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How Can a Curator Approach South Asian Futurisms?

Saks Afridi in collaboration with Narcy (Yassin Alsalman) with Tamara Abudl Hadi, Roï Saade, “Spacetime” (2018), metal print, 30 x 30 inches (courtesy of the artist)

What is South Asian Futurism? How does a curator carefully deal with this topic?

During this scholarship I went back to my favorite childhood Hadith: ربِّ زِدْنِي عِلْماً– “O Lord, increase me in my knowledge.” Until recently, most of the artists I spoke to were class or caste privileged and in or around New York. How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with veiled stories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the visual arts landscape—and my own realm?

I have reflected on the frustrations of artists sharing experiences in which curators have approached them with reductive exhibition proposals based solely on common racial or gender identifiers. Some of the artists I interviewed for this grant also expressed concerns about being included in the South Asian Futurisms category. I accept your feedback with gratitude.

I seek a constructive, open-ended, and shifting framework of South Asian futurisms broad enough to encompass the subaltern narratives of caste-oppressed and religiously marginalized communities. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a growing body of questions.

Therefore, I present a work checklist for curators designing thematic exhibitions related to South Asian and subaltern futurisms, which includes contributions from contemporary artists and scholars (labeled with their names next to the suggested question). My intention is for these questions to guide me and other curators, thinkers, and writers as we strive not to replicate ingrained prejudices.

Curatorial Framework Checklist for South Asian Futurisms

intention of the terminology

What do Futurism and South Asia represent, and what dominance within these two ideas do we need to acknowledge first? — Himali Singh Soin, artist

How does futurism look, feel, sound, smell and taste to me?

How does futurism look, feel, sound, smell and taste for the artist?

What are the limitations of the English language in describing South Asia?

What are the cultural terms of identification with which the artist connects – or not -? Would you like to be identified as such in writing? Do these terms need to be included? Do they add substance to the scholarship?

What are the limitations of the English language in describing concepts such as time, space and geography? How do I frame and contextualize my choice of terminology?

Vishal Kumaraswamy, “Iruvu (Presence)” (2021), video still (courtesy of the artist)

Recognizing and dissolving hierarchy

Am I aware of my own relationship to caste and class?

Have I made an active and genuine effort to connect with artists outside of my own caste, class, gender, geographic proximity, and/or religious identity?

What are the caste identities of the artists I am including?

Do I tokenize?

Does curation undermine, preserve, or render invisible the caste system? How do I implement Ambedkarite discuss informed? — Prabhakar Kamble, curator, activist and artist

Do I preserve or break hierarchical class constructs?

Am I maintaining or disrupting linear Eurocentric notions of time, space and geography?

What role does historical awareness play in the conception of futurisms?

Artistic intention and process

What is the artist’s intention? What drives your practice? — Subash Thebe Limbu, artist

Which artists, thinkers or movements influence the artist’s work and his understanding of futurism?

Who are the artists’ collaborators?

What natural environments have influenced the artist’s work?

Which archives and primary sources does the artist refer to in her research?

What religious iconography does the artist use? Is it critical and caste related?

artist-curator relationship

How does the artist fit her work into the broader context of Futurism and historical and contemporary social justice movements?

Am I creating a safe space for the artists? For myself?

In which contexts does the artist want to see his work – formally, materially and beyond? — Melissa Joseph, artist

How can I support this artist to achieve the maximum potential for their desired project? — Sa’adia Rehman, artist

What resources and technologies are available to the artist? How has this affected your practice?

How is the artist confronted with – and overcome – epistemic and systemic injustice?

How do I access and provide resources for artists to bring their ideas to life? Do I have the capacity and skills to do this?

Am I giving thoughtful criticism and feedback, or am I projecting my own desires?

sustainability and connectedness

Am I building a lasting, sustainable, and symbiotic relationship with the artist?

How do I consider climate vulnerability and materials/waste in my curation? — Anjuli Raza Kolb, Associate Professor of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth University

How do we maintain artistic integrity when curating in a commercial space? In an institutional space? On a digital platform?

How does this curation foster connectedness?

Editor’s Note: This is part of the 2022/23 Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curatorsand the second of three posts by the author, The third of these will be an online exhibition sent to all Hyperallergic subscribers. to register Here for Sadaf Padder’s virtual event hosted by Editor-in-Chief Hrag Vartanian on Tuesday, March 28 at 6 p.m. EDT.



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