Whose Voice is This Anyway?

A New Ma’arav Supplement:

About a year ago, a story broke out that ruffled quite a few feathers within art academia: Kamal Boullata, a Palestinian artist and researcher living in France blamed Professor Ganit Ankori, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of having copied several of his ideas and using them in her book Palestinian Art (published by Reaktion Books). Besides Boullata’s specific academic and legal claims – his suit was later rejected by the court and it forced magazines which published his allegations against Ankori to pay her severances – the story conjured up a debate in different fora concerning the moral right, and lack thereof, of researchers of one group to publish analyses of a rival group’s cultural activity. In other words, those who took part in the debate were wondering out loud whether Ankori, an Israeli researcher and member of Israeli academia (and hence representative of the Occupation) has the moral right to analyze the work of Palestinian (i.e., occupied) artists. Many claimed that her work was in itself a kind of cultural occupation, going on to blame Israeli researchers of adding insult to injury in denying Palestinians their own voices after having stripped them of their land. Similar accusations, though of a lower frequency, have been leveled at Ashkenazi curator Tal Ben Zvi, who organized Mother Tongue (pdf), an exhibition of art by Mizrahi artists, and against researchers from many disciplines from around the world. On the other hand, there are arguments in favor academic freedom, of research as common grounds for working out politically transgressive questions, the power of institutional work as a basis for change, etc.

Whose Voice is This Anyway?, a new supplement in Ma’arav, brings these questions to the fore, dealing with questions such as who ‘owns’ the voice of the other, if anyone can ‘own’ a voice anyway, and what is the character of the moral right to employ it, as well as with the cultural repercussions of these question on contemporary culture and art. Showcasing and debating artworks, curatorial work, film and activism, the supplement evaluates the different questions that arise from creation by and research of the other. Who has the right to speak for the other, create in the name of the other and analyze the culture and art of others? How relevant is the researcher’s identity to his work, and might it qualify or disqualify him or her from undertaking it? Might artists’ ethnic, economic, national and/or gendered backgrounds blind them to the struggles of other groups, disqualify them from taking up their causes and/or criticize them? And do corporate Globalization and the culture of the net obfuscate or rather highlight these questions’ validity? Since the research and analysis of groups always entails confrontation with a foreign culture, we try to ascertain whether the foreign gaze must be a violent and/or fascinated one, or is it also able to be sober and critical; does this gaze have the power to reveal or just conceal; and are art creation, research, curatorial work and simple observation necessarily domineering, or might they be able to express attempts at bridge- and intimacy-building, perhaps even aiding the higher moral act of using privilege to strengthen the voices of the disempowered.

Michal Heiman, Father not Uncle (Freud / Katharina), 2008, video, color, sound (26 min.), detail

The essays

The supplement opens with Noa Roei’s essay The Politics of Aesthetics Between Bil’in and Tel Aviv, which deals with the creation of objects and performances for demonstrations against the construction of the Separation Wall in the Palestinian village of Bil’in, and their subsequent relocation from the realm of protest to the one of gallery exhibition in Tel-Aviv. The artistic means they employ, claims Roei, align the protesters with members of the international contemporary activist-art community, allowing them to sound off not as oppressed but as active partners in this scene.

Ari Joskowicz offer another angle on the local conflict with Curatorial Responsibility and the Exhibition of Israeli and Palestinian Political Art in Europe, originally published in an Israeli and Palestinian art show exhibited last year in Vienna. Joskowicz makes use of the exhibition’s complex makeup and loaded historical and national contexts to debate the possibilities and limitations confronting curators seeking to endow the shows they curate with a historical, ethical and social context, as well as the relations between art, education, activism and history.

Rotem Ruff deals, in A Participant Observer: Dealing with Political Voice in William Kentridge’s “Drawings for Projection”, with the work of this Jewish-South-African artist, whose art relates to the apartheid regime through a set of artistic tricks meant primarily at illuminating – rather than solving – the double (moral) standard of an artist who both observes and takes part in the tragedy of a segregated society.

Ralf Homann, an artist and activist active in Germany, uses his essay SLOT MOBILITY! to showcase the work of schleuser.net, an artistic association and communal working platform for activists, artists and professional experts. The project, originally set up to fill the need for wider presentation of issues of mobility and migration and present the interests of free passage in the economic and human-rights fields, deals with borders, migration and people’s “illegal” status. Presenting the project, the artist also raises important questions concerning artists belonging to the dominant power allegedly speaking out for oppressed immigrants as well as supplying ideas of how to avoid this impasse.

