Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Potential History of Palestine, 2011; photograph © Ariella Aïsha Azoulay
In the week leading up to the December 2019 UK election, I was in Barcelona, a guest of the Antoni Tàpies Foundation. I was there to attend Ariella Aïsha Azoulay and Carles Guerra’s co-curated 4Cs exhibition ‘Errata’, and the week-long programme of related activities that were taking place.
The exhibition amounted to a lesson in “unlearning” the errors, omissions and fallacious accounts relating to colonial projects. Through erasure, replacement, addition and subtraction, Errata championed the right to intervene in and reverse imperial knowledge; to call into question the irreproachable nature of imperial archives1.
If I was to take a single lesson from Errata, it would be that we must actively intervene where we see injustice. Not only in the past, but in the present too. In Britain, where I live, as in many other parts of Europe, people of colour and ‘foreigners’ are experiencing a rise in abuse. We are disgusted and outraged, but in response to Errata I find myself asking whether such reactions are too passive. I am reminded here of a recent article by the journalist Gary Younge in which he repeats the advice his Barbados-born mother gave to him as a child: be anti-colonialist and anti-racist, be internationalist and humanist2. What struck me during my week at Tàpies foundation, was the degree to which these sentiments were endorsed.
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Errata, Imperial Publications, 2019; photograph by Roberto Ruiz © Fundació Antoni Tàpies
A seminar connected to the exhibition was titled ‘Modalities and Initiatives of Repair, Restitution and Reparation’. Azoulay’s messages of hope threaded through some of her darkest observations, repeatedly saying that “history is reversible” and that “we have the right to expect a different world”. In this time of burgeoning nationalism and populism, the imperative is for the cultural sector to work hard – harder – for equality and friendship, for honesty and collectivity, in order (in Azoulay’s words) “to make this world a little bit better”, with scholars as “the truth guardians”. One of the speakers at the seminar, Françoise Vergès, talked about repairing the present, which chimed with Azoulay’s drive to de-sanctify the documents that bring us erroneous information. Similarly, another speaker, artist and activist Kader Attia, said “that historic scars are still there and demand reparation”, that we should work to decolonise and, at the very least, do less harm.
Installation view of ‘Kader Attia: Sacrifice and Harmony’ at Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, April 16 – August 14, 2016; photograph © Axel Schneider
There are of course many other approaches where artists and curators are working for a more honest and more hospitable world. The Jakarta-based collective Ruangrupa define themselves as a public learning space, established to practice and expand understanding of collective values such as equality, sharing, solidarity, friendship and togetherness. A year after 4Cs is scheduled for completion, Ruangrupa’s curation of Documenta will be bringing hundreds of thousands of people to Kassel in Germany. “If Documenta was launched in 1955 to heal war wounds, why shouldn’t we focus Documenta 15 on today’s injuries, especially ones rooted in colonialism, capitalism, or patriarchal structures, and contrast them with partnership-based models that enable people to have a different view of the world”3. In the UK this year’s Turner Prize artists opted for “commonality, multiplicity and solidarity”. Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani asked the jury to treat them as a collective rather than as individuals, standing for shared values – very much in line with Ruangrupa’s – rather than place them in direct competition with each other. These are just two examples of positive action, alongside many others including the ones that are increasingly populating this website.
It seems to me that 4Cs is aligned with all of the above. Engaging in the constructive act of scrutinising and responding to what is questionable in our past and present. Recognising, as Françoise Vergès said at the Barcelona seminar, that we need to work day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, to ensure plurality. Gary Younge, who it has to be said is very depressed about the current state of the world, finishes his article by saying: “Sing yourself up. Imagine a world in which you might thrive, for which there is no evidence. And then fight for it.”
Michaela Crimmin, 4Cs, Royal College of Art, UK
* Gary Younge, The Guardian, 10.01.2020
1 Antoni Tapies Foundation website
2 Gary Younge, as above
3 Quoted in Artnews