Thursday, February 28, 2013

Testimony and development: think globally, act locally, think locally, act globally

(c) IRC maternal health project

I recently covered Untold Stories, a major exhibition of photographs of global urban refugees and a showcase of their testimonies, produced by the International Rescue Committee and featuring images taken by photographer Andrew O’Connell. Since the exhibition closed I’ve been thinking about the placing of these images, in the sleek, double-plus height, busy spaces of King’s Cross International Station. It’s either a striking juxtaposition, stopping Paris- and Brussels-bound travellers and their consciences dead in between eating a cake from Konditor and Cook, having a salmon platter at Le Pain Quotidien and buying overpriced disposable fountain pens from Paperchase. Or it’s just more visual wallpaper, another image from the global ad era, something for the eye to skim over, barely taking in the words or registering the general purpose – tearjerking international pain campaign – before getting on a train bound for somewhere more pleasant. 

As a second generation British Indian, I’ve always baulked at coverage that makes a show of the suffering of global others. Stricken-eyed orphans, hungry looking yet still undeniably cute; survivors and victims gazing out balefully, beseechingly, next to a large-fonted list of bad things that will happen to them if you don’t sponsor them for three pounds a month; a child just about to drink from a plastic tub of brownish water; a dazed toddler gazing up from a hospital bed it wouldn’t need to be in if only the correct vaccines and immunisations had reached it in time. The testimonies are true, as is the scale of each crisis and each issue, but coverage like this reduces each featured person only to the story of their suffering. The individual, although they are made an example of, becomes generic in the telling. The adverts and coverage do not tell us about their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, their family, their friends, their locality, their ambitions. Instead, the individuals are broken down into a demeaning, generalized narrative. We know nothing of them but their pain and are shown nothing of their own drive, their own strength and resistance. Instead we are invited to feel like the heroic saviours of the powerless:

The farmer who can’t grow and sell enough crops for her family.

The baby who’ll die by the age of 3 if he doesn’t get the right treatment.

The girl, first name only, trafficked, raped, bought, sold, impregnated, beaten, abused.

The boy stitching plimsolls by the side of the road, forced to sleep on the street.

The girl denied education, doomed to be taken and used for sexual and other manual labour.

The family whose nearest hospital is an eight mile walk away.

I sit on the Tube and cringe: is this what people in this country think of us?And by us I mean all the non-whites, the former colonised, the far-away, the different-from-them. It’s humiliating to see one’s own (historic) country and those of many others represented as backward, violently misogynistic, agonisingly poor, superstitious, class-ridden, corrupt, intractably problematic, unable to help itself. It’s embarrassing to think about the way other cultures are so often misrepresented, in Western art, culture and media, as depraved, eroticised, exoticised, criminal, subjugated, chaotic, oppressed, self-sabotaging, primitive, violent and more. And it’s easy, being bi- or multicultural, living in a city as visually diverse and mixed as London (even if, if you look at who really holds power in all sectors, the image is strongly un-diverse in terms of sex, race and class), to forget how little people know of the many different societies beyond their own national borders, how few people get under the skin of other countries through equal friendship with others, how few people speak or read other languages. The solicitations, which are meant well, are targeted at people who often know little about other countries or cultures except what they have seen on the news, what they are fed in entertainment-industry films and novels or simply what they have heard in the air – a mixture of myths, fantasies, suppositions and stereotypes which are insulting at worst and limiting at best. The adverts and campaigns often replace people’s ignorance with extreme, galling patronage. We are invited to feel for survivors and victims but not feel outraged, as we should, about the deliberate actions of the perpetrators or the extreme injustice and exploitation which underlie inequality. The help the adverts elicit is accompanied by a sense of personal smugness and cultural superiority. Yet the only way you can understand a culture and drop your own sense of superiority is to participate in it fully and as an equal, not a patron, exploiter, client or dominator.

It’s also easy to point to finger at other nations’ problems without recognizing that many of those same problems are strongly prevalent within the UK too and that the prejudices and inequalities which keep them in place are common across seemingly different cultures. Gender prejudice, gender violence, racial prejudice, racial violence, class prejudice, class violence; these are present to a greater or lesser degree in all cultures regardless of the predominant colour, religion or language of the majority of the people. The terrible consequences, in terms of opportunity, treatment and advantage, as a result of the gap between richer and poorer; the scale of sexual violence including endemic harassment, sexual exploitation and the consequent ignoring or denying of victims and excusal of perpetrators; endemic levels of women killed by current or ex partners; trafficking; labour exploitation, low pay, unstable employment and inequality; problems of hunger; problems of housing; problems of literacy. These are all issues here in the UK, as elsewhere.

