ART DUBAI 2013: THE INTERLOCK OF ART WITH PEOPLE, PLACE, POLITICS & PERIOD

Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 2:00 AM

ART DUBAI 2013: THE INTERLOCK OF ART WITH
PEOPLE, PLACE, POLITICS & PERIOD



Art is a language far superior than the conventional meaning of language. If conventional language primarily transmits via verbal conduct, art transmits via all senses: verbal, vision, touch, sound and, to some extent, smell - a busy network of neurotic exchange of pulse in the brain


RT is not a by-product of human civilisation. Art is the very blood fuelling the development of such civilisation(s). Why? Well, art is a language. A language far superior than the conventional meaning of language. If conventional language primarily transmits via verbal conduct, art transmits via all senses: verbal, vision, touch, sound and, to some extent, smell - a busy network of neurotic exchange of pulse in the brain. Perhaps that introduction about art is exactly what I have learnt from my recent trip to Art Dubai 2013. I experienced the interlock of art with people, place, period and politics.

I must first do justice in expressing the literal and tangible experience of art in this article. After all, it is an art fair. Art Dubai is one of the mega art fairs internationally that showcases hundreds of art work from galleries all around the world. There were magnificent pieces from the land of Middle East, Africa, Europe, the Orientals / Asia and many more. The region that got special attention this year was the African nation where they have special emphasis on the art exhibition methods - they call it, the 'Marker'. I regret to say that none were from Malaysia, although, in my opinion, Malaysian artists are just as good, if not better. Art exhibited includes traditional paintings (oil or acrylic), video recordings, sculptures, installations and/or combinations of some or all of those formats. As a conventional art enthusiast, my preference would be paintings. However, an art fair like this opens my eyes to possibilities of appreciating and embracing different forms of art. Throughout this article, I will attach photos of some art work that I took.

In my opinion, art installation has a unique value proposition. It is not quite sculpture nor any other formats. It is an attempt to make feel a particular presence of idea, be it political, sociological, historically or any other aspects of human philosophical state of mind. It does not matter whether the aesthetic properties are absent as long as you, the art embracer, feels what the artists intend you to feel. Nevertheless, how intellectually artistic I wanted to be, the simplistic nature of my simple human brain still finds some of the installation, for lack of better word, ridiculous. For example, a light metal door that may have extinct from the western world is celebrated as art due to its rarity. For me, I see that door all the time at various toilets in the villages in Malaysia. Another example would be broken pieces of concrete slabs. For a simple mind like mine, this is no big deal. For an aesthetically advanced mind, it is a poem. It tells a story. The place is Middle East (Where Dubai is part of). The people are Arabs. The politic is chaotic throughout the period (past, present and an uncertain future) as strongly suggested by the struggle of the Palestinians. It takes a liberalisation of the mind to accept art, no matter how ridiculous it can be.

The art fair has many offerings. The main ones would be huge halls of art work exhibition. There are compartmentalised areas where visitors can sit and experience, in a closed capsule, artistic videos and photographs. There is also sculpture show by the beach with Buruj Al Arabia in the background. Kids can attend to art competitions. Scholars can peruse through bookshops for art literature. Above all, for those who demand an intellectual manisfestation of art, they have global forums that allow artists from everywhere to express their thoughts, be it in the conventional verbal debates or discussions, or in other 'languages' of art, namely songs, music, poems, drawings, videos, recitals of writings, dances and fashion as well. This (forum) is truly a rewarding experience. I never thought that such forums can make a difference, not only on how I view art, also on how I view people from various places, periods and political backgrounds. Of course some of those realisations gave me a shocking surge of surprise - for example, I wasted a whole day not being able to enter the Art Dubai area as it was an 'Only Female' day. I should have known better by researching on the internet first. In any case, I shall unbundle my experiences in those forums in the remaining parts of this article.


Global Forum: Place and its Meaning


Art is the freedom of expression in the context of nationalism where it is the act of imagining the desired state of affairs and manifesting that hope in aesthetic forms. This is a common behaviour amongst artists especially those from the Middle East that were primarily influenced by the Palestinian struggle

An artist from Europe attempted a courageous expedition of running through 2 places of differing profiles. He drew a straight line between two points on a map of London (UK) and also on the map of Ramallah (Palestine). In the reality, it would be a challenge to stick by the line, so he did the best he could to ensure that the real line is not too crooked. He had a different feel from his 2 sets of runs. In London, being a white, and a no war zone area, the only struggle was physically following the route. In Ramallah, a white man running invites a sniper on a building to make decisions quite fast, I'd imagine. Ramallah presents a significant additional 'feel' that cannot be avoided and haunts you (the runner) continuously. That is basically the essence of the people at that place with the political struggle in this period of time. This experience that was verbally conveyed was coupled by slide shows of photographs and paintings of Ramallah as well as poem reciting.