In Facing Klone: The Address of a Voice in Tel-Aviv’s Street Art, Philosopher Hagi Kenaan responds to the images of the Tel Aviv based street artist, Klone, offering a new perspective for thinking about the Image’s Voice and its reverberation in the urban space.

Using the work of French film maker and anthropologist Jean Rouch, Israeli film makers such as Avi Mograbi and July Gerstel Cohen and the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Adam Aboulafia tries (Whose Cinema?) to work out whether documentary film can represent an otherness which overcomes the allegedly distinct identities of filmmaker, subject and viewer – and if so, what the nature of that otherness might be.

The English supplement ends with an excerpt of Ariella Azoulay’s book Act of State, which accompanied a 2007 exhibition by the same name at the Gallery of the Minshar Art School (Tel-Aviv), in which Azoulay attempted to read local history through its photographic images. In the essay, she deals with whom the photographs belong to, ascertaining what information can be dredged out of them.

The essays were translated on the occasion of the launching of Ma’arav’s English edition. This edition includes two essays written especially and published in English alone.

The first is Nat Muller’s critique of In the Middle of the Middle, an exhibition curated by Catherine David during the last winter in Beirut. She criticizes the work of David – a Western curator who has shown the work of Arab artists in the heart of Beirut – in light of the recent vogue for Middle-Eastern art in the contemporary art world. The second essay, Any Women in the Directors’ Room? by Shira Richter, deals with the identity of those who would still speak for women, wondering how a women’s voices can be uttered without giving up its uniqueness.

In addition, in the Hebrew version we publish the essays abstracted below.

Jewish art scholar David Sperber seeks to point out fissures and new connections between contemporary Israeli art and curatorial work and the Jewish Tradition. He claims, in The Appropriation of the Jewish Voice in the Local Art Discourse, that an analysis of the field uncovers a contradictory process of hybridization/purging, with Jewish elements seeping into secular art on the one hand, and the art field renouncing these elements for the upkeep of Modernist divisions between High Art and “religious art”’, on the other.

Japanese art scholar Oshrat Dotan showcases the work of young Japanese artist Miwa Yanagi, whose work is now being exhibited at the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennial, in her essay The Silent Struggle of Young Women. Dotan presents Yanagi’s work on Japanese women’s status and female identity, and describes how her work criticizes women’s social roles in Japan as well as stereotypes of young and old women.

Seemingly about the Congo, a state defined as a humanitarian disaster area, it comes as no surprise that Renzo Martens’s film Enjoy Poverty would include difficult sights. However as Efi Weiss demonstrates in her essay Inverted Horror, these sights center on the Western aid organizations deployed to the area and their cynicism, oppression and decadence.

In his essay Soundtracks as Identity-Splitters, Omri Greenberg claims that the soundtracks of Wes Anderson’s films (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou etc.) act to undermine the director’s unified point-of-view and achieve polyphonic, reflexive films. He claims that the songs and music that feature in the films problematize the films’ narrative structure and act as a distinct voice.

Rotem Rosenthal analyzes the work of Polish artist Aneta Grzeszykowska, whose work was exhibited in a show at Bat yam Museum earlier this year. Eye in a Light Box deals with the context in which her work was shown in Israel – the Year of Polish Culture in Israel. Rosenthal highlights this aspect, using philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s aesthetic theories to analyze the power interplay between artist, work and viewer as these are manifest in Grzeszykowska’s work.

On the supplement’s cover: Michal Heiman, Father not Uncle (Freud / Katharina), 2008, video, color, sound (26 min.), detail


This supplement, which deals exclusively with the voice of the other and the debate over it, should have included the voices of Palestinians and the citizens of neighboring states such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. But the ongoing Occupation means that creators and researchers from the world in general and the Middle East in particular are reluctant to collaborate with Israeli bodies. Since we thought it was inappropriate to use our voices alone to speak of the cultures of our neighbors, and in light of the IDF’s attack on Gaza (which has strengthened calls for boycott), we publish this supplement without these voices, which are sorely missed.

Yonatan Amir and Ronen Eidelman