Martha Kirszenbaum

1- qui a eu l idée de cette expo
This show was conceived in the framework of a festival on Muslim culture in New York City named “Muslim Voices”, organized by Brooklyn Academy of Music, Asia Society, the Metroploitan Museumand Center for Dialogues at NYU. The Austrian Cultural Forum, located on East 52nd Street was appointed to present a contemporary art show, which theme happened to be the veil.
2- par qui as tu été contacte?
My friend and co-curator David Harper got contacted by the Austrian Cultural Forum to submit a curatorial proposition and he asked me to work on this project with him. Our list of artists was accepted by the ACF, and a third co-curator joined the team, Karin Meisel who was then working at the ACF. I think the strength of the project was originally determined by this triple curatorial effort coming from three different people of various backgrounds—David American, Karin Austrian and myself French. It is enrooted in this variety of viewpoints and issues that the exhibition started to shape. In order to create a strong and thoughtful overview of the numerous representations of the veil in contemporary art, we really needed to confront our different positions as curators from countries where the veil provokes diverse and sometimes opposite reactions. I’m of course referring to the veil policies in France, and where after very intense debates, was decided in 2003 to forbid the wearing of religious signs (ie the Muslim veil) in schools and public administration. In the US on the contrary, as Obama recently recalled, showing your religious belonging is part of one’s identity. I hope some of the complexity and the richness of the exhibition comes from this curatorial diversity.
3- how did u choose the artist ?
The first thing we agreed on was to show young emerging artists dealing with the issue of the veil. It was important for us to give the voice to a post-feminist and post September 11th generation. Most of us all have in mind artists like Shirin Neshat, Zineb Sedira and Mona Hatoum who have emphasized the ambiguous role of the hijab in the public life, and also in the private sphere of Muslim women by recalling feminist discourse and critical thinking. While influenced by these pioneers, younger generation of post-September 11th artists deal with the veil in their own ways, bringing new perspectives to an old debate. In a globalized, yet dislocated world, the stakes are radically changing. The dialogue is no longer about fighting issues, as can be seen in the films and videos of Neshat, but rather about composing with them, which young artists such as  Zoulikha Bouabdellah or Nilbar Gures very precisely depict in their works.We then started to look up Middle-Eastern and American artists and, that is our second criteria, decided to radically open up the selection. After a very enriching trip to Vienna, we decided to come up with a varied list of artists, including several from the Greater Middle East, for instance Shadi Ghadirian and Sara Rahbar, who live in Iran, or others who immigrated to Europe (Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Marjane Satrapi) or North-America (Asma Shikoh or Ayad Alkadhi) and some who are first-generation (Fahreen Haq and Negar Ahkami). Some artists of the show have no personal relationship to the Muslim world (the Viennese Marlene Haring or Katrina Daschner), but their vision of the topic is equally necessary to tell the story. It is also important to notice that one third of the artists selected here live and work in Austria, two of which come from a Turkish background (Esin Turan and Nilbar Gures).
4- how the new york audience responded ?