Another artist, a Palestinian who followed her parents emigrate to America, returned to her homeland, Ramallah (not so much a home when it is not firmly accepted as an independent state yet). Her expedition was to find a man named Mohammad or Muhammad or Mohamed or Mohd or any other spelling so long as it is of the same intention of having such a popular name (The most popular name in the Middle East, if not in the world). She would learn and take notes about the life of a Muhammad and would ask that Muhammad to introduce her to another Muhammad, in Ramallah. Then she would repeat that act - A Muhammad leading to another Muhammad in a continuous everlasting journey of recording the lives of different Muhammads. A common story between those Muhammads would be - melancholy, again, simply because of the essence of the people at that place with the political struggle in this period of time.

A curator of a national art gallery stated that, "Art is the freedom of expression in the context of nationalism where it is the act of imagining the desired state of affairs and manifesting that hope in aesthetic forms. This is a common behaviour amongst artists especially those from the Middle East that were primarily influenced by the Palestinian struggle. We mustn't forget that people are affected by their lives. The struggle that they face are  manifested in their expression"

A writer, a visual artist and a curator, combined efforts trying to introduce Lagos (of Nigeria) to the audience. It seems that people get wrong information about Lagos from the internet, Reuters, CNN or from the various tourism centres. People misunderstood Lagos. However, this attempt was done from an artistic perspective. The writer attempted to describe Lagos based on key words alphabetically from A to Z. The curator gave us a history lesson on the meaning of Lagos = Lagoon in Portuguese, where they were under heavy Portuguese influence historically. The visual artist showed a video recording of Lagos from a static point by the road side. It seems that Lagos is vibrant and busy. Lagos presented opportunities to artistic citizens when it came out from the dark ages of dictatorship at the turn of the millennium. Democracy made it possible for their art landscape to flourish particularly in literature, given the strong ties freedom of speech has with democracy. Artists in Lagos now have more local content instead of foreign. Its Gross Domestic Product ("GDP") has grown to be as huge as Kenyan.

Place has a distinction association with language. When more than 1 place connects, there is a barrier - the barrier of language - giving rise to the need for interpreters or translators. A professional translator shared his views that translation is not mere technical process. It is deeper than what most perceive it would be. Every language has its own aesthetic structure such as idioms. Often, such complex structures undergo a simplification process when translated into other languages, or vice versa (simple structures turned complex). Some languages are context dependent, hence, a single word can have many meanings depending on the scenario and context it is being used. For a proper translation in preserving the intended original meaning, comprehension of the aesthetic realm of the language is crucial. It is not a mere understanding of the syntax and structure but substantially involving culture and sociological awareness - such is the demand required of translators.


Global Forum: Interpretation of Past, Present and Future



Instead of, "You had a fantastic life, so let's write about it", let us now say, "Let's live our lives fantastically and record it". That way, you will be consciously putting efforts to make life interesting so that the biographies/autobiographies can be interesting

An artist expressed the essence of different words and thoughts to describe what it means by different time periods. In the context of technology, he used a conversation between a grandfather and a grandson. When asked, "Whether the internet is a reality?", the grandson would answer, "Yes". The grandfather would respond differently by saying, "Errrr.... yet to be accepted reality". This is an interesting concept where there is an essence of acceptability despite the presence of the word 'yet'. It at least shows that the grandfather is tolerable enough to consider that he should put effort to comprehend internet as he knows deep down inside that the world has moved on to a new realm and the world that he knew will never return. The onus is on him to follow with times, to be contemporary, they say.

Another artist, a traditional Arab music expert turned contemporary, shared his view about how traditional Arab music struggles to assimilate into the modern music framework particularly the Western notation methods that found its roots from the Gregorian era. Traditional Arab music is very ad hoc and free. Its musicians will tell their musical stories without any planning and in accordance with their 'feel' most appropriate to respond to the period, place, people and political demands of the audiences. This offers the freedom to progress. As such, they despise the modern approach preached by the Westerners due to its restricted predetermined musical journey that only has the tendencies of repetitive performances when a piece of music is retold. This struggle still exists, so much so in tandem with other struggles that the Arab world is clashing with the interference from the Western powers. This only reinforces that art is very much in their lives, and ours. 

Another artist attempted to reintroduce the idea of past, present and future into the realm of biographies and/or autobiographies. Traditionally, an author of a biography/autobiography would live a significant part of his/her life first before a calling is answered to write about it (the life). In the first place, why would that concept be primary? The artist argued that all this while humans have been using the concept of diaries, a constant and continuous recording of life as and when it happens. Why not have that concept intertwined into the biography/autobiography methodology. Instead of, "You had a fantastic life, so let's write about it", let us now say, "Let's live our lives fantastically and record it". That way, you will be consciously putting efforts to make life interesting so that the biographies/autobiographies can be interesting. Justin Bieber is known to have hired a writer to contemporaneously write about his (Bieber) life as and when it happens.


