Organized by Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center Curated by Noor Abed 4th. June, 2020
The exhibition "ARTIST AT WORK'' was supposed to open at the spaces of Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in early May in Ramallah, but ever since the team and the audience have lost the accessibility of the space, our thoughts were directed towards means and mediums to resume the work on the exhibition. When the lockdown began in Palestine in mid March, the selected participants were already in the production phase of their works. While it was difficult to digest all that was happening, we - together - tried to weigh the priorities and possibilities. The decision of moving the exhibition online derived from an urgency in maintaining the participants’ (artists, researchers and collectives) contracts, pursuing the questions that the exhibition theme is posing on work structures and economic models in the context of art and cultural production - particularly in Palestine and the Arab World. In light of the recent events throughout the world, pre-existing ruptures and vulnerabilities in the economic models became far more revealed, and so, working on the exhibition at these times became far more relevant.

In Palestine, the art market can be possibly seen as a project-based market; a product of the continuous political and economical changes, and which is mainly characterized by its dependence on international aid. Beside questions of sustainability, bureaucracy, discontinuity, and precarity that aid dependence raises -for both institutions and individuals- it is a question here of how infrastructural changes can be carried out in such an economical module, if any. How can art practitioners intervene in the economical structures that sustain their lives, and create alternatives? How do artists and cultural practionories relate their creative labour to the wage economy? And how does the lack of employment’s security encourage dynamics of self- exploitation and what’s so called ‘hope labour’?

From the point of view of ‘The Artist/ The Employee’, the exhibition aims to call for a structural shift in the artistic/ cultural field. It looks at the economic models that sustain artists’ daily lives, while exploring the line between artists' dual careers - their day jobs beside their creative one to sustain a living. Whether the day job is working in a cultural institution, private sector, free-lance, or anything else - many artists are in a vulnerable situation where one works explicitly for money to survive, - and if lucky - to fund the production of his/ her work of art. The exhibition, therefore, is concerned about the conditions of production, from the perspective of the ideological role of creativity within the changes of the cultural economy. It, furthermore, questions the role of artistic/ intellectual activities and their possible contribution to the formation of relations of production of its time.

“ARTIST AT WORK” presents newly produced works for ten art practitioners and collectives, who were chosen by a selection committee after an Open Call for applications. The call was open for Arab and international artists/ cultural practitioners residing in an Arab country. We welcomed proposals that - whether directly or indirectly - addressed the themes and questions proposed by the exhibition, and engaged with concepts of labour, workplaces, transparency, precarity, and alienation in our contemporary time.

A parallel Public Program of workshops and roundtable conversations on the addressed themes was designed to take place at the Center’s space, leading to the exhibition’s opening. The Public Program was thought of as an open-process that takes place alongside the production phase of the exhibition; where thoughts are generated and can possibly intervene in the artworks-in-production, and not only reflect on them. With the online shift of the exhibition, the overall structure had to be revised - for both the participants’ works and the public program; some participants worked on adjusting their works for a screen display, while others had to re-work their proposals and its relation to the current restrictions. At the same time, and with the mediums available, some of the public program’s events managed to occur online via Zoom.

Moving an exhibition from a physical space to a screen has been a challenging process; Although it generated new thoughts on alienation, digital labour, and accessibility of artworks, it has remained at the edge of emergency that the whole world is experiencing nowadays. From a personal perspective, this process has provoked in me - for better or worse - a state of reconciliation with this present moment; blindly and freely moving with the uncertain, and/ or with what I no longer know.

May/ 2020

Noor Abed [Biography]

*The production grants and exhibition are supported by the A.M Qattan Foundation through the second round of the ‘Visual Arts: A Flourishing Field’ (VAFF) Project, funded by Sweden.