Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Chaos into Clarity ~ Re-Possessing a Funktioning Utopia

Curated by Shannon Ayers Holden
October 26, 2013 – January 26, 2014

Building F, SAF Art Spaces, AI
Mureijah, Heritage Area
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Chaos into Clarity: Re-Possessing a Funktioning Utopia is an investigation of the Aesthetic of Funk. The exhibition is an exploration of the radical power of transformation, the theme of transcendence and the presentation of a new world material culture as seen through the works of three artists from the African Diaspora: American textile artist Xenobia Bailey, Moroccan born photographer and designer Hassan Hajjaj and British Trinidadian filmmaker and sculptor Zak Ove.

This exhibition was developed as part of Campus Art Dubai 1.0 January – June 2013.
Campus Art Dubai is held in partnership with Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture).

Campus Art Dubai is a six-month alternative “school” for artists, curators, writers, cultural producers, and art workers based in the UAE and provides a space for critical thinking and the exchange of ideas and skills. Meetings occur over weekends and feature seminars, workshops, critiques, and one-on-one mentorship. Campus Art Dubai is taught and led by a local and international cast of academics, critics, curators, and artists.

Q&A with curator Shannon Ayers Holden conducted by Art Dubai:

What is funk?
Okay. You remember when you were a kid and when you ate something that you really, really enjoyed, like a bowl of Coco Puffs cereal with ice cold milk?  When you got down to the last of the Coco Puffs what was left was a bowl full of delicious chocolate flavored milk, which you either sipped leisurely or gulped down as fast as you could. Remember that?  That is Funk. Fast forward to adulthood and you have moved away from home. Dressed for success, on your way to a business meeting, a fragrance wafting out from a window somewhere smacks you in the face and almost brings you to tears because it reminds you of your Grandma and that big ole’ pot of goodness she always had on the stove simmering on a low burn on the back burner of the stove, full of cinnamon and cloves and dried orange peels, to make the house smell good. That scent, that emotional trigger, that memory is Funk. Funk is ingenuity force-fed by necessity. It usually starts with very little (Coco Puffs) and ends in something much bigger experientially (chocolate milk – on a budget!). Aesthetically, it can be just the way someone mixes patterns and color in the way they dress, and the confidence with which they do it.  Musically, it can be the sounds of James Brown, Fela, or even an operatic aria that moves you deep inside and provokes a particular emotional reaction.
What inspires you?
I love to cook – I cook every single day for my family. A lot of times I will work through ideas or tough decisions I have to make while cooking.  I enjoy reading recipes from different cultures and time periods; for me it is a form of relaxation, travel and cultural awareness. I love discovering and mastering if at all possible the “funk” factor of a new recipe I’m trying out. My son recently gave me an Indian cookbook and on the surface, the recipes seem very easy, and most of them are in terms of the basic ingredients required (lots of rice, grains, lentils, etc.). But there is a high degree of sophistication in the complexly layered use of spices and flavoring. Also, when I am in that zone of inspiration, I will usually have some music on in the background.  My go-to list would include classic R&B “Quiet Storm” slow jams: a little bit of Stevie (as in Wonder), the Commodores, Luther Vandross, some Earth Wind and Fire. Then I will switch it up and give The Ladies some props: early Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Marlene Shaw, Sathima Benjamin to name just a few.
What are the implications of telling this story here?
Funk is universal.  Although the concept is discussed through the presentation of work by three artists of the African diaspora, there are more similarities among seemingly far flung communities – Africa and the Middle East for example – than one might think. I hope the exhibition evokes a sense of familiarity and self-recognition in people while at the same time inspiring in them a curiosity to learn more about the another community. The exhibition also makes a point about consumerism and consumption with the point being less is very often more.
Your exhibition sets a very particular narrative on time travel as a metaphor for emigration, can you elaborate?
When I think about emigration, I think about it in the context of choice and one’s ability to choose to go somewhere.  Now that choice could be one between bad and worse options, still, there is an element of choice and free-will in the matter. Millions of Africans were kidnapped, sold into bondage and shipped half way around the world as an unpaid, disposable source of labor during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (early 1600s to mid-1800s).  Africans forced into slavery and several generations of their descendants afterward had no choice about the state and quality of their physical environments, which we know were quite brutal. For them, time was an unrequited inheritance. As a coping mechanism, many sought strength in their faith, and drew comfort in knowing that though they were not free physically, their minds were free to create and inhabit a much better world of the future or even the past…anyplace …better than where they were. There is something quite powerful in that.

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