And so, in the morass of pain, suffering and need, we return to the power of individual testimonies, specific case studies and concrete examples as a way of making issues which are so widescale as to be overwhelming feel real at last. Humanity needs to put names and faces to social problems; we need to attach a story to an issue; we need to be convinced emotionally and not just factually. And so there’s testimony after testimony, home-made video after witness photograph exhibition, statements, confessionals, documentaries, archives. It’s only through putting a human face onto inhumane circumstances and treatment, adding flesh and blood to advocacy and arguments, that grassroots change really happens.

There are many obstacles. In the case of sexual violence in particular there is widespread and tragic denial of the existence, reality and scale of the issue; the disbelieving, denial, punishment and ostracisation of victims; leniency, excusal and condoning of perpetrators; and a denial about the way entire cultures collude across the board in the undermining and sexual objectification of women and girls, from our extreme under-representation as speakers, leaders and experts in all areas of powerful public life to our over-representation as silent objects used to sell consumer goods from yoghurts to shampoos and the way our bodies are used, bought, sold and bartered as sources of sexual, domestic and other labour for others’ benefit; and so on and so forth, as I’ve written in a million articles a million times. Even when survivors of sexual violence are believed, people have a hard time facing the reality of the scale of the problem, the truth of the situation and its systematic, entrenched, values-based origins. They prefer to recast sexual violence as either a tragic anomaly; an inevitable consequence of war which will never change; or a private, ambiguous, personal, shadowy, domestic matter whose mysterious truth none can fathom. At the heart of all this is an absolute inability to face the reality of what perpetrators choose to do, how many of them there are, how common it is, and what that says about how much and how violently women are hated. For more on the most extreme and distressing examples of this, with a trigger warning, look at Women Under Siege.

Sometimes the resistance comes down to cultural prejudice – a feeling of not understanding and not wanting to interfere or get involved with a society which is seen wrongly as ‘other’, subject to its own laws and logic, somehow different and therefore inscrutable. And equally there is a laudable desire not to patronise. Over the last few years, as I’ve been working and writing a lot on the Middle Eastern revolutions, meeting countless female activists who have worked for changed for years, who lead demonstrations and organisations. They bemoan the western media’s obsession with the oppression of Arab women, veiling and not veiling, sexual assault and sexual harassment, as though these latter two issues are not totally endemic in the UK as well as in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Northern America, India and wherever else you look. The problems of the world seem to hide in open view, supported by our prejudices, our willful blindness, our excusal of perpetrators and our deep denial.

Sometimes resistance to global appeals comes down to simple apathy, selfishness, insularity or outright pessimism. People do not use their power for change, because they are convinced of their powerlessness. They think an enterprise is doomed to fail before it has begun, and so they doom it to fail with their own unwillingness, tepid support and lacklustre participation.

Yet this pessimism is misplaced. The problems of the world have not arisen by magic or by chance and are not kept in place by magic or chance. They are specific problems which can be solved in specific ways. Those who benefit from inequality, injustice and exploitation rely on the apathy of bystanders. To laugh cynically at the large scale of the problems identified for solution is to behave as though the world can only change for the worse, not the better. During the course of the year, as part of my International Reporting Project fellowship, run by Johns Hopkins University and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I will be focusing on issues in support of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals for 2015. These are:

  • To end poverty and hunger
  • Universal education
  • Gender equality
  • Child Health
  • Maternal health
  • Combating HIV/AIDS
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Global partnership
Do I believe that it’s possible to save the world? Yes. If it can transform negatively it can transform positively. This requires believing survivors, fighting perpetrators, challenging preconceptions, changing society, educating the very young, supporting the weak, breaking the dominators, investing money, creating lasting infrastructures and forming organisations which are structurally and ideologically different from those created by exploiters and power-holders. To say the world cannot be saved is to give the bad guys a free pass to do exactly what they want, to make a mockery of others’ constructive efforts and to deny one’s own power to influence events. I believe that something good is better than nothing good, that speaking up is better than staying silent to protect perpetrators and that a tidal wave of change starts with the smallest ripple.

