fold #09 on Empowerment
Graphics by Scienthya Elona
November 2023 – February 2024
Fold #09 on Empowerment
Miriam Hillawi Abraham
Curator performance art & contemporary dance from Finland
04.11. – 09.11.2023
Research curatorial visit in the Czech Republic
Reading on Empowerment with Danae Theodoridou
Online and onsite 7 – 8 pm
This research text is
part of our long-term programme
on art and sustainability in fold #09
Find the full reading list on Empowerment here
Thoughts on Empowerment
fold #09 on empowerment, is part of SEA Foundation’s art & sustainability program. The research is designed and conducted in an open-ended format to enable us to navigate through different bodies of knowledge, expand beyond the boundaries of definition to approach the concept as a medium that is constantly re-constructed, re-signified, fractured and mended.
Empowerment, the vessel for this fold’s research, is signified as a feeling, language or condition. Feeling or being empowered marks a shift in perception of one’s self and surroundings. This shift is dynamic and transformative in its essence; it is both a means and an end. We reflect on empowerment on an individual level and as a starting point for collective power to emerge. We consider power structures, social constructs and modes of exploitation to explore counter-proposals, collaborative work forms and subversive potentialities. Empowerment is approached as a notion and a means towards political and environmental change; an inherent feature to be activated by being and becoming with others in common spaces, a motive and backdrop for artistic expression.
Artist Miriam Hillawi Abraham’s practice has been the inspiration and starting point for the current research on Empowerment. In her work, Miriam Hillawi Abraham considers the material and ecological aspects of sustainability as well sustainability in terms of the continuation of practice and the maintenance and sustained value of an artefact. Since her last project in particular, she has been interested in the overlaps of culture and conservation with digital media and how access and preservation of existing sites, artefacts and practices can be extended through digital/computational design and visual storytelling. The artist sees the politics of design and space making as bearing potential to empower us ‘to reinforce Black subjectivity and claim uncharted territories asserting and centering ourselves in multiple futures’; design is seen as a radical response to systemic and structural oppression.
From one Body to Many
There is much to be written about empowerment in relation to the arts, starting from the emergence of contemporary art during the 20th century until today. Empowerment is a notion common to emerge in artistic expression as it intrinsically appeals to the symbolic, the not-yet. From an individual level, artists and works have appealed, responded or joined movements, struggles and empowered individual and collective imagination opening up possibilities of shifted perceptions. The same struggles are reflected in the institutional level of the artistic field itself, a field often reproducing or maintaining the current status quo, suppressing voices or strengthening existing hegemonic systems. In this fold’s research, the focus is on practices that symbolically and pragmatically bear the characteristics to question these hegemonic structures and norms amidst the stages of late capitalism.
Within the practice of art workers and creative labour itself, empowerment has been central as a way to respond to current issues of representation, visibility and equality. From initiatives about art workers’ rights, to knowledge exchange communities and other horizontal practices, artists have been attempting to re-discuss and work towards emancipatory practices through collective responsibility.
At the same time, we look into institutional critique and the problematic aspects of the art world itself. In Delirium & Resistance: Activist Art & the Crisis of Capitalism, Gregory Sholette reflects on the Occupy Museums public actions stressing that ‘the real occupation of culture will not begin until a different set of values is developed, both between artists, and between artists and their audience’ (pp 52). From the same front, Laura Raikovich discusses the ‘undoing and redoing’ of museums and cultural spaces as a starting point for social change, as parts of the systems of oppression that social movements seek to undo.
Coming to radical environmental practices, we think of theorists, artists and arts collectives demanding ecological justice and standing against capitalist modes of ecological exploitation. The work of art collectives like Disobedient Futures are paving the way for non-extractivist, horizontal practices with public space and museum interventions staged to protest the involvement of fuel industries in arts institutions.
Anger, Glitch, and beyond
Searching for emancipatory alternatives, we delve into in-betweenness and resistance through the cracks left open. In Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russel approaches the point of (digital) error as a starting point of resisting and dismantling systems of oppression. Glitch, seen as a strategy, can make the body abstract, fluid and open as opposed to the materialisation of its form and the social contracts that come with it. Becoming a glitch means refusing hegemonic notions on the body, in terms of gender, race and sexuality.
Kodwo Eshun discusses Afrofuturism as an attempt to correct the future for the Afro Diasporic collective body. In its frame, the theoretical, the visual, the sonic and the digital become speculative tools towards resignification of current codes of communication and exploration of alternate possibilities in technological terms. The point for empowerment and re-signification is being explored in the margins and uncharted territories. In these territories lies the space for art to intervene and invite alternative ways of being to emerge.
Eshun, K. (2003). Further Considerations on Afrofuturism. In Vol. 3, No. 2, globalicities: possibilities of the globe (summer 2003), pp. 287-302 (16 pages). Michigan State University Press.
Russell, L. (2020). Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto. London: Verso Books.
Sholette, G. (2017). Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism. Pluto Press.
Raicovich, L. (2021). Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest. Verso Books.
This is only a selection of reading resources on empowerment. For the full reading list suggestions, visit the Reading List on Empowerment.