Is an international art viable?

A conversation with TFW curator Mariam Rahmani and artists Oasa DuVerney and Shahab Fotouhi about political art in the contemporary art context

Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 6:30-8p with reception following

May 2, 2014

Dear TFW Participants,

As I look beyond my desk into the exhibition space, the striking photos of Iranian waterfalls by Shahab Fotouhi appear to my left and a photo-realist sketch of Obama by Oasa DuVerney hangs on a wall to the right. Mirroring their opposite positions in the show, the works function like inverses of one another: in Shahab’s work, the text of a campaign debate has been omitted and set against other (at first glance, seemingly nonsequitur) images, whereas in Oasa’s, a seemingly nonsequitur (yet, one quickly realizes, stingingly appropriate) label accompanies an image lifted from an election campaign. Shahab’s work responds to a context actually and imaginatively far from New York — that is, Iran — while Oasa’s is about our current president. Yet the two artworks parallel each other, too: both are about a particular state’s domestic politics, and both rely on a text to mediate between the visual object and the audience (a statement accompanies the waterfall posters). But then, in the latter tactic, they diverge once again. The American political work is immediately legible as a stand against racism, while the Iranian political work goes through a great deal of trouble to disavow a straightforward reading (see Shahab’s statement below).

The tension created by having these two projects share a space at 601 suggests a field of questions that are crucial to an ethically responsible contemporary art discourse. Most essentially, I ask, is an ‘international art’ viable? No matter where in the (art) world I may be, I hear this phrase dropping like pennies in a Midwestern mall fountain — frequently and with an optimism bordering on foolishness. The now global standard of the white cube posits an anonymous art space that is everywhere and nowhere, but are we instead discovering that context does actually matter? More specifically, does displacing a political work neuter its significance?

Shahab and Oasa have agreed to join me on Wednesday, May 21st, for a roundtable conversation centered on this topic. We’re hoping for a lively debate with anyone who cares to participate. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your thoughts.


Images above: (left) one of four posters from Shahab Fotouhi, Establishing Shot; Interior, Night - Exterior, Day; without Antagonist and Extra, 2013; (right) Oasa DuVerney The Illustrated Guide To Not Being So Fucking Racist Vol. I Not an Eraser, 2011.

In Fotouhi’s view, this work should not be attributed to the following issues:

1. Censorship.
2. Championing good over evil.
3. Regarding people as extras.
4. Seeing the waterfall as an analogy for political events—that which 
has been, is and will be.
5. Woe is the captive who has been forgotten, 
Left ensnared when the hunter has already gone.

Fotouhi has not yet been able to choose from the following three propositions about the work:

a.) That examining or inquiring into what has been omitted is pointless, because he had no particular reason for selecting these specific excerpts from the debate.
b.) That, since he is still not sure whether he did or did not have any particular reasons for choosing these specific excerpts from the debate, he cannot prohibit the audience from examining or inquiring into what has been omitted. But that nevertheless, in his opinion, doing so is pointless.
c.) In the end, he has not been able to identify a particular artistic device that would justify the selection of these excerpts; nonetheless, he does not believe that such a device must necessarily exist. He thinks that most probably the representation of both sides of the debate in the excerpts is a necessary and sufficient condition. So, examining and inquiring into the content of what has been omitted is pointless, but not prohibited.

He regrets that he was unable to travel to the Shevy waterfall, which he imagines is the most beautiful waterfall in Iran.
He welcomes viewers to take these posters and hang them wherever they would like.

- Shahab Fotouhi, 2013, translated from the Persian by Mariam Rahmani

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