There are millions of people in the world – usually, those who have relatively little themselves – who are working and have been working tirelessly for years to transform the lives of people in their own communities. Although they are assisted by the same organisation, they do not get exhibitions in King’s Cross, major funding for their beautiful photographs or international coverage which boosts their career, enables lots more exciting international travel and promises a strong culturally legacy once their working days are done. They are not hailed as intrepid, globe-trotting heroes bearing witness, constructing powerful testimony, standing up for human rights. They have no names, or rather no cultural Name. But here they are:

  • The village women in the South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo forming groups called village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). The women members put their small household earnings toward the group’s broader goals. When there’s enough cash in the box, a member can take out a loan to start her own business — like a tailoring shop, the purchase of a small plot of land to farm and raise animals. When the business makes money she begins to repay that loan back into the cash box to fund another woman’s ideas.
  • The 30 new health facilities and 2,500 newly trained community health workers supported by the IRC in South Sudan, where the country’s decades long civil war has left the region without a functioning healthcare system and few trained medical personnel. Currently, more than 2,000 out of every 100,000 pregnant women in the new nation die during childbirth.
  • The necessity of bringing healthcare closer to remote communities by enabling trained community health workers to travel with families as they migrate. For example in Turkana, Kenya, is one of the world’s poorest regions, frequent droughts have left inhabitants dependent on food aid. Malnutrition rates are estimated to be around 22 per cent, leaving children too weak to fight off illness. Consequently, many children die from preventable or treatable illnesses such as fever, malaria and diarrhoea. With about 80%of people being nomadic, many families find accessing healthcare difficult due to their mobile lifestyle. These problems are compounded by a severe shortage of facilities and qualified health professionals. 
  • The strengthening of strained healthcare facilities in Syria’s neighbouring countries, like the 2 new health centres in the cities of Ramtha and Mafraq in Jordan, to help the million-plus people fleeing the violence in Syria. As IRC emergency response coordinator Tom McNelly explains, “These people crossed the border with nothing but their clothes. They have no money to pay for treatment or medicine - and we supply both, at no cost to them.”

Related articles:

Statistics and specific project details © IRC with thanks. To donate to these projects via the IRC please click here

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wants some tits with your kids' toys? Lego shows you how.

This, from Steve Grout at and (c) him:

I love Lego. I grew up with it. When I became a dad one of the things I was looking forward to was sitting down with my kids and building Lego models with them. Lego is an educational toy, great for boys and girls and is a brand that has become synonymous with integrity and positive values.

So I was appalled to find out that Lego is promoting its toys in The Sun just millimeters away from an image that is famous for being one of the most sexist institutions of our time -- Page 3. That’s why I'm asking Lego to stop partnering with the Sun until the newspaper drops the topless images on Page 3. Click here to sign my petition.

My boys are seven and nine. They are like information sponges - absorbing what they see. When they see things they don't understand they ask about it. How on earth do you explain the topless pictures on Page 3 to kids of that age? And why should I have to? Lego talks about its positive impact on children's development and learning. In a section on its website called ‘Caring’ it says:
“Caring is about the desire to make a positive difference in the lives of children, for our partners, colleagues and the world we find ourselves in, and considering their perspective in everything we do.”
The Sun: 5 free Lego toys, 2 free tits
Lego should look at their partnership from a child’s perspective -- the impact that seeing these images has on how young people grow up thinking about women is very important. Please join me in calling on Lego to do the right thing by our children and stop partnering with the Sun until Page 3 is dropped.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Women of Iraq: power and resistance

I am writing this after having sat in disbelief through Newsnight's Iraq: 10 Years On special tonight, in which they had 11 male speakers on stage, and just one woman. The speakers were not at all all high-level Iraq specialists and included newspaper journalists, the novelist Michael Morpurgo, politicians, writers and other politically-aware commentators with a general interest in the issue. Women experts and speakers from the audience were similarly strongly outnumbered. A very impressive woman who was a gender expert was asked about women in Iraq and gave an extremely important, troubling account of increases in trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, rape, 'domestic' violence and the feminisation of poverty. This was simply passed over and not picked up again, as though what happens to women, the largest and most hardest-hit group in the country and in the world, is some kind of fringe, minority or side issue. Another comment the same woman made, disputing a panellist's claim that Saddam Hussein's rule had somehow smoothed over sectarian conflicts, was dismissed by Jon Simpson as "not very valuable." Thank you, white English man, for openly belittling and undermining an Iraqi woman who knows what she's talking about and thank you British Newsnight producers for making it clear that what happens to Iraqi women is not worth discussing after the issues have been brought up. And thank you for making it so clear by having 11 men and 1 woman onstage that you think women are not qualified in any way to talk about Iraq.

