“Digital Dialogue on Peace, Friendship and Boundaries
Painters May Murad (Gaza) and Rachel Ashton (Huntly) digitally collaborated throughout 2017 to plan two 2018 Slow Marathons in the places they come from.
2018 is the centenary year of the end of WW1. It is also the year when Britain occupied the Palestinian territory of Gaza, – its turbulent history has since been shaped by this event. The Gaza strip is of exact marathon length (26 miles/42k) with walls at each end. We can not visit, and they can not come out. How can we extend and keep up friendships when we can never visit each other? Can socially engage if we never physically meet the other?
The digitally driven exchange project Walking without Walls partnership explored how we can collaborate artistically and socially despite restrictive political situations. The two artists shared through image and video, skype and whatsapp, sketches and text their respective landscapes in their very different geo-political settings. While Rachel negotiated her way with landowners and farmers, May dealt with the complexities of living in an occupied territory. Drawing on the plant journals of WW1 pacifist Rosa Luxemburg – created whilst imprisoned – the artists recorded and shared plants with curing powers in their different climates, while looking for new paths, friendship and ways of healing along the way.
Walking Without Walls formed two marathon length walks. One in Gaza and the other along the river Isla from Dufftown via Keith to Huntly. It featured exhibitions in both places, a catalogue of healing plants and a Pathmakers’ Gathering on political walking. See photos from the day here.
The artists’ path-making explorations into their own land were accompanied by a year-long exchange through various digital applications. In a time of rising nationalism and restrictive legislations that hinder crossings of national borders, the two artists have been exploring opportunities and limits of new technologies in fostering transnational long-distance collaboration. Paintings, drawings and other documentation resulting from their visual exchange was displayed at Tate Exchange on 25th May. ” [credit]
Stuart’s Lines Lost project was triggered by the infamous railway cuts which saw train tracks closed as a result of Dr Richard Beeching’s recommendations 50 years ago. Through a series of performative walks with all kinds of people along the former Portsoy to Huntly route, McAdam’s aim was to bring into focus the historic and contemporary concerns surrounding our transport legacy.
Through walking the former track again and again, people have seen him reawaken the route that has been subsumed into the landscape – like remains of ghostly traces of the line that once linked communities. Linking natural with industrial and social history of the past 50 years he interrogated the historical, cultural and contemporary resonances through a series of documented walks.
The North of Scotland was one of the areas most affected by the Beeching cuts with local stopping train routes such as Aberdeen – Inverurie, Aberdeen – Keith – Elgin, Huntly to Banff and Portsoy, Banff – Tillynaught, Fraserburgh – St Combs, Elgin – Lossiemouth, Aberdeen – Ballater and Fraserburgh, Maud – Peterhead and Aviemore – Elgin via Inverness, cut. Many of those that crossed the county have never been replaced by other forms of public transport making journeys difficult and adding hours to travel time for those not having access to private cars – passengers have to travel south to Aberdeen or north to Elgin to get connections often having long waits between buses. McAdam repeatedly walked the route from Huntly to Portsoy, experiencing it through different eyes every time.
“Physical and transparent remnants of most of the lines still exist within the landscape and I hope to reawaken them in the public consciousness”, said McAdam, who has explored journeys, boundaries and slow travel in a range of artworks.
“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Beeching report is also fitting time to consider the impact that the cuts had on the relative development and decline of the many towns and villages that lay along the historic routes, routes that were often life lines for outlying communities.”
McAdam was at the Edinburgh Art Festival the 1st of August. For more information go to the event page.
“In April 1932 over 400 people participated in a mass trespass onto Kinder Scout, a bleak moorland plateau, the highest terrain in the Peak District.
The event was organised by the Manchester branch of the British Workers Sports Federation. They chose to notify the local press in advance, and as a result, Derbyshire Constabulary turned out in force. A smaller group of ramblers from Sheffield set off from Edale and met up with the main party on the Kinder edge path.
Five men from Manchester, including the leader, Benny Rothman, were subsequently jailed.
75 years later the trespass was described as:
the most successful direct action in British history
Lord Roy Hattersley, 2007.“
Bowden Bridge Quarry 1932
“The trespass is widely credited with leading to:
legislation in 1949 to establish the National Parks
contributing to the development of the Pennine Way and many other long distance footpath
securing walkers’ rights over open country and common land in the C.R.O.W. Act of 2000
The trespass was controversial at the time, being seen as a working class struggle for the right to roam versus the rights of the wealthy to have exclusive use of moorlands for grouse shooting. It remains controversial today, both for those reasons and because some think its importance has been overstated. Our aim is to tell the story of the mass trespass, but to put it in the context of all the other contributions made to securing access rights to the moorlands, mountains and countryside of the UK.”
