Third Text Editorial Board member Anthony Downey gives the TrAIN Open Lecture at Chelsea College of Art, London: 24 April 2019 18.00–20.00
Performing Rights: Contemporary Art, the Refugee Condition, and the Alibi of Engagement
24th April 2019, 18:00–20:00
Chelsea College of Arts
16 John Islip Street
London SW1P 4JU
Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, 1953
This talk by Anthony Downey will look at the ways in which artistic and cultural representations of refugees interpret and invariably 'perform' elements of their political and legal status. What happens, this talk will ask, when artistic representation becomes a substitution that compensates for — if not replaces — the very systems and procedures of political and legal responsibility that are being denied refugees in the first place? In a conversation with artist and political activist Ai Weiwei in Antwerp in 2017, Downey described the scale of the issue as “the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War”, and asked, “is being an artist enough?” Has the ‘performance’ of human rights become an institutional mainstay in contemporary art practices? If so, has this allowed us to merely formulate an ‘alibi of engagement’ which has made inflated claims on political realities?
Image: Karl Marx Allee, Berlin, 2019 ©ATPD.
Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University. He sits on the Editorial Board of Third Text and is the Associate Researcher for the Institute of Human Activities. Recent and upcoming publications include Unbearable States: Cultural Practices, Political Activism, and Human Rights in a Post-Digital Age (forthcoming, 2020); Displacement Activities: Contemporary Visual Culture, the Refugee Condition, and the Alibi of Engagement (Sternberg Press, 2019); Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walther König Books, 2017); Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg Press, 2016); and Art and Politics Now (Thames and Hudson, 2014). In 2019, he will launch Research/Practice (Sternberg Press, 2019), which will examine the role and uses of research in artistic practices today.