You are on page 1of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog

1/13/13 6:35 PM

HOME

GUEST BLOG

EDUCATION

VIDEO

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1)


April 27th, 2012 by Georgia Kotretsos

new artists, new films


Like Tweet 14 6

search

subscribe
Art21 Blog feed Video feed Education feed Guest Blog feed

New films in New York Close Up premiering throughout 2012

flash points

communicate

recent comments
How are stories and art intertwined? Agnieszka in Dissecting the Social Self: A [Wo]Man, an Animal, and an Ambiguous I. : Interesting... dennis in When Works of Literature Make The Leap: Joe, looking at Glenn Ligon this summer inspired me to give my ap... Kyle in Videogame Appropriation in Contemporary Art: Grand Theft Auto (GTA): I love the amount of work Rockstar puts... Docsson in The Art + Brain Files: These sound, to me at least, the same comments that were (and for some continue to... Birgitte Lamb in More Moments, More Dialogue: Hi Joe. This sounds very interesting and is clearly a subject of... In and out of the classroom

featured video

David Altmejd: "Assistants"


Leeza Ahmady, independent curator and educator from Central Asia.

Leeza Ahmady is originally from Afghanistan. She is an independent art curator and educator from Central Asia. She is based in New York and, as the director of Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) at Asia Society (2005-present), Ahmady brings together leading New York City museums and galleries to participate in special exhibitions, receptions, lectures, and performances citywide. Ahmadys name is directly linked to The Taste of Others project, which began in 2005 and continues to feed her practice to this day. A performance-based exhibition first launched at Apexart New York, The Taste of Others is an on-going educational program that connects contemporary artists from Central Asia to artists, professionals, and institutions in other parts of the world. Through Dialogues in Contemporary Art (DCA) in collaboration with Independent Curators International (ICI) and ARTonAIR.org, Ahmady conducts interviews with artists, curators, critics, and experts working across a broad field of contemporary art. The program addresses the role of artists, curators, and other art professionals in an increasingly borderless world, investigating the ways in which artistic practices, curatorial strategies, and critical commentary have been reconfigured by intensified patterns of global circulation. Most recently through her role as an agent and member of the curatorial team for dOCUMENTA(13), Ahmady traveled to Kabul in February 2012 to present a series of workshops in anticipation of the exhibitions in Kassel and Kabul Summer 2012. The workshops covered art theory, perspectives on international contemporary art, and the building of a critical art magazine. Ahmady also serves as the Director and Co-curator of Visual Arts for an upcoming citywide program of contemporary art from Cambodia in New York City (Spring 2013). Through a series of artist residencies, site specific installations and public programming, the project aims to build critical spaces of engagement with contemporary artists and practices from Cambodia. There is so much more to say about Leeza Ahmady, and for that reason please make sure and read Part 2 of this ongoing discussion, which will post next month. Perhaps of all the interviews Ive done for this column, Ive found the greatest inspiration in Ahmadys sense of dedication. Its an honor to present to you independent curator Leeza Ahmady.

teaching with contemporary art

pages
About Art21 About the Art21 Blog Writers and Contributors

blogger-in-residence

newsletter
Sign up

art21 online
Michael Neault, Content and Media Producer, Portland, OR on Art21.org on Blip.tv on Del.icio.us on Facebook on Flickr on iTunes on PBS on Twitter on YouTube

categories
> Columns (1284) > 5 Questions for Contemporary Practice (21) > Alchemy of Inspiration (5) > Art 2.1: Creating on the Social Web (16) > Bedfellows: Art and Visual Culture (15) > BOMB in the Building (19) > Bound: The Printed Object in

blogroll
16 Miles of String 2 Buildings 1 Blog Art Fag City

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 1 of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog


Context (6) > Cairo in Context: Art and Change in the Middle East (4) > Calling from Canada (15) > Center Field | Art in the Middle with Bad at Sports. (58) > Future Metaphors (3) > Gastro-Vision (37) > GIF(t) Basket (8) > Gimme Shelter: Performance Now (18) > Ink: Notes on the Contemporary Print (29) > Inside the Artist's Studio (40) > Inspired Reading (12) > Letter from London (92) > Lives and Works in Berlin (28) > Looking at Los Angeles (81)
Sheba Chachi. "Seven Lives and a Dream," 1991. Eight staged photographs. Courtesy of the artist.