Global Forum: Existence

A movie expert shared the concept of creatures in the movie. He calls it Frankensteinism, I think. Many movies and books portray this similar struggle of the relationship between the creator and its creatures. Whatever it may be, Frankenstein, cyborg (e.g. Terminator), artificial intelligence (e.g A.I.) and many others, you will basically follow a set of rules as follows:

 
Rule 1: Cannot destroy the creator
Rule 2: Follow instructions from creator as long as Rule 1 is not breached
Rule 3: Protect yourself (the creature) as long as Rules 1 and 2 are not breached

In most movies/books, the creatures will feel marginalised and will go against the  maker as how the trilogy movie The Matrix had portrayed, and so have many other movies. Now, stop and reflect for a moment. Let us put ourselves as the creature and God as the creator. Have we not gone against him by playing God(s) ourselves? Have we not tried to do the impossible with the advancement of technology, medical and science? All that can be interpreted as "against" God. Once humans believe that they can do anything that was indeed impossible in the past, they will eventually kill the idea that God exist. To ponder.....

A professor, a writer and a researcher exchange ideas amongst themselves as well as the floor on the topic 'Free Zone'. What is 'Free Zone'? It has strong connections with the 'existence' of oneself, i.e. the People at a particular place that is governed by the political struggle in a particular period. Reality as comprehended by artists is that some quasi-government corporations created out of tax payers' money now relocate their operations to some 'Free Zone' to escape paying tax back to the country where the original tax payers come from (e.g. Haliburton of USA). In simple terms, the tax payers paid taxes and do not get the benefit of doing such. The money leaks to 'Free Zone'. This is a controversial phenomenon especially for a place like Dubai that is taken as 'Free Zone'. Despite that demonic view of relocation to 'Free Zone', from an overall humanity perspective, those companies are in fact performing a corporate social responsibility ("CSR") to the people of that 'Free Zone' by creating job opportunities. People from other countries fled to Dubai for that opportunity, hence simultaneously reduce the stress of unemployment in their countries of origin (e.g. Pakistan and Philippines).

Now what happens when those immigrants grow in number to become the majority? In Dubai, the locals only account for approximately 40% of the population. The remaining 60% consisting of expatriate and foreigners are demanding citizenship. They (foreigners) have now decided to stay permanently. They are no longer 'foreigner'. They now deem themselves 'Emiraty' (People of the United States of Emirates ("UAE") where Dubai is in). The locals are jittery over this matter. It seems that UAE is the only country in the world where its original inhabitants have become minority (Although I think the Aboriginals of Australia has become minority as well). This is a struggle that I think Malaysia faced at the eve of independence where the Malays were contemplating of giving citizenship to Chinese and Indians. The only difference would be, the Malays were and still is the majority population and that they (Malays) do not control majority of the economy (unlike UAE where the locals are economically strong in their share of wealth in their country). I left my card with the professor in case he wants to chat with me about how Malaysia managed to prosper sociologically, politically and economically with a multi-racial society that was created out of conferring citizenship to immigrants (of course this word 'immigrant' is not intended to offend anyone as it is meant to put into perspective the Malaysian context benchmarked to the UAE situation).

The pack of the forum continued their discussions that gravitated towards a somewhat acceptable temporary philosophical conclusion: The concept of 'stakeholdership' instead of 'citizenship'. Regardless of whether you are a citizen or not, as long as you benefited from a particular land (be it financially, education, etc), you owe the land. Something has to be given back to the land in whatever forms necessary be it financially or in service. Some good examples of a place where foreigners have grown in number and have settled permanently with a view of owing their loyalty to that particular place would be Singapore and Hong Kong. These 2 places have gone through 200 years of evolution. They started like Dubai, a 'Free Zone' of some sort - entreports and centre of trade routes. Dubai would or ought to end up the same. As they say, "The bubble will fall back into the bucket of water". What was not resolved was that the locals still remain as minority - this is unavoidable. The locals (of UAE) will attempt to demonstrate supremacy. In my mind, this is natural and there are precedent cases: (1) the white supremacy in America over immigrants from Middle East; (2) the preferential employment for Black Africans over Caucasian Africans in South Africa; and (3) the affirmative action for Bumiputra rights in Malaysia. In the end, who are we to say who is wrong and who is right?
 
Lessons Learnt

What did I learn from this trip from the Malaysian context? Well, in a simplified manner, I believe:
 
Malaysia has got good potential to develop its art landscape internationally based on the existing local content. We should learn from the Emiraties. Why can't we lead the art landscape in our region? Why Singapore? Doesn't Malaysia have thousands of years of culture and art better preserved than Singapore? It's a shame why we do not capitalise on our strengths.


We (Malaysian) have been busy concentrating with the nation's sovereignty and economy. So much that we forget to also progress from cultural perspective. Nevertheless, for a young country of 55 years old (1957 to 2012), it is natural that such concentration is or was prioritised. Let's now move to the next phase in tandem with our aspiration to be a developed nation by 2020, that is to embrace culture (through art).

As evident in the above account of experience, art is not merely aesthetic appreciation. It is more than that. It is appreciation from many perspectives that are crucial and significant to the development of our civilisation. Art is pervasive in everything: Sociology, History, Culture, Economy, Education, Philosophy,.... simply put, anything got to do with the People, the Place, the Politics and the Period.



Art is pervasive in everything: Sociology, History, Culture, Economy, Education, Philosophy,.... simply put, anything got to do with the People, the Place, the Politics and the Period.



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