It seems like the topic of the veil in contemporary art, despite its very specific imagery and theme, has attracted many visitors. Looking back at the opening and the tours we’ve been giving, I’m amazed that it has actually gathered together two different worlds: the New York Muslim world —scholars, thinkers, people from Muslim descent and the New York artworld —an intersting crowd which usually hardly ever makes its way to Midtown! Also, we are in the context of a real boom of interest for Middle-Eastern art and artists. Saatchi Gallery in London and Thaddeus Ropac in Paris have recently shown many Iranian artists, and this year’s Dubai Art Fair was a blast. So maybe our show somehow unconsciously fits this trend, which I don’t believe is just a buzz, but rather hope that it will allow a new generation of Middle-Eastern artists to get to be known and exhibited across the US. I think viewers are mostly interested in works they don’t know, and very much intrigued by Princess Hijab, a mysterious character who’s sticking DIY hijab-ad posters all over Paris and spraying black and white faces of veiled women in advertising spaces, and who also did a very fun performance during the opening night.
5- is there a message in the exhibition? Which one ?
Our position, from the very beginning of this project, has been to consider the veil not only as a symbolic, culturally and politically loaded piece of fabric, but also as a lighter, metaphorical entity whose complexity we never tried to avoid. A veil is obviously a religious sign, related to an act of identity, and also a piece of clothing playing a fundamental role in politics and directly addressing issues of women’s bodies. The wearing of the veil constantly provokes heated discussions all over the planet as one of the main icons of contemporary Islam, and the heaviness of the topic is a major stake in the show. However, a veil can also be depicted as a poetic metaphor for seeing, hiding, revealing and concealing, a metaphor for art itself. It almost imperceptibly separates the inside of the outside, the private sphere from the public space—such as does the traditional Arabic window Mashrabiya, protecting the Muslim women from the outside looks. A veil is not only a black and severe Iranian chador, but can be a shimmering and sensual belly dance piece of fabric. It is in order to insist on this aspect that we chose for instance the video installation by Viennese artist Katrina Daschner, who explores unveiling through the art of burlesque, through a highly charged, sexual gaze and performs both the role of the burlesque dancer and her female admirer. This specific work was inspired by and features vintage footage from a 1940s Egyptian movie starring the famous Naima Akef, who, like Daschner, plays both the seductive belly dancer as well as the lustful sailor, subverting the Orientalist, male gaze.
6- your favorite artist in The exhibition and Why ?
It is a tough question for the curator of a group show, like answering which one of your children you prefer!
Talking about the works themselves, I really appreciate Nilbar Gures’ collages and video. In her series Unknown Sports from which are taken two works in the show, this young Turkish artist based in Vienna very subtely depicts the private, interior life of women enclosed by curtains, creating fascinating often double woman characters. In her video Undressing, Gures slowly removes a series of headscarves given to her by family members. Every veil is associated with the name of its original donor, which she calls out one after the other. I am fascinated by the mute and almsot dull violence of this video, contrasting with the extreme lightness of her collages. I also very much estimate Zoulikha Bouabdellah’s work. She’s a young French artist from Algerian descent whose work often explores personal relationship to identity and immigration, featuring symbolic objects that question traditional cultural systems (veils, belly dance costumes, wedding growns etc..). I like the extreme feminity of her work and her attachment to ritualization, magical. Interestingly, talking about her video Vois-le, which is on view at the Austrian Cultural Forum, and usinguses a wedding white veil and conceal a woman’s face, Zoulikha once declared that a woman hides herself in order to better reveal herself, playing the visible and the invisible. It is undoubtedly a strong statement and such a confidence coming a young woman artist is a very much reassuring!
7-what s your favorite restaurant, Gallery, bar and shop in NYC ?
