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Artists in Residence

 The curator Samar Martha (born 1970 in Jerusalem, lives in Ramallah) is staying in the Krone guest studio until June. Krone has been in existence since 1985 and runs an exchange programme for Indian and Palestinian artists. The organising body consists of a work group, as well as the city of Aarau and the Aargau board of trustees. In the past, Martha has chosen Palestinian artists for the guest studios, and was then asked by the director, Wenzel A. Haller, to come to Switzerland herself. In June she opens her exhibition at the Forum Schlossplatz in Aarau, where she's showing work by four residency artists who are currently in Switzerland. This provides an opportunity to introduce her in the Gastlabor (host institution) section.

Samar Martha - One wishes for a reasonably normal life

Samar Martha doing research for the planned group show at Forum Schlossplatz, Aarau.

Kielmayer: You're in Switzerland for half a year, what are your plans?

Martha: I'm going to travel a lot and I look at residency programmes. I'm especially interested in how and whether residency programmes influence artistic production. At the same time I'm working on a publication about Palestine's video scene.

Kielmayer: Have you had any problems making contact with the local art scene?

Martha: I'm a very sociable person and I go to a lot of openings. It's not always easy to break the ice, but the people here are friendly and open. I think as a curator it's generally easier to get in touch with local artists and curators than it is for artists. In cities like London it takes three months to get an appointment, here it only takes a week.

Kielmayer: What can you tell me about the state of contemporary art in Palestine?

Martha: There's no museum for contemporary art, but there are so-called art centres in the bigger cities. After Mona Hatoum, and later Emily Jacir, the international art scene has an interest in Palestine again, but the artists are mostly invited within the context of a specific exhibition, especially about the topic of war. The artists don't like this and there are indeed positions that go beyond any political statements.

Kielmayer: What do you think about Swiss art? Have you noticed anything special?

Martha: Swiss artists approach the world from a personal rather than a from a critical perspective. It's rarely about social or political content. I really like that, but I wonder why one isn't addressing issues like the environment or the financial crisis.

Kielmayer: The financial crisis hasn't affected people here directly, and on top of that one would have to know a lot in order to make an intelligent comment about the financial crisis in the form of a piece of art. Looked at like this, I'm happy that it has rarely happened.

Martha: In the exhibitions I've seen, I've noticed that the programmes, particularly in the bigger cities, are very international, and even in bigger group shows there is hardly any Swiss representation.

Kielmayer: Indeed, there are actually two art scenes in Switzerland, a national and an international, that co-exist peacefully but don't mingle. How is it in Palestine?

Martha: We have a ministry for culture, but it has no money and therefore has little influence. If somebody wants to learn anything about Palestinian artists, one would be better off coming to our art school. At the ministry for culture they are aware of this and therefore collaborate with us. We are called in to make professional decisions and are even allowed to make criticisms.

Kielmayer: The communication between politicians and the contemporary art world is not without problems either. Until the '80s, a lot of cultural initiatives had real political consequences, the current support system especially was an outcome of that. But since then the main figures of contemporary art haven't succeeded in creating a lobby in the political system and to be listened to like that again. The situation in Palestine appears exemplary!

Martha: You have to bear in mind that the NGOs are very strong in Palestine, not only the cultural but also the education and health sectors are supported by them. You can't avoid collaborating.

Kielmayer: The extreme prosperity in Europe seems to lead to a segregated society. Now I ask myself whether a difficult situation like in Palestine could conversely also have positive results.

Martha: Indeed, Palestine is in a constant state of crisis. You're right, maybe that's why people are so ready to help, there's a very open way of relating to each other and a high level of social coherence. Nobody cares about Hamas, Fatah or the PLO anymore, because they stopped representing Palestinians a long time ago. If you live in constant chaos like you do in Palestine, you stop caring about politics, because one wishes actually only for a reasonably normal life and a human existence.

Kielmayer: Nobody cares about politics here either, but not out of resignation, rather because everything is going okay in general. Is there actually a common project with Switzerland, are you in contact with Pro Helvetia?

Martha: Yes we are in contact. By the way, that is another reason for me to be here, to get Swiss artists excited about going to Palestine.

Samar Martha, director of ArtSchool, Palestine, curated Fawzy Emrany (Palestinian guest artist at Kunst Halle St. Gallen) and Sook Jon Ji (American guest artist at iaab Riehen), Forum Schlosslatz Aarau, 11th to 27th June.

This interview is published with the support of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Moving Words for the Swiss advancement of translation.

Translation: Paul Harper

Deutsche Version


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Ausgabe 6  2010
Autor/in Oliver Kielmayer
Künstler/in Samar Martha
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