It was very clear for me since the outset of my career as a curator and writer that being a “pen pusher” was not going to be a viable option. While crafting my professional practice over the course of the last decade I always fancied myself as a bit of a double agent, straddling both the institutional world of academia and the traditional museum space, and maintaining my independent non-conformist role by working on renegade projects across multiple time zones. This independent streak was most definitely been the defining catalyst in the recent establishment of my own global visual cultures studio in New York City where I live and work having moved to the US four years ago to take up the position of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator for the Middle East and North Africa for the third and final phase of the project, designed to diversify the museum’s global holdings and successfully concluded in 2018.
My studio is entitled “Punk Orientalism” and was inaugurated in January 2019, named after the umbrella term I invented to consolidate my academic, curatorial and publishing practice. It is fueled by the desire to produce innovative local and international projects that celebrate ideas and cultures of resistance. In retrospect, I feel that the studio was somewhat fated as I had previously served in leadership capacities for several international creative global startups, so it was inevitable that I would turn that energy and experience to myself one day. These startups included Maraya Art Centre in the UAE, the now defunct Alaan Art Space in Saudi Arabia, YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Azerbaijan, and the ongoing multi-city campus Mana Contemporary, where I continue to provide strategic consultancy for its artist professional development programmes.
At the core of studio Punk Orientalism is an interdisciplinary spirit of collaboration, which has been part of my long term practice, built off of a reciprocal effort with artists and creatives including architects, designers and technologists, whom I have been working alongside in a variety of different capacities, ranging from curatorial and design to programming and publishing.
I have been fortunate that several of my long term collaborators are artists who have had a profound impact on my practice and thinking these include Kabul-born artist Lida Abdul, whose poetic films and videos address the aftermath of decades of conflict and disaster in her native Afghanistan, and Bulgarian-born Turkish artist Ergin Cavusoglu, whose scholarly approach to art and human geographies dovetails with my own interests in the migration of people and ideas. Therefore, the initiation of my own studio was another logical step in thinking about marrying converging creative concepts outside of the rigid bureau/office format and creating a space that would allow for cross-pollination of ideas that solicit far reaching debate and discussion.
Sara Raza. Courtesy of Genevieve Kim
The studio’s global purview is intentional as it aims to build up visual cultural knowledge on the Middle East and the former post-Soviet territories of the Caucasus and Central Asia in the US through an ideas driven narrative. This concept is very much rooted in the studio’s forthcoming project a collaboration with Snark.art, a blockchain laboratory in New York, and London-based Iranian architect Omid Kamvari to create a major sculpture and VR experience that explores complex historical murqanas architecture.
The project aims to explores the vernacular architecture of Iran, from a mathematical and geometric standpoint, and to advance the dialogue beyond geography and Islam to focus on revolutionising collecting practices via the block chain and enabling a democratic and decentralised process that will allow individual collectors internationally to bypass stringent sanctions and rigid banking policies to acquire and collectively unite and support the building of the sculpture in real life.
Parallel to the studio’s projects I have not abandoned institutions entirely and have recently closed two museum shows in February 2019: Fateh al Moudarres: Colour, Extensity and Sense at Mathaf Modern Arab Art Museum, Doha, and the research-based exhibition Punk Orientalism that explored the connections between the former USSR and artists from the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East that will be followed up with further exhibition chapters, a publication and academic symposium.
I was also announced as the 2019 guest curator for the “Year of Power” at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, and am working towards organising a group exhibition entitled Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance (16 August 2019 - 6 January 2020) featuring 10 contemporary artists.
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