I live in Williamsburg, which means that I can’t help hanging out in my neighborhood—for a blue-cheese burger at Dumont, a bunch of Lagers ar Pete’s Candy Store and Daddy’s, and ending up dancing on Roy Orbison or some French pop from the 1960s thanks to the Bruar Falls’ jukebox. I go out a lot, mostly to see shows, at the Bowery Ballroom, Le Poisson Rouge but also Death By Audio and Glasslands. I write about the NYC music scene for a French music magazine Voxpop, so I need to be on top of it! I’m basically a vintage fan, so most of Brooklyn’s vintage shops usually make my day, especially this one on Metropolitan and Havemeyer where I once got an amazing cape and very cool boots for… 20 bucks! And when I miss being a Frenchie, I run to the APC stock on Grand and Wythe for some stripes and school shirts. As far as galleries are concerned, as much as I like D’amelio Terras and Bellwether, I must say I tend to stay downtown, around Deitch and Canada, a great Lower East Side space, or around Envoy on Chrystie Street where I am working on some projects and in its downstairs bar, Home Sweet Home. But if I had to plan a perfect art afternoon in NYC, I would anyway end up at Dia Beacon, to admire Robert Smithson and Sol LeWitt again and again.
8- what are you working on at the new museum? What s’ your position there ?
I’m a research assistant at the New Museum, helping out the curators and curatorial assistants with different projects. The big hit was obviously “Younger Than Jesus”, the Museum’s triennale of contemporary art featuring 50 artists from 25 different countries, all under 33 years old. I mostly worked on the catalogue, an amazing database of 500 young artists, also a unique tool for a young curator. The show is particulary fresh and very strong regarding Eastern-European artists, which I am very attached to I am now doing some research about Emory Douglas, the Black Panthers’ graphic desgner which works will be on view this summer, and on the retrospective of Brion Gysin, a sort of “artiste total”, painter, performer, poet, sound performer who created the famous “Dream Machine” and was the guru of the Beat Generation. I think I am extremely lucky to work at the New Museum, inside this amazing futurist building shaped like a pyramid of sugar, and with a very strong curatorial team, mostly young, open-minded and not afraid to take curatorial risks—a real necessity in today’s contemporary art institutions.
Tu peux rep en français :))))
Tu es a NYC depuis combien de toi. Quel est ton rêve professionel? Quel est ton parcours estudiant ?
J’ai vécu à New York pendant un an en 2006-2007 dans le cadre d’un échange à Columbia University, où j’étais visiting graduate student et research scholar. Mais j’ai surtout découvert le New York arty et musical dont je rêvais adolescente en écoutant le Velvet et Sonic Youth, les lofts de Williamsburg et les galeries du Lower East SIde! Et j’ai été prise en stage curatorial au départment Media du MoMA, un grand moment et une révélation! J’ai compris que je voulais devenir curator, écrire, réfléchir sur l’art contemporain, collaborer avec des artistes et mettre sur pieds des expositions, notamment avec des jeunes artistes basés à New York. Dans un avenir prochain, j’aimerais mettre à profit mes liens avec la France, mais surtout les pays d’Europe centrale et la Pologne dont viennent mes parents. Varsovie propose une scène artistique particulièrement excitante et en pleine ébullition, et j’aimerais être à l’origine d’un développement d’expositions entre Varsovie et New York, peut-être via Paris, aussi!
J’ai un parcours estudiantin littéraire français classique: hypokhâgne et khâgne, licence d’histoire et philosophie à la Sorbonne puis Sciences-po Paris pour un double Master de recherche en histoire culturelle. J’ai également bénéficié d’un échange à Columbia University, où j’ai été visiting student et research scholar, ce qui m’a surtout permis de vivre à NYC pendant un an et de m’y immerger dans le monde de l’art contemporain.J’ai un parcours estudiantin littéraire français classique: hypokhâgne et khâgne, licence d’histoire et philosophie à la Sorbonne puis Sciences-po Paris pour un double Master de recherche en histoire culturelle. J’ai également bénéficié d’un échange à Columbia University, où j’ai été visiting student et research scholar, ce qui m’a surtout permis de vivre à NYC pendant un an et de m’y immerger dans le monde de l’art contemporain.10b Princess Hijab - classicleopard