Newsnight is guilty of extreme discrimination against women and the argument that women speakers about Iraq, about war, about the Middle-Far East, about UK foreign policy, about public anti-war protests and about the war on terror are simply not available is totally specious. Next week the international culture and advocacy organisation The Abundance Lab and IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, and are bringing together an all-women panel of inspiring speakers to share their tales of Iraqi women’s resistance, re-invention and strength for a unique event. Iraqi Women, Power and Resistance will mark International Women's Day and the 10th Anniversary of the 2003 Iraq War.

On Thursday 7th March 2013 from 6.00pm to 8.00pm at Imperial War Museum North, Manchester, you will hear first hand from women who fought for survival, freedom or challenged the status quo through activism, music and photography including:
  • Houzan Mahmood, international campaigner for the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq and contributor to The Independent, The Guardian and The New Statesman.
  • Photographer Eugenie Dolberg who used photography with Iraqi women to help to tell their stories of bravery and resistance (as part of Open Shutters Iraq.
  • Iraqi pianist and activist, Zuhal Sultan, who founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the age of 17, will share how she used the power of music to bring the next generation together and overcome the horrors of the conflict.
If you can get there a bit earlier, from 5pm you will also get a unique advance preview of Iraq: Photographs by Sean Smith, the new display by The Guardian newspaper’s award-winning war photographer. It contains images on display for the first time alongside Smith’s award winning photography from before, during and after the Iraq War 2003.

  • Thursday 7th March 2013 from 6.00pm to 8.00pm; Sean Smith photo preview from 5pm
  • IWM North, part of Imperial War Museums, The Quays, Manchester. For directions, click here
  • Free event, but booking is essential via or 0161 836 4000

Monday, February 25, 2013

Looking for Kool? It's right here.

Looking For Kool is a new pop-up theatre show happening in Manchester from 5th-24th March 2013. Written and performed By Rani Moorthy and directed by Alan Lane, the Manchester performance follows a sell-out premiere at the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival 2012, sited in the underground spaces in The Royal Festival Hall. Rasa Productions, who are behind the show, are now bringing Looking For Kool to a Manchester high rise building. The story goes like this:

Mrs U has watched her beloved home and ancestral land taken over by hotels and time-share apartments for foreigners. She has survived the Sri Lankan civil war and its aftermath on her wits and on kool, the comfort stew that binds her community. Defiantly she occupies one of these spaces and creates “The Coconut Grove”, part party, part family album, part secret ritual, all makeshift, all imagination. Enter her world, drink her kool and through her and her family, witness the vagaries of life and war.

Event details are as follows:
  • Venue: 4 Piccadilly Place, Manchester M1 3BN, UK
  • Meeting Point: Starbucks
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
  • Running Time: 1 hr
  • Suitable for audiences 12 years and above
  • Event capacity: 40 people per performance
  • Looking for Kool is an immersive theatre experience in an unconventional theatre venue. While there are points in which some members of the audience can sit, most of the show requires you to stand and walk as the action moves from one point to another. The producers advise you to dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes.

Praise and quotes:

Rarely have I seen such talent or such intimate contact with the pulse of this nation. 
The Independent on Curry Tales

****An Incomparable storyteller. 
The Guardian on Shades of Brown

Life, death, survival, pain, mourning, love; Looking for Kool evoked these emotions most effectively through its imaginative form, not by fancy staging or theatrical trimmings. This was immersive, experiential theatre. 
The Gecko UK on Looking for Kool.

Friday, February 22, 2013

News from the Maria Stenfors gallery

Work (c) Astrid Svangren
The cutting edge Maria Stenfors Gallery is going to be a part of the inaugural edition of Art13 London, held in Olympia Grand Hall Kensington, London. Art13  is showcasing more than 100 galleries from 30 countries, specialising in contemporary and modern art. Maria Stenfors will be in the Young Galleries section, booth YG18, located in the central atrium of the Grand Hall, presenting three of today's strongest and most creatively original European artists: Julia Pfeiffer (born in Germany, lives and works in Berlin), Astrid Svangren (born in Sweden, lives and works in Copenhagen) and Mela Yerka (born in Poland, lives and works in London).
  • Art13 London will be running in Olympia, London, from 1st-3rd March 2013.
  • The next show on at the Maria Stenfors Gallery in London will be Julia Pfeiffer's Figures of the Unthinkable, 27th February - 6th April 2013.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Voices of the people: political revolutions, cultural revolutions and social revolutions in the Middle East

