Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production

ASSUMING BOYCOTT: RESISTANCE, AGENCY, AND CULTURAL PRODUCTION -- Colloquium Sat 11 Apr 2015 1.00PM-5.00PM The New School, Alvin Johnson/ J.M. Kaplan Building, Wollman Hall
65 West 11th Street, 5th floor
New York City

Free Admission
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Boycott as a political and cultural strategy has rarely been more prominent than in our current moment. From art institutions and universities, to cities and entire countries, many have been affected by positions that pose as "withdrawal" or "disengagement" and in fact often result in various actions and pointed engagement around a specific issue or question.

This colloquium concludes a year-long cycle of seminars and programs on cultural and academic boycotts as special conditions for discourse and art making, organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School starting in spring 2014. The seminars addressed timely questions of the agency of artists in the social and political sphere, and how culture can enact and perform change within a politics of disengagement.

Building on the themes and examples discussed in these seminars, Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production brings new voices to join previous speakers in articulating a way forward for future boycott movements. Conceived as a concluding strategy session, the afternoon is divided into open discussion sections with all colloquium participants around three topics, introduced by short prompts by the invited speakers, among them Joslyn Barnes, Noura Erakat, Pato Hebert, Maria Lind, Ahmet Öğüt, Omar Jabary Salamanca, Dread Scott, Radhika Subramaniam, and Chen Tamir.

Examples abound of contemporary artists holding institutions, exhibitions, and projects accountable for their practices. Via labor issues in the United Arab Emirates, funding structures of the biennials in Sidney or São Paulo, participation in the 2014 Manifesta in Saint Petersburg, and calls to renew a cultural boycott of Israel – artists are leveraging their power to shift the ways culture is produced on individual, civic, institutional, and educational levels. In anticipation of a forthcoming publication, Assuming Boycott focuses on key texts developed during specific campaigns and the shifts in language and implementation of their principles, over time, to reflect changing contexts. Above all, the colloquium seeks to explore how strategies, alliances, lead actors, and guidelines have responded and adapted to a changing cultural, political, and economic environment.
    • I. Dis/engagement from Afar: Assuming Boycott Resistance Agency And Cultural Production
    • II. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Against Israel: Assuming Boycott Resistance Agency And Cultural Production
    • III. Freedom Of Speech Assuming Boycott Resistance Agency And Cultural Production

I. Dis/engagement from Afar

For artists and cultural workers separated from the target of dis/engagement by physical, political, philosophical, social, financial, and cultural distance, building networks for the exchange of information, materials, resources, and ideas poses a unique challenge. While technological innovations facilitate these flows, they are subject to monitoring and tampering that threaten the safety and security of individuals and information. At the same time, separation may prevent the artist or curator from the full impact of their work. How does one maintain closeness across seemingly impenetrable distance? What forms does disengagement take, as flows of information and critique are altered over distance? How to engage — or disengage — in campaigns at significant physical and political distances?

Maria Lind
Ahmet Öğüt
Radhika Subramaniam
And colloquium participants, moderated by Carin Kuoni

II. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Against Israel
Initiated by members of Palestinian civil society in 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was reignited in recent years has gained newfound traction in the face of unrelenting Israeli oppression. Throughout the life of this decade-long movement, targets and strategies for disengagement have been hotly contested and frequently debated. The BDS movement remains sharply polarizing, underscoring its potential as a rallying point in Palestine/Israel relations, yet frequently obscuring the variety of nuanced positions on this movement. The BDS statement is being compared to initiatives opposing a boycott, and is examined in the context of a layered and complex matrix of resistance efforts.

Noura Erakat
Omar Jabary Salamanca
Chen Tamir
And colloquium participants, moderated by Akram Elia

III. Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is often held as an inalienable and essential democratic civil right — so long as there is no immediate incitement to violence — yet throughout much of the world, forms of expression deemed widely offensive or dangerous are banned. But who is the ultimate arbiter of taste and offense? Artists not only challenge notions of the acceptable and unacceptable, they force administrations to clearly indicate what is permissible and what must be censored, altering codified understandings of freedom of speech and forcing the public to confront the unseen forces that define that society.

Joslyn Barnes
Pato Hebert
Dread Scott
And colloquium participants, moderated by Laura Raicovich

The program is organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as part of the center's 2013–2015 curatorial focus on Alignment. It is curated by Carin Kuoni, director/curator, Vera List Center, and Laura Raicovich, president and executive director, Queens Museum.