastrophe or a flagrant political injustice… his voice through his artwork changes the way in which the world looks at this issue.

We witness a daily stream of information and photos … videos, tweets, blogs photos of what once was Aleppo, or Baghdad or Kabul or so many  other zones of conflict and misery… displaced persons refugees boat people, victims of war famine earthquake, illegal detention, feminicide, human trafficking.

Conflict art and the notion of the artist as a catalyst for change has gone global like everything else… artists and art have now a new flavor… not just pleasing to the eye, but giving a viewpoint, a message or information that literally rocks us out of our passivity and paralysis and provokes a deep reaction to help change the world we live in and makes us aware in a personal and direct manner… of our responsibility as citizens of this global community to do something for the progress of humanity.

Next week Biennale di Venezia

Week after… The Artists who Inspire Change : Nora Darwich, Fritz Best, Lorena Wolfer, Heba Amin, Shamsia Hassani, Furat Al Jamil, Mustapha Ali, Alexandra Handal. Nedko Solakov, Mirsad Jazic….. ​

Nikki Diana Marquardt

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I received the great honor to participate at a conversation : The Middle East: Cultural Hub of the 21st Century?  on 04/16/15 at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris

___________________________________________________________ With the participation of: Laure d’Hauteville, founder and director of BEIRUT ART FAIR & SINGAPORE ART FAIR,  ME.NA.SA (Middle East, North Africa, South& South East Asia).; Alexandre Kazerouni, Professor and Doctor at Sciences Po Paris ; Pascal Odille, C.N.E.S Expert (Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés) , Artistic Director of BEIRUT ART FAIR & SINGAPORE ART FAIR (ME.NA) ; Majida Khattari, artist & Nikki Diana Marquardt, Gallery owner and founder of the NGO Work In Progress. Conversation animated by Christophe Rioux, writer, economist and editor at Quotidien de l’Art.

___________________________________________________________ IMG_4736IMG_4739 IMG_4740 IMG_4741 ___________________________________________________________ Excerpts from my intervention at the Institut du Monde Arabe 

Along with globalization, the world of art and its market has exploded.  Especially in the Middle East, where we found the ideal location with easy access and where oil and natural gas proliferated and created certain wealth. Some people call it a Disneyland for wealthy jet setters others see it as a great place to catch some “rays” 360 days a year. Others see it as an established and eminent location for investment and still others see it as a serious and unparalleled art center..

I love Dubai… its chic its romantic and its artificiality is highly convincing…and it is amazing. A strange mixture of all of the above and above all  it is also the hub where I change planes for Teheran, Kabul and Baghdad…. the zones!!! and before I delve into that bag of surprises I must give some background context to the Dubai story based on my own personal experience.

Historical Context

After 1978 and the fall of the Shah in Iran, the prosperous class of Iranians, quintessential business men, migrated to the small peaceful desert towns/city states called Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah . It was a strategic decision that allowed them to stay close to Tehran and allowed them to invest and work to build up this areas real estate and commerce.

In every real estate deal there was an Iranian…

These genial Iranians have created with their Emirati counterparts, a commercial empire: real estate, tourism and international airport hub.. Around 2000 the foundations of this enterprise are in place and then Dubai began to attract international business men and jet setters, and overnight  it was  a veritable “gold rush” …shiny new territory  surrounded by  a crystal clear sea and… 360 days of sunshine …a year… and Dubai was born.

Once this idyllic scenery was set up and all actors operative further questions of how such a paradise could be exploited began to challenge the leadership and their consultants…

Dubai took advantage of this favorable moment to create a key market for contemporary art with the input of two English men.   ART DUBAI is an international contemporary art fair, founded by Benedict Floyd and John Martin, two derivative traders in 2006. By putting their expertise in business and their address book to work , they made Dubai by 2007 a unique and unparalleled “hub”  of contemporary art. Today it is the largest contemporary art fair in the Arab world.

The creation of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi also confirms the ambition of this region’s leaders to create a unique cultural hub.

At the same time  we are also witnessing the development and enhancement of Islamic art in major Western institutions as the opening of a new department in the Louvre demonstrates.

Western galleries like mine show artists from these regions as much as Western artists, and at auction an Ahmed Mater (Saudi) is now sold for the same price as Anselm Kiefer (German).

Over the years, throughout the Gulf, there has been an explosion of the contemporary art market  and  collectors but has also created a  hotbed of young artists from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraqi …. This was not the case 20 years ago

I take issue with those who accuse Dubai of being a simulacrum…. a sham and artificial man made(like who else???) pathetic excuses for a functioning metropolis…. it functions, it thrives, it booms and it carries us along on its  exciting course….. and I stated to someone yesterday  “if it is all a fake they sure are doing a good job of it’… or “fake it until you make it” ! and trust me just ask a young artist where he would like a expo and by and large he will tell you that Dubai is on the top of his wish list.

To use, even whisper, the word “emerging “emergence” or developing with regard to this remarkable city is simply a very ignorant and uninformed formulation. Dubai never emerged… it just appeared at first a mirage and now a reality!

Next week “My double Vision” Art and Conflict

Next week “My double Vision” Art and Conflict 

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AKI KURODA | COSMOBANG 2015 | 7-22 February 2015

invitation aki kuroda 2015 - part1 invitation aki kuroda 2015 - part 2Lire le communiqué de presse / read the press release / Aki Kuroda CP PR Cosmobang 2015

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