Being a Dutch art historian, working in Germany, I was asked to give a short introduction in English to an Israeli artist working in the Netherlands. The inherent confusion, the mingling of languages, that follows from this is a good starting point to talk about the work of Joseph Semah.
Because there is even another language we will have to talk about: Semahs language of images.
Does art have a mother tongue? Who understands the language of art? Or more specific: who understands Joseph Semahs art?
Semah is often said to be a difficult unintelligible artist – which is, let me state this right at the beginning, not true. And Semah being presented as an Israeli artist who explores both European and Jewish thought and the interplay between these two, most spectators may feel as if they miss something. But what is missing might be the point. You cannot expect a spectator to know both the European and Jewish tradition and the main mistake when dealing with Semahs work seems to me, this urge to start from such knowledge instead of plain curiousness. So the strategy I suggest to you is plain curiousness: you will discover things you did not know.
It is precisely this balance between exile and the emotion of the privileged which form the unique originality of our Breathing in reverse as will be clear already, there is no past or futue in exile, only an immediate present
I Have a Dream… answers the question of what society will look like in 15 years from different perspectives. At The Middle East in Europe and Europe in the Middle East seminar (Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, 2008), Nilüfer Göle, Tariq Ramadam and Paul Scheffer specifically debated what could be the added value of the Islam for Europe.
Even though they agree on the analysis and possible resolutions of the problem, the accents and approaches vary.
Paul Scheffer points out the importance of guaranteeing true and complete freedom of religion.
Nilifur Göle discusses the public arena which practically forces Muslims to play a constructive role.
Tariq Ramadan talks about the hidden arena, in which Muslims subject themselves to critical self-analysis, leading to an emancipatory revolution.
All three conclude that while the national state is a spoil-sport, there are reasons to be optimistic about Europe’s role.
I Have a Dream… De toekomst van de Westerse democratie en de Civil Society – Lezing Halleh Ghorashi (Bijzonder hoogleraar Management van Diversiteit, VU), Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, 2008.
Enerzijds wordt de Westerse democratie als belangrijk exportproduct gezien door regeringsleiders, anderzijds klinkt zowel internationaal als van binnenuit een steeds luidere kritiek op de Westerse democratie.
De afgelopen jaren wordt het belang van de civil society in onze samenleving als wezenlijk geacht. Democratie is veel meer dan de vrijheid om je stem te mogen uitbrengen. In tegenstelling tot wat vaak wordt beweerd, gaat het bij democratie niet alleen om de meerderheid, maar vooral om de ruimte voor de minderheid. En deze is juist wat democratie kwetsbaar maakt, hoe maak je ruimte voor de ander, wanneer je die ander als bedreiging van democratie beschouwt?
Kishore Mahbubani: ‘You in the West have no idea how the rest of the world looks at you. They see an emperor without clothes. The world has changed
tremendously, but you do not understand what that means. Globalisation Lecture 23: The Century of Asia: The inevitable global power shift, Felix Meritis, Amsterdam, 13-11- 2008.
For centuries Asians (Chinese, Indians, Muslims and others) were on the sidelines of world history. But the East is rapidly modernizing and is ready to claim their share of world power. They are among the fastest growing economies and have some of the largest financial reserves. On a social and cultural level the East is changing fast. How do Europe and the US respond to the rapid rise of the East? According to Singaporean intellectual Kishore Mahbubani, the Western business world appears to be the only one anticipating changes in the East. Western governments seem to be looking the other way and fail to accept that a shift in economic power will also mean a shift in political and cultural power.
The international activities of arts institutions are attracting more and more attention. The simplest foreign activity of an arts institution may consist of the artist of artistic company performing abroad, either on their own initiative or upon request. More and more companies, whether large or small, are increasingly being asked to perform at festivals or other events. The fact that this is gradually becoming common practice fits in with the disappearance of every possible barrier to international exchange. There is probably virtually no arts institution which never performs abroad at some time. Of course, there are all kinds of similar phenomena in the opposite direction.
There are special agencies which manage this import and export. Large or small, they are the middlemen between supply and demand, between presenters and producers, or between presenters and presenters. It thus frequently happens that presenters from various countries engage themselves for tours organised by such agencies.
The state of affairs outlined above is not really much more than a simple question of import and export. Strictly speaking, there is no need for the company concerned to do anything besides preparing its performance. The work is primarily aimed at the domestic market. A text or script may occasionally get translated, but generally speaking no effort is required apart from the effort needed to be taken seriously in one’s own country. Besides, regular performances abroad are no automatic guarantee that the company itself makes closer or more artistic international contacts. The most that can be expected is that more markets are opened up for the product supplied by the company, but it is highly questionable whether – and if so, to what extent – the product, the company or the artist are influenced by a different artistic orientation or confrontation.
This kind of cultural exchange will be almost entirely disregarded in a more detailed consideration of the concept of ‘internationalisation’. After all, one may assume that these activities across national borders are a part of the ordinary day-to-day activities of an arts institution.
A dialogue requires modesty
Before an exchange, tour, series of lectures or exhibition abroad comes up for discussion, the first question that has to be answered is whether the foreigners concerned are interested in it: “Do they want it? Are we obliging anyone with it?” Before these questions can be answered, it is first necessary to find out who “they” are. Minimal requirements in this respect are: being able to speak the language of the host country; being familiar with its forms of behaviour and peculiarities; and gauging the interests of both sides by means of personal conversations.
Information can only be transferred after getting to know one another on a personal level, and it should be carried out between the parties themselves: the art gallery owner and the painter, the theatre and the mime company, etc. This demands a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of the entire range of the arts available, both in the home country and abroad. As far as the performing arts are concerned, it is virtually impossible for an ordinary person to keep up with the developments of the past twenty years. It is hardly possible any longer for a local organisation to collect the information required to operate as an international orientation point as well.
People will have to respond to issues relating to the arts, cultural policy and production which arise elsewhere in Europe as well. International cooperation is essential if artists are to continue to have the opportunity to create, perform and innovate. Read more