Martha_PaybackClothing2Martha co-curates The Hidden and the Seen, an exhibition on the veil at theAustrian Cultural Forum with David Harper and Karen Meisel. The show was reviewed by the Times this sunday.

Martha is a 26 year old very well educated French woman. She did hypokhâgne and khâgne, the best French classical litterary studies, she also graduated in History and Philisophy at  la Sorbonne, then went to Sciences-po Paris and Columbia University as a visiting student and research scholar where she fell in love with NYC and found out that she wanted to write and work in the art world. Martha is now a research assistant at the New Museum, helping out the curators and curatorial assistants with different projects. She is currently doing some research about Emory Douglas, the Black Panthers’ graphic designer which works will be on view this summer, and on the retrospective of Brion Gysin, the guru of the Beat Generation. She feels extremely lucky to work at the New Museum.  In the future, Martha would like to built a bridge between the New York and the Polish Art scene -where her parents are from-. Interview.

Who had the idea of putting up this show ? This show was conceived in the framework of a festival on Muslim culture in New York City named Muslim Voices, organized by Brooklyn Academy of Music, Asia Society, the Metroploitan Museumand Center for Dialogues at NYU. The Austrian Cultural Forum was appointed to present a contemporary art show, which theme happened to be the veil.

How did you choose the artist ? The first thing we agreed on was to show young emerging artists dealing with the issue of the veil. It was important for us to give the voice to a post-feminist and post September 11th generation. Most of us all have in mind artists like Shirin Neshat, Zineb Sedira and Mona Hatoum who have emphasized the ambiguous role of the hijab in the public life, and also in the private sphere of Muslim women by recalling feminist discourse and critical thinking. While influenced by these pioneers, younger generation artists deal with the veil in their own ways, bringing new perspectives to an old debate. In a globalized, yet dislocated world, the stakes are radically changing. The dialogue is no longer about fighting issues, as can be seen in the films and videos of Neshat, but rather about composing with them, which young artists such as  Zoulikha Bouabdellah or Nilbar Gures very precisely depict in their works.We then started to look up Middle-Eastern and American artists and, that is our second criteria, decided to radically open up the selection. After a very enriching trip to Vienna, we decided to come up with a varied list of artists, including several from the Greater Middle East, for instance Shadi Ghadirian and Sara Rahbar, who live in Iran, or others who immigrated to Europe (Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Marjane Satrapi) or North-America (Asma Shikoh or Ayad Alkadhi) and some who are first-generation (Fahreen Haq and Negar Ahkami). Some artists of the show have no personal relationship to the Muslim world (the Viennese Marlene Haring or Katrina Daschner), but their vision of the topic is equally necessary to tell the story. It is also important to notice that one third of the artists selected here live and work in Austria, two of which come from a Turkish background (Esin Turan and Nilbar Gures).

What’s the New York audience response ? It seems like the topic of the veil in contemporary art, despite its very specific imagery and theme, has attracted many visitors. I’m amazed that it has actually gathered together different worlds: the New York Muslim world —scholars, thinkers, people from Muslim descent and the New York artworld —an intersting crowd which usually hardly ever makes its way to Midtown! Also, we are in the context of a real boom of interest for Middle-Eastern art and artists. Saatchi Gallery in London and Thaddeus Ropac in Paris have recently shown many Iranian artists, and this year’s Dubai Art Fair was a blast. So maybe our show somehow unconsciously fits this trend, which I don’t believe is just a buzz, but rather hope that it will allow a new generation of Middle-Eastern artists to get to be known and exhibited across the US. I think viewers are mostly interested in works they don’t know, and very much intrigued by Princess Hijab, a mysterious character who’s sticking DIY hijab-ad posters all over Paris and spraying black and white faces of veiled women in advertising spaces, and who also did a very fun performance during the opening night.

Is there a message in the exhibition? Our position, from the very beginning of this project, has been to consider the veil not only as a symbolic, culturally and politically loaded piece of fabric, but also as a lighter, metaphorical entity whose complexity we never tried to avoid. The wearing of the veil constantly provokes heated discussions all over the planet as one of the main icons of contemporary Islam, and the heaviness of the topic is a major stake in the show. However, a veil can also be depicted as a poetic metaphor for seeing, hiding, revealing and concealing, a metaphor for art itself. It almost imperceptibly separates the inside of the outside, the private sphere from the public space. A veil is not only a black and severe Iranian chador, but can be a shimmering and sensual belly dance piece of fabric. It is in order to insist on this aspect that we chose for instance the video installation by Viennese artist Katrina Daschner, who explores unveiling through the art of burlesque, through a highly charged, sexual gaze and performs both the role of the burlesque dancer and her female admirer.

Her favorites restaurant, gallery, bar and shop I live in Williamsburg. So I get a blue-cheese burger at Dumont, a bunch of Lagers at Pete’s Candy Store and Daddy’s. I end up dancing on Roy Orbison or listening to some French pop from the 1960s at the Bruar Falls‘ jukebox. I go out a lot, mostly to see shows, at the Bowery Ballroom, Le Poisson Rouge but also Death By Audio and Glasslands. I’m basically a vintage fan, so most of Brooklyn’s vintage shops usually make my day, especially this one on Metropolitan and Havemeyer where I once got an amazing cape and very cool boots for… 20 bucks! And when I miss being a Frenchie, I run to the APC stock on Grand and Wythe for some stripes and school shirts. As far as galleries are concerned, I like D’amelio Terras and Bellwether but I must say I tend to stay downtown, around Deitch and Canada, a great Lower East Side space, or around Envoy on Chrystie Street where I am working on some projects and in its downstairs bar, Home Sweet Home. But if I had to plan a perfect art afternoon in NYC, I would anyway end up at Dia Beacon, to admire Robert Smithson and Sol LeWitt again and again.RB©Tara Cassady

The Hidden and the Seen runs through Aug. 29,

Princess Hijab, Hijab Ad classik (Leopard+Eyespatch), 2008/09
print 7.5 x 9.69 inches (19.05 x 24.62 cm). Courtesy the artist.

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2 responses to “Martha Kirszenbaum

  1. can’t wait to read the review in the times!.. thanks

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