on curating, so far

The role of curator should differ from that of an organizer. The act of working with artists, concepts, and spaces to make the art necessary for a purposeful show is an immersive process. Putting pictures on walls and inviting all the ‘right people’ to attend is administrative – marketing, PR – work. Both can be important, depending on how you define success for your show.

What I’ve learnt, since stumbling into the curatorial role (or more accurately, since I’ve taken on the curatorial role because of a lack in the atmosphere), is that when one individual is expected to do both curating and organizing, or when curating is confused with organizing (as it so often is), something suffers. The work, the show, the audience. To make up for it many opt to parade absence around palatably, holding gimmicks as crutches.

I stumbled into the role of curator without meaning to. I wasn’t taught curating, but through studies, work, and research, I gained enough theory to build a sort of skin for it. It started off with me wanting to be included in group exhibitions, looking for a place to hold a debut solo show – my efforts in these resulted in some disheartening experiences. Something was missing and I was getting restless, there were works I needed to make. And they were going to happen, one way or another. Most of my experiences with ‘industry’ or ‘career’ were gained via a resilient do-it-yourself spirit, driven by something larger than myself – the need to tell certain stories in art, through art, for art.

In February 2015, a friend mentioned that his pop-up gallery had an empty week. I snapped the space up for my first solo show, ‘I’ll See Your Red and Raise You Blue.’

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Photo taken by Eze
It was a quick exhibition. And because it wasn’t a conducive space for the works I had originally prepared, I decided to do something entirely unplanned, something that would better fit the space.
I spent a week making works from scratch, utilizing the limited time to intensify and maximize my creative process. The result was 12 works including paintings, spoken-word poetry, and two installations. Actual feedback from one side and actual dismissal from the other, claiming that it was either impressive or was not a ‘real’ solo show. The more on-ground result saw individuals and groups of visitors engaging with the works and stories behind them, flourishing into conversations and friendships that grew beyond the temporary space of the exhibition. What this show did to the rhythms of my creative process, though, was intense.
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Close-up of the wall installation, ‘They Expected Her to Bleed – Instead She Blued’
I learnt how to channel what I know of making to nourish new methods of working – of documenting. The word ‘curating’ has its etymological roots in the word ‘care,’ and I remind myself of this every day that I work on a project. As a curator, concepts become the pigments I paint with, the physical space of the exhibition act like pages for me to script a narrative on, while conversations and collaboration act as driving forces behind every step of the making of an exhibition or a collection of works.
That show was my first lesson in the separation between curating and organizing – the latter was gracefully taken up by those available to help at that time. And playing the multi-role of curator and artist/writer, what has now turned into a pattern.
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Extracted piece, acrylic on canvas. Photo taken by Eze.

Slumb-a-Chamber’ was the third show I curated. By this time, I have had some practice on hand. I knew – a bit more – about how to feed that hunger in me. I went in head-first, knowing full well I should not be doing everything myself. So I didn’t. I made works as artist and I created the necessary dialogues in the backstages as the curator. When I reached the finishing line of this show, I realized I might have subconsciously started looking for a team, people I can call on to back me up, stand up for the works, to do what’s necessary for meaningful work to stay alive in this easily-suffocating box. 

As a curator, I look for shameless genuity in the art, artists, and team members I work with – the works, or the spirit of creativity, must be strong. I value collaboration, so reciprocity is also a huge factor – mutual trust and belief in each other’s vision is crucial in creating anything worth while.

There’s a quote by Toni Morrison where she says if you can’t find the book you want to read, write it. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in what already existed, so I found – am finding – new ways, hopefully building a sense of creative community that doesn’t feel like it’s only based on pandering to palatable ideals, making certain narratives invisible.

Cover art: Artwork I made for Slumb-a-Chamber’

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