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GAF 9 juxtaposing technology and art
March 22, 2015, 10:20 am

At the Global Art Forum (GAF), 2015, leading artists, curators, archivists, writers, researchers, historians, philosophers and filmmakers gathered alongside new-era professionals such as technologists, entrepreneurship enablers and accelerators, media movers and shakers  to debate how technologies have transformed not only the way we work, but how we think, interact, learn and create.

The GAF9, held in Kuwait at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, on 14 and 15 March, was presented by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) and supported by Dubai Design District (d3) and the Tamdeen Group in association with Nuqat and Sultan Gallery. 

The ninth edition of the forum, titled 'Download Update?' was co-directed by media and journalism entrepreneur, Turi Munthe and Middle-East political, social and economic commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, with Shumon Basar serving as Director-at-Large.

The two-day forum, which was supplemented by special exhibitions and events held around the city, highlighted the theme of technologies and their impact on the world of art and culture. As a kaleidoscope of technology's progress through time, it scanned the past and present looking for the designed and unintended effects of innovation.

'Digitize or Disappear'
In panel discussions, relating to the GAF's theme of technologies, various researchers and archivists discussed and shared practical and conceptual ideas around digitization of archives and artworks.

Open-floor discussions explored various questions ranging from what forms archives can take in the current technological milieu; how visual art be re-imagined through archiving; and what questions does one wants to ask of the future and what shape will it give to the past.

The forum looked at different possibilities —data-age, multi-perspective, virtual museums, online curation, multi-faceted curatorial approach to knowledge — that lie in the wake of new archival initiatives in the Arab world and South-Asia, reaching out to individuals and entities engaged in or developing a project on digitizing material.

New-Delhi based Senior Researcher at Asia Art Archives (AAA), Sabie Ahmed, presented new ways of mapping various critics, curators, art historians, artists and writers, their personal archives, online bibliographic compilations of multi-lingual histories of art, which he found while overseeing numerous projects and research initiatives in India.

Two of the founders of Nuqat, Hussa Al Humaidhi and writer Liane Al Ghusain, speaking on 'Archiving as an Act of Love' traced Nuqat’s inception that rose as a result of frustration in the near total lack of Arab identity at artistic platforms. They expressed their concern with documenting and archiving the cultural production of the Middle-East as part and parcel of its mission to stimulate the creative economy. 

The session investigated their focus on documenting knowledge by 'Practicing the Collective Approach'; data and its perception, the process and the results of collaboration using technology and their effect on the community and economy.

Kristine Khouri, an independent researcher and writer based in Beirut, Lebanon, looked at Sultan Gallery's archive over the last forty years and its efforts in introducing Arab artists to broader audiences, and helping to establish a vital dialogue among artists and institutions working internationally. She presented her viewpoint on disappearance of valuable work into thin air, scarce information and how its recovery needs time.

Ruba Saleh, Research and Collections Manager at the Palestinian Museum, spoke at length on the 'Palestine Museum' project, and her research interests: space and power, spatial barriers and creativity, practices and policies, and informality and conflict.

Emphasizing on the urgency to archive prominent artworks from the region, she furthered on the museum's collaborative efforts with Joumana Al Jabri, a data visualizing specialist on social issues,in visualizing from 1920s-Palestine to the present. Saleh also expressed her regret at the "lack of networks, museums, trained staff, the absence of a platform to exchange ideas, as well as the safety and security issues involved in transporting art that hinder in building up a museum in Palestine.”

Joanne Lisinski, Head of Research at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, presented a snapshot of her practice and role in arts heritage and preservation in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. She elaborated on the museum's online encyclopedia in English and Arabic that served as a repository for people to look for bibliographies, phonographs, books, videos and essays.

The debates then trailed the journey of the homegrown Al-Arabi magazine, from "being the recipient of news" to being the "contributor and exporter" and a pioneer in propounding the ideology of Pan-Arabism. The magazine’s role in creating a ripple-effect throughout the Arab world through its focus mainly on culture, literature, art, politics, society, and economics of the region and its pulsation with the post-Arab Spring movement were also highlighted.

Al-Qassemi, contextualized the role of Al-Arabi magazine alongside the impact of new technologies, including print and television, on the culture scene in Kuwait and the Gulf region, through the voice of scholar, journalist, and the former Editor-in-Chief Al-Arabi Magazine Dr. Sulaiman Abrahim El-Askari.