Related articles:

Recently The British Council launched its Voices of the People report, for which I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword. The report presents research carried out by the Post War Reconstruction and Development Unit at the University of York over the last two years and was based on over 100 interviews with artists, activists, civil society members and other culturally, socially and politically active participants in Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. However, its conclusions have important implications for many more countries across the Middle East North Africa region, especially in those states undergoing popular challenges to established governments, customs and regimes. Covering theatre, music, art (including street art), citizen journalism and much more, Voices of the People looks at the potential for new forms of creative and political expression to challenge, interpret and create a different future in which citizens are “emboldened and have begun to put pressure on their new governments for institutional reform and greater freedom to tackle day to day realities.” However, many questions remain, including
  • Is cultural change to happen through existing cultural institutions or through informal or grassroots means?
  • What role does civil society play in the cultural future, having played such a strong part in the revolutionary present?
  • There's a difference between catching a moment and building a future. How can the energy of cultural revolution be maintained if there is no funding in the present, emergent artists are not supported in viable and stable careers and much younger people do not have faith in educational institutions to adequately teach or support their ambitions in the arts?
  • How can cultural life be nurtured in the long term, once the fashionability (to the West) of the Middle Eastern revolutions has waned?
  • Who is being overlooked in the rush to celebrate the work produced in the immediate (chronological, metaphorical and topographic) surroundings of the revolutions?
  • Is the artistic work being produced now only an overflow of energy from the real action – political revolution, rebellion against existing oppression, the finding and fielding of new leaders, the formulation of new constitutions following different principles – and will it burn itself out?
  • And...what business is it of the west to worry on behalf of revolutionary Middle Eastern states and to think it has anything to offer by way of ‘helping out’?
With these issues and reservations in mind, this is the talk I gave at a London launch event for Voices of the People. It was a private, working event for a smallish international group of arts producers, editors and commissioners, institution directors, artists, funders and academics across the regions and disciplines being discussed.  Here’s the talk, splintered out of its bullet points:
I’m here to strike a note, not of caution, but of pragmatism and strategy. 
Events in the Middle East are very fashionable at the moment. They allow us to use grandiose terms like rebellion, transformation, radical change. They are spectacular both to witness and participate in, because of a rapid combination of factors which all point to the future: the energy of youthful protestors; the seeming speed with which unsatisfactory structures, leaders or systems have been brought down; the inspired used of technology to organise, communicate, record and archive events; the faith which ideals – which are easy to be cynical about – guide those agitating for the future: ideals like equality, pluralism, stability, openness. These ideals – and their opposites, as we have seen – are not mere concepts but are embodied in laws, policies, institutions and ideologies which affect everything and everyone, from economics, employment, education and infrastructure to attitudes to violence, leadership and fairness. There is also the variety of activity we are witnessing. It’s not just about occupying, demonstrating, shouting out, it’s also about expression and about creative freedom - which are inextricably linked with political freedom, which must guarantee social freedom in its turn.
Revolutions, like the people who create them, are multi-disciplinary. Artists are articulating their concerns, which may not always be overtly political but do always come from their specific cultural and social context and are therefore political by default. The making and displaying or releasing of work is itself a political statement against marginalisation, invisibility, silencing and dismissal. Art, in whatever form, is a space of consideration, reflection, analysis, the integration of ideas and speculation about possibility. But artists must be given the freedom to speak on their own terms, in their own language, with their own identity and manner. Whether these creators work in solitude as novelists and painters or  collaboratively as theatre or film-makers, whether they confront their neighbourhoods as graffiti artists or street performers or seek funding for large scale projects requiring greater technology and support, They are producing new work in which they have much to say and we have much to learn.  
How can we do this?  By making connections. By that I mean certain specific things: we offer expertise and contacts with experienced cultural bodies and institutions; we organise and host events which span countries and include those of both sexes, multiple cultures and all backgrounds; we facilitate collaboration between those who create and those who enable, organise, publicise, curate and commission. Yet this must be done freely, fairly and equally, as part of a two-way exchange. 
Acting with interest and a desire to learn more – rather than an attitude of extending patronage or sating our own curiosity – we can develop others’ careers in tangible ways: festivals, events, exhibitions, commissions, anthologies, which are by everyone, for everyone, and not simply for insiders or decision-makers or as a means of allowing international voyeurs and bystanders to feel the excitement of involvement in strangers’ revolutions. 
But we must act fast. The future lies in a progressive attitude,  not a reactionary one. The revolutions are not over and we don’t know how they’ll end. Potential is found by opening up to the new possibilities of the future, not the conservation of repressive ideas taking the ancient or mythic past as their seal of quality.  
The attainment of political, social and cultural ideals comes about by the offering of resources, organisational skills, opportunities, commissions and the physical places in which to showcase the creativity I am talking about. The question is now what we build together, and how, according to what is told to us by revolutionaries themselves, and not what we think is best. If we humbly get involved in these practical endeavours, we can say we have participated in creating a new world that we all want to see.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Max Mara Art Prize winner Laure Provost at the Whitechapel Gallery

