The Museum of Non Participation

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Lasse, Andrea and Tristan (Fugitive Images) insisted I visit this exhibition, which closed on Sunday, October 25, 2009. They thought it jived with my interest in "art competencies" (Stephen Wright) and they were correct. It was good research and good art, an unusual combination--inspirational. Indeed, the museum enacts the potential of art research as an approach for sharing/mapping/producing complex bodies of knowledge/understanding/possibilities.

Karen Mirza and Brad Butler conceived The Museum of Non Participation in 2007 when - during the Pakistani Lawyers movement in Islamabad - they viewed the protests and subsequent state violence from a window in The National Art Gallery.

One wonders what they were doing there? On holiday? Researching? These details are not inconsequential.

Since then they have pursued ideas connected to their position that day - through conversation, images, activities and narratives following strands of dialogue to different people, places and contexts.

Working over an eighteen month period with street vendors, Urdu translators, architects, estate agents, housing activists, lawyers, hairdressers, filmmakers, wedding photographers, newspaper printers, artists and writers, they have played out different manifestations of The Museum of Non Participation.

The art is distributed and iterative....Like the exhibition located behind a barber shop at 277 Bethnal Green Rd., the project digs behind/around/through what might otherwise be taken for granted.

The project first appeared as an English/Urdu language class in September 2008. The free class, still ongoing, invites English and Urdu speakers to exchange conversational language under the guidance and mediation of Hasan Navid. It has become a space for cultural and linguistic exchange travelling from the Oxford House community centre in Bethnal Green to an invited space behind Yaseen’s Hairdressers on the Bethnal Green Road and recently to a public performance at the Guernica room in the Whitechapel Gallery.

It's a pity. It's a pity they don't tell us how it traveled and why.

Hosted by artist collective VASL, Mirza and Butler returned to Karachi for a second time in December 2008, where they occupied a space at the Pakistani Arts Council; this open space became a location to work through ideas with (non) participants and a base from which they conducted interventions outside in the streets of the city. They distributed newspapers as packaging for food sold by the tandoor walla’s, presented performance interventions at Sunday Bazaar, and worked with sign writers to produce text banners and wall paintings that demarcated the Museum as a pop-up institution, announcing a new way of moving through and looking at the city: in a city with almost no museums, the city itself becomes the museum.

"In a city with almost no museums, the city itself becomes the museum.": Does it really? According to whom? The Museum of Non Participation calls this claim into question through acts of displacement, through highlighting aspects of the everyday that would otherwise go unnoticed. The museum deftly indicates that which resists representation through, for example, a nice nod in the direction of John Smith. Instead of the English filmmaker describing a girl chewing gum, the museum's film shows a Pakistani describes what's happening behind the camera. It's nice because this gesture asks: For whom is this creative reportage?

The scars of colonialism, partition and subsequent post colonialist ventures of improvement run deep in Karachi. Representations of Pakistan by Western media portray a rogue state suffering from conflict, extremism, natural disasters and sporadic martial law, made more fearsome by its nuclear status. The Museum of Non Participation seeks to discover the patterns and realities of everyday life and to find other languages and other voices.

Counter narratives are always contingent.

The project has variously taken the form of film, an Urdu/English language exchange, street interventions, a radio show and performances. On 20 September 2009 a newspaper publication featuring some of the different voices and interpretations of the title will be distributed across the UK as a supplement of The Daily Jang - the international newspaper from Pakistan’s oldest and largest media group.

The slide carousels, newspaper clippings, projections, ephemera...The pillows and benches and table and chai. The space was well considered, well curated, right down to the grey floor. As usual, I forgot to look up, though I did notice a slide projector and mirror attached to the ceiling that directed an image onto the table.

This newspaper precedes the official ‘launch’ of The Museum of Non Participation, a month-long festival which will bring together the multiple faces of the project in a programme of film screenings, talks, discussions, Urdu poetry, and performance.

Let's pretend the museum doesn't self-describe as a "festival" in its own press; this descriptor doesn't suit it. "Programme of events" seems more apt.

The Museum of Non Participation raises questions about resistance and the choice and consequence of action vs inaction. The strictures of conflict, class and monetary divisions within a globalised world provoke engagement with the problems of participating or not participating in such a system, whether in Karachi, London or elsewhere; The Museum of Non Participation examines how our lives in one space have implications on the other.

This claim is unnecessary. The exhibition does many things, though considering how lives lived in on space have implications for lives lived in another did not strike me as focal. More interesting, I think, is how the artworks refract the viewers' point of view, calling into question her situated position as, ultimately, one location among many.

(Source Art Angel)

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programmeheader_0.jpg source: Art Angel