“The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement) is a Manchester based collective of artists, activists and urban wanderers interested in psychogeography, public space and the hidden stories of the city.
We can’t agree on what psychogeography means but we all like plants growing out of the side of buildings, looking at things from new angles, radical history, drinking tea and getting lost; having fun and feeling like a tourist in your home town. Gentrification, advertising and blandness make us sad. We believe there is magick in the mancunian rain.
Our city is wonderful and made for more than shopping. The streets belong to everyone and we want to reclaim them for play and revolutionary fun….
The LRM embark on psychogeographical drifts to decode the palimpsest of the streets, uncover hidden histories and discover the extraordinary in the mundane. We aim to nurture an awareness of everyday space, (re)engaging with, (re)mapping and (re)enchanting the city.
On the first Sunday of every month we go for a wander of some sort and we also organise occasional festivals, exhibitions, shows, spectacles, silliness and other random shenanigans. These range from giant cake maps to games of CCTV Bingo. Information on forthcoming events is here. We were founded in 2006 by Morag Rose and 2016 we celebrated 10 years of creative mischief with Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking at The Peoples History Museum.
Please walk with us, everyone is welcome. Our events are free and open to all: these are our streets and they are yours too.”
“Jalan Gembira is a walking practitioners collective that has been walking together since 2016. Jalan Gembira are based in Yogyakarta and mostly walk around the neighborhood in Yogyakarta. The idea of walking emerged in the condition of motorbike cities. Most people are not comfortable walking around. On the other hand, the walking infrastructure has not been capable of accommodating the walker. However, this rarely walking condition are leading to the layers of social problem that related to the safe space for women, adult at risk, minority community, and children in all area; tension between private and public space; also hierarchical of public infrastructure access that impacted of seeing the city as a living space. Jalan Gembira are focusing on initiating the walking activity started with the supportive companion to sensing the city and archiving all those walking experience and city senses through a visual documentation and pieces of writings.” [credit]
Jalan Gembira is a female-led arts collective in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. They recently collaborated with Walkspace (Birmingham, UK).
“Birmingham and Yogyakarta have shared the condition where people would prefer to take other means of transportation than walking. Definitely, these conditions have shaped the dynamics of people living including the barriers between public and private space who grow organically following their needs for living space.
This project will be conducted by Amarawati Ayuningtyas, Gatari Surya Kusuma, and Zunifah of Jalan Gembira, in collaboration Fiona Cullinan and Pete Ashton of Walkspace.” Here is a link to their joint walking zine. [credit]
Her short name is Mara, works as a freelance graphic designer and also an employee at an art gallery based in Yogyakarta. After graduating from the Modern School of Design (MSD) study program in design communication visual, Mara did a lot of action database archiving artists in Indonesia and did administrative work in an art collective, Lifepatch.
Gatari Surya Kusuma
Called Gatari, is a researcher, writer and curator based in Yogyakarta. After graduating from the Department of Photography at the Indonesian Institute of the Art in 2016, she did a lot of action research and deepened critical pedagogy with her group KUNCI Study Forum & Collective. In addition, she also conducts artistic production and ethnographic research related to food with a food study collective called the Bakudapan Food Study Group. Currently, she has many works within the fields of ecology, critical pedagogy, and collectivism.
Also known as Uniph. She works daily as an account executive in an advertising agency. She used to work in an art space while studying philosophy at university. Her thesis was about the philosophy of art. The combination of study and previous job made her understand that art is a basic human need for expression. She continues to understand art as her daily observation.
Andrea Carlson presented a site-specific large-scale (15’x266’) installation along the Chicago Riverwalk entitled, You Are on Potawatomi Land (2021). The sheer scale of the work required walking to take in the full text: “Bodéwadmikik ėthë yéyék – You are on Potawatomi land,” and it was situated on a recognized public walking space. The site of the work is near the former sandbar in the Chicago River that lends its name to the Sandbar Decision, a US Supreme Court case that “denied the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi ownership of the unceded land that was built into the lake by settlers.” In Carlson’s words, this work is “… meant to reaffirm Native people where they live and where they seem invisible, which is often the case in urban environments.”
