documentation and curatorial practice as political engagement

Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University


curating stories

Abounadarra reflection

By Tyler Thomas

Building on my exploration of artist as producer and as citizen, I am interested in an understanding of the artist function, centrally, as documenter. And, in terms of human suffering, what are the ethics not only of witnessing, but also of reproducing, and of documenting in the first place? What is our complicity as both audience and creator? I think I mean to ask: how do we determine our social responsibility to the suffering and struggles of others, particularly across large geographical and cultural divides? How do we cultivate and live out a more patriotic sense of global citizenship (and an allegiance to deeper compassion)?

To return to this notion of the artist’s “immigrant drive,” I am interested in the artist’s practice of crossing borders, mastering the inside/outside position as a facilitator would, moving between participation and witnessing. It is what Dr. Aimee Meredith Cox refers to as co-performative witnessing or participant observation. When we observe, we become complicit in our new knowledge. When we perform the role of witness, we confess a certain type of (nonspatial) presence at the scene of the crime. In theater, the complicity is literalized, as audience and performer share in the retelling and reliving of an experience, happening in the present moment, together. I am interested in the spaces that allow us to recreate community, to share in the experience of Others. I suppose the documenting artist must involve themselves in the struggle (and hopes) of those they are documenting – this is the way we avoid exploitation. We become, as poet-organizer Mahogany Brown says, not just allies but “accomplices” – people who also “have something to lose.”

How do I, as an artist, enact such accompliceship? I make. And I make visible. And I create alternatives. And I wield imagination. I reconsider narratives. I oppose domination. I humanize (and defy victimhood). I report on truth. I tell my grandfather’s dreams.  I zoom in, to magnify the stories of the unheard, thereby expanding the frame of my compassion. Which doesn’t mean I don’t do the organizing. It doesn’t mean I’m not there for my neighbor. Or at the protest, or community center. But I do bring my skill sets to these places. And I listen, observe, testify.

How do we as ones “with the glasses,” “with the cameras,”— framing lenses—best take advantage of our dual positionality to cultivate critical seeing? I take my cue from Hani Sayed: “to photograph is to frame, to frame is to define boundaries of the real, of what is representable, what we are not allowed to represent and what is not worthy to represent.” Thus, the work of documenting is to, in effect, build value systems and convey narrative—in other words, to shape our notion of reality. Sayed concluded his opening talk by declaring the importance of “ending private censorship, [which was] a call to see the frame itself, to subject it to scrutiny and critique…changing the way we see.” These, quoting Judith Butler, are “disobedient acts of seeing.” To betray the impulse to look away, to resist cultures of passivity, to retrain muscles of courageous compassion. To make action.

Sayed also mentioned the idea of engaging images “more like literature.” And I am wondering: what does it look like to ask my audience to read my performance work? How can the literal storytelling conventions of literature be used to transform how we as audiences are trained to engage with image and sound? I think what I am circling around is a return, in some capacity, to newspaper theater.


Documentation of Cure-a-ting Stories

Anooj and Cass’ Documentation!



Nietzsche on History

In case someone is interested in the text I mentioned in class about the uses of history! nietzsche_on the uses and disadvantages of history for life

Spectacle and Image

A. Ellis

In thinking about this week’s objects, in particular the Abounaddara conference, I am moved by Hani Syed’s work to review the words “image” and “spectacle” and how they relate to one’s right to the image and generating artwork that speaks both to activism and a collective culture. Continue reading “Spectacle and Image”


Apologies to All the People in Lebanon



Dedicated to the 600,000 Palestinian men, women, and children who lived in Lebanon from 1948-1983.

I didn’t know and nobody told me and what

could I do or say, anyway?

Continue reading “Apologies to All the People in Lebanon”


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For over 60 million persons in the world today, shelter is defined through constant movement or escape. Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter explores the ways in which contemporary architecture and design have addressed notions of shelter in light of global refugee emergencies. From the strengthening of international borders to the logistics of mobile housing systems, how we understand shelter is ultimately defined through an engagement with security. Refugee camps, once considered temporary settlements, have become sites through which to examine how human rights intersect with the making of cities. Bringing together projects by architects, designers, and artists, working in a range of mediums and scales, that respond to the complex circumstances brought about by forced displacement, the exhibition focuses on conditions that disrupt conventional images of the built environment.

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