Art and Subversion: An Interview with Omar Kholeif

Subversion. Featuring work by Akram Zaatari, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Khaled Hafez, Larissa Sansour, Marwa Arsanios, Sharif Waked, Sherif El-Azma, Tarzan and Arab, and Wafaa Bilal.Curated by Omar Kholeif. Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, UK. 14 April – 5 June 2012, preview/symposium 13 April 2012.

[Omar Kholeif is Curator of Subversion, a large-scale exhibition and public program, which runs until 5 June 2012 at Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK. More about Omar Kholeifhere; follow him on Twitter here.]

Anthony Alessandrini (AA): What was the idea behind this show, and what made you decide to curate it?

Omar Kholeif (OK): The spark for Subversion clicked in my head in 2009. I had just come back from a frustrating summer in Egypt trying to find some material in a number of different deteriorating film archives, and when I returned to the UK everyone was buzzing about a show in London that had lots of so-called Middle Eastern (and Arab) artists in it. It was a show entitled Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East at the Saatchi Gallery in London. This triggered all sorts of emotions within me and many of the artists with whom I was working, both from within and from outside of the Arab world. At that point I felt, and I still feel much the same way now, that Western institutions were still talking about artists from particular parts of the world using the same rhetoric that originated from post-colonial writers in the 1990s. In a sense, we had never moved beyond outdated modes of identity politics. Instead, I wanted to talk about what it means to be an individual in a post-internet, post social media human condition.

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