“Since 2015, the Afghan artist Kubra Khademi has been based in Paris. Khademi moved to France due to the violence she faced in the wake of her 2015 performance Armor, for which she walked through a busy area in central Kabul dressed in custom-made metal armor: an artistic gesture meant to highlight how women are sexually and verbally harassed in public spaces. After studying fine arts at the University of Kabul, and later at the University of Beaconhouse in Lahore, Khademi committed herself to the continuous reflection of the condition of women’s lives in Afghanistan. Her work spans performance, painting, and drawing. In the last year, Khademi finished a series of large-scale paintings and drawings. They are inspired by the way Afghan women express their sexuality through a coded and subversive poetic language that remains unrecognizable to men. The art critic and editor Philomena Epps met Khademi for V/A and spoke to her about the assertive and unapologetic presence of women in her work as a form of resistance against the patriarchal order. Their conversation is published here as a contribution to our current thematic focus “disappearing.”
PHILOMENA EPPS: I wanted to begin our conversation with the concept of “disappearing.” I’m thinking about how your work might be framed as the antithesis to this theme, because it insists on the presence of women. There is an insistence on the body, on being seen, and a profound emphasis on the female subjectivity, all as a form of resistance. Could you, as an artist and as a woman, speak about this refusal to disappear in relation to physical presence as a political act?
KUBRA KHADEMI: Much of my work comes from my personal life experience and stories about the women I know. I talk about them; I talk about myself, about my mother, about my sisters. Someone once asked me, “Where are the men in your family?” This question was asked out of curiosity, but I received it very violently; I was disturbed. I thought, “Why are you repeating what my society, where women don’t exist, has done to me? Why should I reproduce what it has done?” My work is becoming more and more feminine. These stories can’t be told another way. It’s all about liberty; it’s about saying whatever I want to say.
PE: Your artistic practice has been engaged with the condition of women’s lives and questions of violence and repression. Both issues are historical as well as deeply personal to you.
KK It reflects the heart of popular Afghan society: the men are outside, and the women have to be in the kitchen. Women have to serve the soldiers; they have to cook for them. That is how they get their value. Religion plays a big role in serving the patriarchy, or perhaps it is patriarchy that serves religion. And women also practice patriarchy. People tell me that men are also imprisoned by patriarchy, that it is also violent to men, that it tells them they should not be soft, they should not be feminine – of course, but I don’t care. I have five sisters and four brothers. When my father died, my brother took over. If it wasn’t him, it would have been another man: an uncle, a neighbor. This isn’t a theoretical argument – it all comes from my life experience. I’ve grown up in a culture and society where being an artist and a woman is a terrible thing, because art is all about self-expression. When I was a child, my mother took us to bathe in a public, woman-only hammam. It was a very secure and trusting environment; I saw so many free, female bodies. It was there that I saw the adult female sex for the first time. I didn’t understand what I was feeling, but when I got home, I was looking for paper. I was already drawing a lot then, so I took my sketchbook and started drawing what I had just seen: all these female figures. I then hid my drawings. I tore them up and hid them under a carpet because I had this fear. My mum was cleaning and found the drawings a few days later. I was so scared. She got the electric fire and hit me with it. I’ve forgotten the pain of it, but I haven’t forgotten the feeling of guilt she gave me. I hung my head in shame for months; I could not raise it. My mum didn’t buy sketchbooks for me again, and I didn’t draw for a long time. Paper was very expensive anyway. When I draw today and leave expanses of white space, it is such a celebration for me, that I can buy these big sheets of white paper. I draw sexually liberated women, and I also practice leaving all this white space that I wasn’t afforded when I was a child.
PE: It’s interesting that your primal instinct was to record what you were seeing, even when you were so young, because this formative moment ended up shaping the direction of your work as an artist.
KK: I am so happy that there is no guilt anymore. We have to celebrate living without any guilt. The guilt was more painful than that electric fire on my body. I remember so clearly how my head was down for months, the feeling of pain in my neck. I was paralyzed. I could not draw.
PE: The physical toll shame takes on the body is unsettlingly overwhelming.
KK: No one spoke about it. When I came to France in 2015, after twenty-six years, I started talking about these experiences. I tried to re-draw that image from the hammam. I won’t forget it. I put colour on their bodies, and I called it Twenty Years of Sin. When people see that drawing, they do not fully understand what it means to me, neither back then nor now.
PE: I’d like to go back to 2015, to the performance piece Armor that led to you moving to France: you walked through a street in central Kabul, a public place in which you were highly visible, dressed in custom-made metal armor that emphasized your breasts, belly, and bottom. You had made it in response to the violent patriarchal politics of Afghanistan, particularly to how women are sexually assaulted and harassed in public spaces. Could you say more about what motivated the development of that performance, but also how the impact and severity of the performance’s fallout ended with you fleeing the country.
