– Autumn/Winter 2015

Aftermaths?: dOCUMENTA (13) in Kabul

Francesca Recchia

Sculpture made by one of the participants in a workshop led by Michael Rakowitz in Bamiyan as part of dOCUMENTA (13), 2012. Courtesy the artist and Aman Mojadidi

A Road Map

In a world that fantasises about its global interconnectedness, questions of origin, location, proximity and distance are central to debates on contemporary art and curatorial practice.

This article looks back at the decision to have dOCUMENTA (13) ‘travel’ in 2012 to Kabul on the grounds that the Afghan capital and the city of Kassel — where the exhibition is traditionally hosted — share a common (generic?) post-conflict heritage. Taking issue with the widespread commodification of ‘elsewhere’ in contemporary art, it interrogates the exhibition’s choice of language and its conceptual framework, examining the repercussions of spoken and unspoken expectations towards the symbolic significance of Afghanistan. It also addresses the risks of the Western developmental approach that often seep through contemporary art’s interactions with localities ‘beyond the frontier’ to ask if this is not a sort of excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta — the unrequested reassurance of abiding by the rules of good intentions and political correctness thus betraying a need to excuse the colonial underpinnings of Western institutions’ incursions into the Global South. Finally, the article ends with a note from Afghanistan, a reflection on the challenges of establishing equal grounds for the dialogue with

  1. This dislocation is still built around the argument of the social and economic divide between North and South — even with the necessary, almost customary caveats aimed at rejecting all binary logics. See http:// http://www.documenta14.de (last accessed on 22 June 2015).

  2. Conversation with the author, 17 April 2015.

  3. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, 'Introduction to dOCUMENTA (13): Artistic Director's Statement' (press release), dOCUMENTA (13), available at http://d13.documenta.de/uploads/tx_presssection/3_ Introduction.pdf (last accessed on 22 June 2015). dOCUMENTA (13) was held in Kassel from 9 June to 16 September 2012. Satellite events included: 'The Cairo Seminar', Alexandria, 1—8 July 2012; 'The Retreat', The Banff Centre, 2—15 August 2012; and 'Kabul — Bamiyan: Seminars and Lectures', with seminars held in February, April and May 2012, and exhibitions held at the National Gallery, the Queen's Palace and Bagh-e Babur, Kabul, 20 June—19 July 2012.

  4. Ibid.

  5. 'Other Positions' (press release), dOCUMENTA (13), available at http://www3.documenta.de/fileadmin/ press/for_the_press/press_kit/en/7_Other_Positions.pdf (last accessed on 22 June 2015).

  6. Conversation with the author, 27 February 2015.

  7. 'REEL—UNREEL (Afghan Projects, 2010—2014)', Madre — Museo d'arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 14 June—22 September 2014, and Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, 10 October—11 January 2015, curated by Andrea Viliani and Eugenio Viola.

  8. Aman Mojadidi, 'The Sand Mandala', in Francis Alÿs: REEL—UNREEL (exh. cat.), Milan, Naples and Warsaw: Electa, Madre — Museo d'arte contemporanea Donnaregina and Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, 2014, pp.181—82.

  9. Conversation with the author, 6 April 2015.

  10. Qasem Foushanji, Lida Abdul, Barmak Akram, Khadim Ali, Jeanno Gaussi, Mariam Ghani, Masood Kamandy, Aman Mojadidi, Rahraw Omarzad, Zalmaï, Mohsen Taasha and Zainab Haidary had their work exhibited both in Kabul and Kassel. Zolaykha Sherzad / Zarif Design only participated in the Kabul iteration. Mohammad Yusuf Asefi had a work in the 'brain', a central space in the Fridericianum in Kassel conceived as a curatorial mind-map of sorts.

  11. In Kassel there was no separate venue showcasing the activities organised in Banff or Alexandria.

  12. Conversation with the author, 6 April 2015.

  13. As Leeza Ahmady's disagreement with the artistic director grew, her role became increasingly marginal and she had little say in the curatorial decisions around the presence of Afghan artists in Kassel. Conversation with the author, 30 March 2015.

  14. Ahmady had not made this public prior to our interview in Kabul on 30 March 2015 because of 'time and respect'. During our conversation, she explained that she had decided to share it because she felt the need to openly question certain attitudes in order to be able to learn from them and find healthier forms of interaction.

  15. Arjun Appadurai, 'How Histories Make Geographies: Circulation and Context in a Global Perspective', TransCultural Studies, no.1, 2010, available at http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/ transcultural/article/view/6129/1760 (last accessed on 22 June 2015).

  16. I have discussed this in depth in my article, 'Kabul Good: Cultural Politics Of An Endless War', Tanqeed: A Magazine of Politics and Culture, issue 9 ('Enduring Imperialisms'), 2015, available at http://www.tanqeed.org/2015/08/kabul-good-cultural-politics-of-an-endless-war/ (last accessed on 25 August 2015).