Dr. El-Askari, spoke of how Kuwait expressed itself 50 years ago and how Diwaniyas and radios were then an essential medium of news. He also elaborated on the pre-tech-era of Kuwait, he spoke of the difference of dialect and how it had the undertones of Swahili, Indian and Levantine languages.

He then highlighted that Al-Arabi magazine and Kuwait media in general took a "giant leap in the 1950-60s" as they became a significant medium to connect neighboring countries. The Kuwait media through its role in accelerating creative expressions, attracted Arabic literature and art from within and beyond Kuwait – especially in the era when censorship was not a hindrance to expression.

Researcher and gender politics consultant, Dr. Al Anoud Sharekh then moderated a discussion between psychologist May Al Dabbagh and artist Manal Al Dowayan, on how reflecting upon external circles, they explored their inner cores with their project 'Voice (re) claimed'.

Critic, curator, editor, Murtaza Vali moderated the conversation by GCC Collective, a group of multi-media artist, on "Heritage Engineering"; how active heritage construction, which might not be there, but is, very convincing. The collective's essentialism on aspects such as "contemporary conditions in the Gulf", reflected on diplomacy as theatre which "just comes in Gulf clothing" but is, as a matter of fact, a truth that "exists everywhere."

Joumana Al Jabri, in conversation with Munthe, talked about shifting perspectives, sensory media and Click-Through-Rates. With her 'Visualizing Impact' (VI) visuals and tech tools,  Jabri spoke of visualization to be more about storytelling and Munthe considered it as a way "for the media to suck out the responsibility out of people."

In their discussion on VI's project 'Visualizing Palestine' she threw light on the tragic situation of fishermen in Gaza, Palestine who are not able to safely go out fishing. She then showed, in relation to parks being uprooted in New York, how many trees were uprooted in Palestine to create a bus transport system.

Munthe, in conversation with Roland Daher, who leads business development and strategic alliances at Wamda, explored 'The Arab technocracy', and why Daher believes in the social impact of entrepreneurship and strives to foster it in the Arab world.

They discussed in length about who is doing what to whom in Arab technocracy and for how much, as well as whose lives were being changed and who owns the end product. Munthe questioned Daher on tech's capabilities as a great leveler, or if it tabled as business – political and economic – as usual.

With words such as "incubator", "enabler" and "accelerator" describing Daher, he traced "the so called" Arab technocracy: from the cornerstone of a deal that turned Maktoob Inc. into Yahoo!'s official arm in the MENA region, to Talabat's acquisition by Rocket Internet AG, and finally placed Wamda as the third milestone in accelerating entrepreneurship ecosystems across MENA.

Rather than mimicking the western world for new ideas, he cited the overnight success of Alibaba. He spoke of the structural characteristic quality, in terms of tech-entrepreneurship, that he found would be particularly aiding the technological growth of the Arab world, especially of the Gulf. He called for a beginning in collating and collaborating – in terms of language and boundaries – rather than acting as "22 individual countries of the region competing to differentiate from each other".

"Loosening up" in terms of hiring hindrances, "detaching" from permanent tension between power and control, and scaling out the apt market would add to the success, he said. Daher also saw the beginning of "internet penetration going at par" as well as spoke appreciatively of remarkable amounts of funding by the governments in the region.   

Writers Mai Al-Nakib and Lana Shamma, in conversation with Kuwaiti writer and journalist Taleb Alrefai, pointed out the entangled conditions that the "globalized, interconnected, and hyper-aware" presence of being online describes the Gulf's reaction to the dissemination of literary publications to online platforms.

While Doha-based Shamma, left the question of publishing Gulf literature works today being "Forever Paper" to be a "maybe" phenomena, Mai AlNakib, expressed her "non-optimistic" views towards online presence which lead to disappearance of "private time, quality, memory, creative contemplation and readers" themselves from the lives of people.

Shamma also pointed out that as opposed to the very important, vibrant earlier form of expression – 'Hakawati' for Arabics, which used acrobats, storytellers, musicians, "the Arabic e-book dilemma" puts many Arabic readers into the dilemma of "payment, language and privacy rights" issues.

Cecile B. Evans, whose work involves "artificial intelligence, automation, and the idea that in the future, maybe humans will be augments to machines," in conversation with Basar spoke of her creation – self robotic, human intelligence, spam-bot – AGNES, the use of holograms and digital mechanics, as well as showed flicks of her current work – the sequel to her recent film 'Hyperlinks or It Didn't Happen'.

By Ghazal Praveen/ Staff Writer

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