KK: I’m an artist who finds public space very inspiring. It’s fluid and free, the world as my studio. Before Armor, that was how I was working in Afghanistan. But I also come from a world where I should not be present. I have been sexually harassed like millions of other women in Afghanistan. We live in a culture of systemic sexual violence. If you’re raped, it’s your fault. It’s your destiny because you’re a girl. It’s taboo to bring this up. Very few women feel able to talk about it. I find that so disturbing. While I was performing Armor, the number of men around me increased every few seconds. I felt fear but also assured. That was what the performance was about: this is the way it is. I was prepared to be mocked, insulted, laughed at – those are daily things we experience as working, active women. That’s everywhere; I was ready for that. However, my performance was not an image that people saw daily. After I arrived at the end point, where my friend was waiting for me in a taxi, people started jumping on the car. The driver was frightened because he was in danger, so he started driving without looking back. When I turned on my phone the next day, I saw that it was all over the news and social media. My image was shaking the country. I assumed that it soon would be forgotten, but that was naive. It didn’t die down. The performance was presented as a project of the United States against Islam values, as blasphemy, as encouraging female prostitution. The image then started circulating internationally, which made it worse because people in the Western world admired it. It was out of control. The world was in shock; my country was in shock. Once again, local media spoke about it, as I was being criticized for being a spy and a puppet of the United States that wanted to gain the attention of the West. And outsiders perceived my work as activism. That was painful for me. This wasn’t activism; I’m an artist. By the time I moved to France, I was in significant danger. I was lucky I stayed alive. To this day, I still receive messages of hate on Instagram from Afghan people.
PE: I see it as an artistic work. The suit of armor, the costume of war, creates a striking image of protection and aggression, but it is contrasted with this enhancement of the female form, exaggerating the softness and vulnerability of the unclothed body. The act of walking is also reminiscent of female artists who used their body as artistic material in the 1970s. I’m thinking about performances and images made by women such as Valie EXPORT, Marina Abramović, Anna Maria Maiolino. These artists developed revolutionary ways to speak about violence against women, about censorship, or harassment, through a performative language and by provocatively staging feminine vulnerability and endurance in the act of spectacle. Seeing your performance only as a protest piece minimizes the depth of these artistic considerations and intentions. Of course, there are gestures within the work which could be thought of as activism, but it is art.
KK: Seeing it as an activist project implies judgement. It is an art piece. When I was a child, I already used to say, “I am an artist.” That is unbearable for my society. My society wanted to imprison me, make me a wife, a mother, but I wanted freedom. I am unmarried. I do not care about it.
PE: When you moved to France, you continued to put on walking performances. For Kubra & Pedestrian Sign (2016) you walked through Paris in a black dress and high heels with a pedestrian crossing lightbox tied to the top of your head, except the green sign in the box was a female figure. I’m curious about how you found the experience of reclaiming public space in this new European context.
KK: The challenges are different here: the texture and sense of the landscape, the cityscape, the people around me. Public space in France and the Parisian art scene are still very masculine, but in a far more subtle and sophisticated way. No one harasses me in Europe like they do in Afghanistan. I don’t need an armor to walk here. The city is like that blank white page again. That was the first performance I put on in a public space after then one in the Kabul. It was a few months after I arrived. The image of me is almost funny. I was looking into people’s eyes and allowing them to talk to me. Most of the reactions were similar, but one woman screamed at me from the other side of the street, “That is sexist! Skirts are sexist!”
PE: Earlier this year, Galerie Eric Mouchet in Paris presented your solo exhibition From the Two Page Book. The gouache paintings depict a matriarchal society, in which nude women engage in sexual and vulgar acts. I’d like to ask you about the erotic dimension of these paintings. The series draws on the writings of the poet Rumi in a homage to the particular form of language that Afghan women use when they discuss their sexuality.
KK: I have a clear position toward the women in my drawings. This is how I show femininity. These women in my paintings are not nude. To me, they are not naked; they are just bodies. If I was to clothe them, then in what clothes? Which identity? Do I dress them in the clothes I wore in Afghanistan or the European style I wear now? Clothes are dictated by geographical and religious borders. When I was a child, I drew what I saw, and I still see women this way. I chose Rumi to set up a parallel with the dialogue between women I know. All of these drawings come from a feminine universe that exists within Afghan popular culture. It’s fascinating how religion has divided women and men into two specific spaces. What women have constructed in their own space is another world that is poetic and liberated, where they trust one another. Men occupy space in a very brutal way. With my mother and her friends, when they come to talk about things, they are constantly laughing. This doesn’t mean they are happy or naive. They talk a lot about sexuality. If you were to arrive in an Afghan village, you would think, “Oh my god, the women are so repressed here,” but you would be wrong to think they don’t know anything about their sexuality. It comes out in another very beautiful way. We talk about fetishes and sexual fantasies, but it is not rooted in pornography. We talk about sex in a very funny way. When women talk about their sexual experiences, which they do woman to woman, they do not name their husbands. A friend of my mother’s calls her husband “a donkey,” which both mocks him and raises his sexual power. We use a lot of metaphors. This humor is so present in our society, but it is invisible to men. In my paintings, the body of the donkey has been removed, leaving only his sex. We say, “Cut it and keep it under the bed so it can serve you whenever you want,” because we do not want anything else. Men are just useless creatures.
