An Autumn Round-Up of Curators Reads and More

Curators Books list for times of social struggle

What to read in times of health crisis confinement and social and economical constraints? Many curators turned to readings that provided them with paths towards resilience. Others, to books that encourage to think differently and care for the minorities or the overlooked. Many of these include untold histories, directions to implement constructive institutional changes, and practical clues to survive in this unfair but dynamic world. Here we present our readers with some of the literature that was recommended by curators interviewed in Curtain since the summer.

In the Amazon, what do forests think about? The book “How Forests Think: Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human” by Eduardo Khon (2013) was recommended by curator Catalina Lozano in our Curtain profile here last month. Kohn is associate professor, Department of Anthropology, at McGill University. This acclaimed work of philopsphy and observation was based on four years of research with the Runa people of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, looking closely at their relationship with their surrounding ecosystem. Well written and creatively inspiring.

The right to self-determination. Lozano also recommended the writings (in El Pais) of linguist and activist Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil who is from Ayutla Mixe, in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca in Mexico. Aguilar Gil works on sharing information about language diversity (her mother tongue is called Mixe) and the menace of a language’s death. The latter is akin with human rights violations occurring within economical and political contexts. In one of her latest articles in El Pais, “Nëwemp. La constitución que no fue”, dated October 4th, 2020, she departs from the water crisis in Mexico to talk about the struggle faced by indigenous people to be recognised as preexisting nations to the Mexican state.

Social theory, ethnic studies, and racial discourse. Towards a Global Idea of Race (2007) by Denise Ferreira Da Silva. “It’s a book that’s been around for a few years now, but I only got to it during the pandemic”, told us Sofia Dourron in her Curtain profile here, where she also explains how this work helped her to a better understanding of racism in the Argentinian context. Ferreira da Silva is an academic, philosopher and artist who is director and professor at The Social Justice Institute (the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice) at the University of British Columbia (GRSJ) in Canada. Her work offers a critique of modern ethical and political questions, where she challenges race, class, and genders. “I am primarily interested in how social and global injustices express past and present operations of colonial domination and racial subjugation” says Ferreira Da Silva about her work.

Creative applications for political conundrums. To complement your reading of Ferreira Da Silva, you can also watch the work she created as part of her artistic practice with artist Valentina Desideri in Arika’s “episode 7: We Can’t Live Without Our Lives” at Tramway in Glasgow in 2015. The audience was invited to come share a political problem, and then get a reading or a healing. More here. (Desideri’s work was previously mentioned in Curtain in our profile of curator Zian Chen, where he brought up brain yoga).

Getting ready for the struggle. A radical thinker and American pioneer of community organising (and one of the most disliked personalities of the far-right and conservatives in the US) Saul D. Alinsky (1909-1972) published Rules for Radicals in 1971. In this book, he gives practical tactics to the communities he’s known to have been in defence of: the poor and the powerless. Written to help the more vulnerable to come together and level effectively with power structures, it is still a relevant read today for anyone who engages with local groups or national structures, isolated communities, heterogeneous groups with a common cause, educators, and anyone stuck in a dynamic of power. Writer, educator, curator, and founder of Soundpocket in Hong Kong, Yang Yeung (featured in Curtain in July here) read it this year in the context not only of the pandemic, but also of Hong Kong’s on-going social unrest and increasingly robust takeover by Beijing of the autonomous region’s governance (the “one country, two systems” principle, negotiated between China and the UK, the former Hong Kong’s colonial ruler, in the 1980s, is officially in effect until 2047).

Setting History straight. Curator Ericka Florez shared three books that left their mark on her, in her profile here, of which the first was Hegel and Haití (2000) by American philosopher Susan Buck-Morss. It is most notable for its first part where Buck-Morss argues that it was the Haitian Revolution that inspired Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, a section from his work Phenomenology of Spirit where he believes that struggle is critical for individuals to be recognised, and truthfully manifesting themselves in the world.

Long live psychoanalysis. Florez also suggested The Beast in the Nursery (1999) by hipster British analyst and literary critic Adam Phillips, saying that it constitutes a beautiful continuation of Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its discontent (1929), Freud’s last major work where he links guilt with the source of civilisation. Expanding on Freud’s theories, Phillips presents here four essays with references to psychoanalysis, literature, and his own London practice that he started after leaving Charing Cross Hospital in London as the chief child psychotherapist from 1990 to 1997.

Rebirth. The third book Florez recommends is one of the most important work in Brazilian fiction by writer Clarice Lispector: The passion according to G.H (1964). The story is presented as a monologue by a woman whose philosophical investigations draw from a domestic incident (the killing of a cockroach) and morph into a mystical crisis with a shocking conclusion.

Be true to yourself. French (from Martinique) poet and politician Aimé Cesaire’s classic Notebook of a Return to My Native Land (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, 1939) came to María Inés Rodríguez’s mind when she was visiting Martinique, and found a very specific tree Cesaire had planted there, more in here. This poem, where Cesaire considers questions of self and cultural identity, is one of Rodríguez’s recourse to think about life, displacement, and all the complex feelings yielded by various experiences of migration. Considered as the founder of the literary Negritude movement, an influential movement to restore the cultural identity of black Africans in the 1930s, Césaire was also a surrealist, for he believed it allowed him to go within and bring authenticity to the surface. This is his masterwork.

Finally, why not try to do some writing yourself? To get started, you could take a writing class. One that considers that imagination and fiction is compatible with writing about art. We interviewed Perla Montelongo in August, the founder of the Node Center for Curatorial Studies, an online platform that proposes classes mainly for curators. Upcoming, a class titled Decolonizing Curatorial and Artistic Practices with Berlin-based curator Kathy-Ann Tan, that proposes a helping guide to frame a decolonial artistic and curatorial practice (sign up before November 5th). But also, a class titled Creative Forms of Art Criticism and Writing  with freelance curator and writer An Paenhuysen, that proposes the introduction of fiction writing to talk about art. In its introduction it is described by Paenhuysen as a course that demands a high engagement to “develop a better sense of your own personal interests, voice and style”. That is certainly very promising!

Art critic and writer.

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