Akram Zaatari, The Script
13 July – 9 September 2018
New Art Exchange presents The Script, a new exhibition by internationally renowned artist Akram Zaatari. The exhibition includes a new commission by New Art Exchange, based on the artist’s continuing observations of online societies. This new work, entitled The Script, lending its title to the show, is presented alongside the acclaimed installation, Dance to the End of Love, 2011, with formerly unpublished photographs from his Objects of Study project. The exhibition opening this summer will also coincide with the start of the celebrations for New Art Exchange’s 10th year anniversary; the exhibition will then tour to Turner Contemporary and Modern Art Oxford following its opening at New Art Exchange.
Zaatari’s work is tied to researching and studying the photographic record in the context of modern Arab societies. The artist is interested in the active role that photography plays in processes of identification among people, what he describes as “performed identities”.
The Script focuses on Zaatari’s interest in people’s attitudes while filming or photographing themselves, an exploration that emerged from his research on vernacular photography. Zaatari identifies recurring attitudes, fashions and forms of behaviour in front of the camera and how individuals choose to associate themselves with a social class, technology, modern values, or sometimes dominant ideologies, hence subscribing themselves to existing wider communities. Zaatari considers those self-representations some kind of theatre that start with studio photography and extend to YouTubing.
In 1997 Zaatari co-founded the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut’s leading institution dedicated to archive for the study and preservation of photography in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora, and has focused for years on studying the history of Studio Shehrazade and the photographs of Hashem el Madani (1928-2017), ensuring their safe transfer to the Arab Image Foundation.
His work, Dance to the End of Love (2011) is composed entirely of YouTube videos created by young men from the Arab world, which they uploaded to the video sharing site prior to that date. The videos, often fantastical, show individuals with super powers harnessing fire balls and lightening, footage of vehicles travelling on two wheels, body building displays and other playful scenes influenced by popular culture. The four channel installation captures the early use of YouTube in the Middle East and is as much about the collective imagination of young Arabs as it is about the solitude of individuals seeking to connection with an audience through electronic devices.
Dance to the End of Love also sheds light on social trends and recurring patterns of representation, the evolution of which Zaatari explores further through the new work, The Script, created seven years after Dance to the End of Love. Zaatari is interested in the distinct activities, actions or statements which people choose to share online, and how a “shared script” begins to emerge through the re-enactment of narratives. Once out in public, videos circulate among a global community. The videos are mirrored or re-enacted via a multitude of new uploads by new users who refine the script, thus collectively authoring this shared script along the way. While working on this new commission, Zaatari decided to re-enact a specific script that he has observed to be popular among practicing Muslims on YouTube in recent years – a choreography between a son and his father during prayer.
In addition to the two film installations, the exhibition will include a series of studio photographs from Zaatari’s footnotes to his Studio Practices project. The collection will look at the posed attitudes of sitters in Lebanon from the mid-50s to 70s through the work of photographer, Hashem el Madani. Madani founded Studio Shehrazade in Zaatari’s hometown Saida, Lebanon in 1953, and operated it for more than 60 years. Zaatari has been organising and studying the archive of the studio since 1999, focusing on revealing the element of performance through film and photographic installations that often rely on digital technology.
Akram Zaatari said “Collectively, the selected works in the exhibition place the photographic record in the point of convergence of so many desires that are equally individual and communal, descriptive and inscriptive, inductive and reactionary.”
Skinder Hundal CEO of New Art Exchange said “We are proud to be working with Akram Zaatari to bring this important work to the UK. The exhibition marks the start of our 10 year anniversary season, and in keeping with our core values as an organisation, it will ‘stimulate new perspectives on the value of diversity in art and society’ whilst ‘championing minority communities’. Through the exhibition and the associated programme of events, we look forward to addressing important political issues and debates, and countering cultural misconceptions.”
Born in Lebanon (1966), Zaatari has exhibited worldwide (MoMA, Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern, Liverpool Biennale) and represented Lebanon at the 2013 Venice Biennale. He lives and works in Beirut.
The Script is a touring exhibition by New Art Exchange in partnership with Turner Contemporary and Modern Art Oxford. Funded by Arts Council England and supported by Thomas Dane Gallery.
New Art Exchange: 13 July – 9 September 2018
Turner Contemporary: 19 October 2018 – 6 January 2019
Modern Art Oxford: 23 March – 2 May 2019
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