PE: It’s like another dialogue or even a code. Your painted images are another manifestation of this coded language in visual form.
KK: Yes, it’s all about code. When I showed these works to my sister and my mother, we all knew what they were about. It wasn’t anything new. These are daily conversations. It’s fluid among us, we practice it. It was necessary for me to create a feminine universe. There is one work called Frontline (2021): women end up on the frontline very easily. One woman is pregnant, the other woman next to her is shitting. Women are called dirty, yet they have to be pure. The choice of being pregnant doesn’t exist in Afghan culture. I’m navigating between all of these issues. It’s a fight against the history and a system protected by religion. All the images are deliberately huge. These women have to be bigger than men. They are all two meters, and the drawing itself is 6 meters by 2.5 meters.
PE: They dominate the space. They are larger than life. This month, as part of The Enchanted exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and an offshoot of the events programmed by Nuit Blanche, you will destroy a series of recent drawings in a public performance. Titled Power and Destruction, these images depict sexually liberated warrior goddesses.
KK: Last year, I made a lot of drawings. It was fascinating to express myself in this way. The medium allows for exploration and imagination. You can create another world, unlike performing in front of the camera. I wanted the drawings to mirror live performance art, and the way it disappears after the event. I also decided to take the power back regarding the destination of my work. I have drawn mythical goddesses inspired by my Afghan origins. They are all extraordinary women. I want to exert my power as an artist as both the creator and destructor of these works. The only person to remain is the artist, who is alive.” [credit]
“At my request, my mother went to a detective agency called “Duluc”. She hired them to follow me, to report my daily activities and to provide photographic evidence of my existence. The investigation was conducted on April 16, 1981.” [credit]
“In April 1981, a detective followed the French artist Sophie Calle through the streets of Paris for one day. Hired by her mother at the artist’s request, the detective logged her movements and photographed her activities as she, without his knowledge, recorded her experience of being watched. She later exhibited the reports side-by-side in her piece “La Filature” (“The Shadow,” 1981), which highlights Calle’s method of working over three decades. Staging provocations resembling seduction, documenting them with snapshot photography and a forensic first-person point of view, she crosses the thresholds of voyeur and exhibitionist, public and private, conceptual control and chance.” [credit]
This work was presented as a map of the midtown New York Public Library, with arrows showing the route to run, from the main entrance up to the third floor and out again.
Critic Lori Waxman compares this score to Robert Filliou’s One-Minute Scenario (1963), and points out how race and place deeply affect these scores. Filliou is a white French Protestant with a glass eye referencing a hotel, while Patterson is a Black man and references the library.
Credit: Waxman, Lori. Keep Walking Intently: The Ambulatory Art of the Surrealists, the Situationist International, and Fluxus. Sternberg Press, 2017. Page 232.
76 floor rubbings
made on the sidewalks of New York
18″ x 24″, graphite on paper, 2008
Edition of 3
There are seventy rubbings in the series and they were installed as a grid on the wall, with varying dimensions depending on the location. The simple act of tracing in this set of walking-based drawings asks questions about borders, public versus private space, and how people mark space.
“Francisca Benitez (b. 1974, Chile) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, New York (2014); Museo de Artes Visuales, Santiago, Chile (2013); Die Ecke, Santiago, Chile (2011); and Nada.Lokal, Vienna, Austria (2009). Notable group exhibitions include Mapping Brooklyn, Brooklyn Historical Society and BRIC House, Brooklyn (2015); Efemérides, Museo Histórico Nacional, Santiago, Chile (2014); Pier 54, High Line Art, New York (2014); One Minute Film Festival 2003 – 2012, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts (2013); The Street Files, El Museo del Barrio, New York (2011); and Contaminaciones Contemporáneas, Museu de Arte Contemporánea da USP, Sao Paulo, Brazil (2010). Her work has been featured in major international exhibitions including the Bienal de la Habana, Cuba (2015); Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Portugal (2013) the Beijing Biennale, China (2009); and the LA Frewaves 10th biennial of film, video and new media, Los Angeles (2006).” (credit)