Laure Prouvost, Swallow (2013), film still, Digital video,
Courtesy the artist and MOTINTERNATIONAL

Laure Prouvost, winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, presents the two-part installation Farfromwords: car mirrors eat raspberries when swimming through the sun, to swallow sweet smells at the Whitechapel Gallery from 20 March – 7 April 2013. The new commission is the culmination of the fourth edition of the prize. And now, some artspeak (c) The Whitechapel.

Laure Prouvost’s work opens new horizons of meaning by unhinging the connection between language and understanding. Her new video and installation in Gallery 1 is inspired by the aesthetic and sensuous pleasures of Italy and plays on the historic idea of visiting the Mediterranean for inspiration.

Farfromwords comprises a large-scale pavilion-like structure recalling a historical panorama. A circular space is interspersed with collaged elements, including photographic prints, paint and pairs of video monitors showing footage of moving heads and feet. This immersive environment leads to an idyllic inner space revealing a new film, Swallow (2013). The gentle rhythm of breathing accompanies surrealist imagery and shots of blue skies, ripe fruit and modern-day nymphs. By conveying visual and sensory pleasure through fragments of footage, the film alludes to events and encounters from the artist’s Italian residency split between the city of Rome and rural Biella.

The exhibition will tour to the Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy from 4 May – 10 November 2013, where the work will be acquired by the collection.

A book published by the Whitechapel Gallery in collaboration with Collezione Maramotti will accompany the exhibition. Exploring the stages of the fourth edition of the Prize, the publication will include an interview with the artist and Bina von Stauffenberg, Guest Curator and essays by Daniel F. Herrmann, Whitechapel Gallery Eisler Curator and Head of Curatorial Studies and Melissa Gronlund, Editor at Afterall.

On Thursday 4 April 2013 Prouvost discusses her recent work with curator Daniel F. Herrmann. The event will be accompanied by screenings of film works by the artist including extracts from Abstractions Quotidiennes (2005), Stong Sorry (2010) and It Heat Hit (2010). The ‘In conversation’ event takes place on Thursday 4 April, 7pm in the Zilkha Auditorium, Whitechapel Gallery. Tickets are £8/6 concessions. To book email or visit

The biannual Max Mara Art Prize for Women promotes and nurtures female artists based in the UK, enabling each winning artist to develop their potential by producing new works of art during a six-month residency in Italy. The judges for this fourth edition of the Prize included Iwona Blazwick [Chair]; artist Lisa Milroy; art collector Muriel Salem; galleristAmanda Wilkinson, and writer and critic Gilda Williams.

Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, Whitechapel Gallery said:
The Whitechapel Gallery has a long tradition of premiering female artists. For the fourth edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women we’re pleased to present a major new work by Laure Prouvost. Prouvost is an artist with an appetite for exploring different cultures and she seizes the artistic potential of her impressions to create gripping films and installations. It is fascinating to see how she has drawn from her Italian residency, bringing together the sensuous and surreal in her work. 

