2014-2016 Prize Winner: Abounaddara and The Right to the Image

2014 - 2016
Winner of The New School's 2014 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, Abounaddara is an anonymous collective that emerged at the onset of the civil uprising that led to the Syrian Civil War. Abounaddara posts one video on Vimeo every week about individual Syrians on all sides of the conflict, providing an immediate, disturbing and intimate record of one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our age.

A self-styled "emergency cinema," Abounaddara transcends mainstream war reporting by making use of both the wide reach and anonymity afforded by online video platforms. Through brief impressionistic videos often focusing on a single individual, the group's work depicts daily life in a society wracked by ongoing atrocities: a sniper – whose interview is intercut with images of a shooting video game – who estimates that he has killed up to 600 people but still cries for his wife's miscarried child; an "unknown soldier," depicted in shadows and tortured by memories of the atrocities he has seen; an Alawite woman discussing how she became a rebel sympathizer; a young man disappeared into police custody. To Abounaddara, defending the "right to the image" as a human right drives their work. Collectively these weekly video missives fight for the freedom and dignity of all Syrians, implying that the Syrian crisis is far from "local" or "isolated," but is a matter of global concern and global doing.

Jury Citation
Abounaddara is an anonymous filmmaking collective based in Syria that produces short documentary videos that are posted on Vimeo every Friday. They call their work "emergency cinema," stemming as it does from the current political and humanitarian crisis in Syria. Abounaddara means "man with glasses" in Arabic, and it is precisely this kind of quotidian sensibility—in which individuals are referred to by their appearance or their profession—that makes this collective's work so striking. Each video features one person, speaking directly to the camera, engaged in a first person narration of the effects of the war on their daily lives. Abounaddara has eschewed any kind of "taking sides," so one week a video may feature a Doctor and another week a Soldier in the military. The effect of this prismatic view of Syrian society is the powerful proposition that all Syrians are victims of the civil war. However, this does not result in an anodyne position of "neutrality," rather it suggests that the inevitable end of the crisis—peace talks, reparations, etc.—could begin now. This urgency guides the project. The commitment to posting a new work weekly is part of Abounaddara's stated desire to offer an alternative to the current sensationalized and numbing media coverage of the war. The use of Vimeo as a distribution mechanism radically exponentalizes the potential audience for the work, as well as implies that the Syrian crisis is far from "local" or "isolated" but is a matter of global concern.

The jury for the Vera List Center award was moved not only by the possible political and ethical implications of the work; we were also stirred by the poetry of the individual videos. The one-on-one conversation between the narrator/subject and "us," the "audience," routinely refuses any heroic posturing on the part of the filmmakers. We never feel that the artists are "representing victims," or turning the horrors of war into a human-interest story. This open quality of the work largely stems from the intimate camera work and Abounaddara's construction of a Syrian landscape that is beset by tragedy and war but not defined by it. Rather than fixing its field of inquiry from the outset, Abounaddara enters it loosely, and, as a result, shows its dynamic, unfixed, changing, fluctuating nature. Via a combination of the temporality of journalism and the poetics of cinema, a mixture of documentary and aesthetic values, Abounaddara's work possesses a quality of multiplicity, making it at home equally on the internet, in film theaters, and in art exhibitions. It is possible that, in the age of the "selfie," Abounaddara is at work on a new form of portraiture. It is for these reasons, at once ethical, political, and aesthetic, that the jury awards to Abounaddara the second Vera List Prize for Art and Politics.

NY Times
Full press release
Full Press Release in Arabic

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A group of six jury members selected Abounaddara as the recipient of the 2014-2016 Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics.

Helen Molesworth, chair
Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Carin Kuoni
Tony Kushner
Lydia Matthews
Doris Salcedo

Leading professionals in the visual and performing arts from around the world nominated projects.

Negar Azimi
Rosina Cazali
Doryun Chong
Biljana Ciric
Sarah Demeuse
Galit Eilat
Erin Gleeson
Sunil Gupta
Angela Harutyunyan
Koyo Kouoh
Maria Lind
Ana Longoni
Naeem Mohaiemen
Sofia Olasoaga
Hetti Perkins
Paul Ramirez Jonas
Paul Chaat Smith
What How and For Whom

Prize Founding Supporters
James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach
Elizabeth R. Hilpman and Byron Tucker
Jane Lombard
Joshua Mack
The New School