Luigi Maramotti, Chairman of Max Mara said:
For the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, our aim has always been to champion and support female artists, and provide them with the gifts of time and freedom in order to create a body of work. We are delighted that the sights and sounds of Italy have so inspired Laure Prouvost in her ambitious new installation. It will be a pleasure to present her work in the Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia in the summer, following her exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
  • Laure Prouvost was born in Croix-Lille, France, and lives and works in London. In 2011 she was awarded the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, chosen from a distinguished shortlist of artists which included Spartacus Chetwynd, Christina Mackie, Avis Newman and Emily Wardill. Laure Prouvost graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2002 and was part of the Lux Artist Associate Programme. Her work includes film, performance and installation. She has been part of group shows at Tate Britain, the ICA, Serpentine and BFI Galleries. She was awarded the EAST International Award in 2009 and a FLAMIN commission in 2011. 
  • The Max Mara Fashion Group was founded in 1951 by Achille Maramotti and is now run by the next generation. It is one of the largest women’s ready-to-wear companies in the world, with 2334 stores in more than 100 different countries.
  • On 29 September 2007 the Collezione Maramotti opened to the public in Reggio Emilia, Italy. For further information, please visit
  • Whitechapel Gallery opening times are Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm, Thursdays, 11am – 9pm.Admission free. Whitechapel Gallery, 77 – 82 Whitechapel High Street, London,E1 7QX. Nearest London Underground Station: Aldgate East, Liverpool Street, TowerGateway DLR.

Text (c) Whitechapel Gallery

Monday, February 11, 2013

Asia House Festival of Asian Literature, 7-22 May 2013

Now in its seventh year, the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature is the only UK festival dedicated to pan-Asian writing and cultures and will take place at Asia House in Central London and other prestigious cultural venues around the capital in May. There'll be a mix of literary talks and salons, topical debate, cookery, manga, samurai and yoga sessions from renowned authors, performers and poets - home-grown and from across Asia. details:
  • With a range of events covering more than 15 countries, the Festival this year widens its remit to include authors from Turkey, Syria and parts of the Middle East, appearing alongside authors writing about Afghanistan, Burma, China, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, and Britain. Warming up with four exciting pre-festival events in April, the Festival also announces Booker Prize shortlisted author Mohsin Hamid talking about his new book How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.
  • Turkey’s biggest selling author Elif Shafak who joins Iraqi activist Haifa Zangana and Iranian novelist Kamin Mohammadi to debate ‘Women, Freedom and the Islamic World’ at an event in partnership with British Council’s Turkey Market Focus. 
  • Najib Afghan, an 18 year old Afghan boy, shares his personal journey from Helmand to the UK as part of Asia House’s contribution to the Alchemy Festival at Southbank Centre.
  • Will Hutton, Jonathan Fenby and Gerard Lemos re-evaluate the ‘Chinese Dream’.
  • Colin Pyle shares tales from an exhilarating 18,000 km motorbike ride around China
  • Man Booker and Man Asia Prize shortlisted author Tan Twan Eng takes the long view on Malaysia's turbulent road to independence, the subject of his novel The Garden of Evening Mists.
  • A day will be devoted to Burma – to its style and poetry as well as a discussion on ‘What Next for Burma?’
  • British-Asian “coolness” will be hotly debated by a panel including BBC Radio’s Nihal and Bobby Friction.
  • The theme for 2013 is ‘Freedom’, in many contexts: freedom of expression, education, travel, justice, the freedom to read the truth and to live in our chosen ways. But not all events will focus on this issue: look out for Manga comics and Samurai swords from Japan, Punch and Judy-Bollywood style, award-winning food and yoga for families.  
In addition to events at Asia House and partner venues, the Festival of Asian Literature will also visit schools in the London area with a programme of workshops that bring writers and journalists into classrooms, and young people into potential internships. In partnership with The Reading Agency’s Reading Activists mentoring programme, Asia House Festival of Asian Literature will welcome six young reporters aged 14-16 to Asia House for the duration of the Festival, where they will interview authors and audience members about their experience at the Festival and publish their stories online.

Asia House Asian Festival of Literature Director, Adrienne Loftus Parkins [who BTW is one of the cleverest, most chic and global-minded people I know], says:
The appetite for Asian literature has grown noticeably over the past 7 years. We are proud of contributing to that growth as the only Festival in the UK to give a platform to excellent pan-Asian writing and of providing a forum for the discussion of the important issues affecting people across Asia and in the UK. 
This year we’re involving young people like never before - in helping develop Saturday programmes, marketing them to their peers, and in reporting on many of the Festival talks and workshops. We’re making a strong commitment to developing the next generation of British Asian readers and writers, through a pilot schools programme that we hope to take nationally in 2014.
A full programme will be announced in March 2013.

Text (c) Asia House