1/13/13 6:35 PM

Art Whirled Artlog ArtsBeat Bad at Sports BAM 150 BOMBlog C-Monster Creative Capital The Lab Culture Monster Ed Winkleman Eyeteeth Henry Art Gallery: Hankblog Hrag Vartanian Hyperallergic IMA Blog LACMA: Unframed Look Into My Owl Mattress Factory Modern Art Notes MoMA: Inside/Out New Curator OC Art Blog PBS NewsHour: Art Beat SFMOMA: Open Space The Artblog The Ben Street The Daily Beast The Gray Area (Grey Art Gallery, NYU) The Huffington Post Two Coats of Paint updownacross VernissageTV Walker Art Center

> New Kids on the Block (4) > No Preservatives: Conversations about Conservation (37) > On Location: Inside Art Documentary Production (9) > On View Now (32) > Open Enrollment (145) > Praxis Makes Perfect (35) > Problematic: Answering Questions with Questions (2) > Revolution 2.1 (3) > Teaching with Contemporary Art (268) > The Weekly Roundup (198) > Transmission (5) > Turkish and Other Delights (11) > What's Cookin': The Art21ndex (34) > Word is a Virus (7) Week in Review (1) > Flash Points: (421) Compassion: Do artists have a social responsibility? (29) Fantasy: Does art expand our ability to imagine? (26) How are stories and art intertwined? (12) How can art effect political change? (74) How do we experience art? (73) How does art respond to and redefine the natural world? (40) How is art influenced? (35) Must art be ethical? (40) Systems: Can art transcend paradigms? (32) The New Culture Wars: What's at Stake? (9) Transformation: How does art adapt and change over time? (26)

Georgia Kotretsos: For someone who claims to always be working with a mapand Im referring to myselfas I had casually accepted the marginal role in art that a big part of the known world is said to play. I am speaking about Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan & Afghanistan. At the March meeting 2011 in Sharjah, you generously shed light on my obliviousness, and today, I am inviting you to start our discussion by taking you back to the very beginning of your extensive research and curatorial work. What motivated your interest in these regions? Leeza Ahmady: History is a remarkable instrument for comprehension. Let us consider the term marginal; how stable is it as an idea in retrospect to history? Much of what was deemed marginal at some point in the past is mainstream today; i.e. the Impressionists, Dadaists, Performance Art, Chinese contemporary art, and so on. Beyond human reckoning, this is universal physics. Pendulums swing in different directions. That which is marginal shifts to the center, and vice versa. I prefer the term periphery; it acknowledges complexities of this world where the art world itself is peripheral. In my years of work in the field, I have come to view the art world as a giant fragmented and unconscious machine incapable of discretion. Lets think about this: can an unconscious body consciously marginalize? It is the individuals who make a difference, and so much depends on awareness. To become conscious of something different, beyond what we already grasp, we must make a different kind of effort. Questioning ones own intellectual and cultural programming is difficult; trying to achieve this on a collective scale is a colossal task. Yet critical observation and the breaking down of ones conceptual mechanisms is the minimum requirement for change. As art professionals all that we do is part of the art world machinery, this interview included. The notion that there are authorities acting in cohesion to grant or to deny opportunities underrates and belittles distinct historical time lines, experiences, and circumstances of individual artists and artist communities in different parts of the world. Indeed, museum directors, institutional curators, educators, and biennial foundations must make it a priority to more seriously and inclusively inform themselves on artistic practices worldwide. This will involve including and accounting for other geographies, histories, narratives and timelines in their respective programs. Let us not forget that Europe, for instance, boasts a healthy art system that contributed to the development and exhibition of contemporary art and artists as a result of decades of local, regional, and international collaborations and institutional relationships that began in the post-World War II era. dOCUMENTA being a prime example.

archives
January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 2 of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog

1/13/13 6:35 PM

What influences art? (47) What is the value of art? (83) What's so shocking about contemporary art? (40) > Video: (528) Classroom (15) Conversation (8) Excerpt (35) Exclusive (186) New York Close Up (62) Reblog (198) Spoof (6) Uncut (4) Access '12 (1) Art21 Access '09 (25) Art21 Artists: (1390) Ai Weiwei (19)
Mithu Sen. "For(e)play," 2011. Installation. Courtesy the artist.

May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 July 2007

Alejandro Almanza Pereda (1) Alfredo Jaar (59) Allan McCollum (40) Allora & Calzadilla (68) An-My L (30) Andrea Zittel (49) Ann Hamilton (47) Arturo Herrera (39) assume vivid astro focus (5) Barbara Kruger (65) Barry McGee (75) Beryl Korot (10) Bruce Nauman (82) Cai Guo-Qiang (68) Cao Fei (47) Carrie Mae Weems (79) Catherine Opie (7) Catherine Sullivan (26) Charles Atlas (28) Cindy Sherman (61) Collier Schorr (35) David Altmejd (4) David Brooks (3) Diana Al-Hadid (2) Do-Ho Suh (43) Doris Salcedo (30) El Anatsui (17) Eleanor Antin (40) Elizabeth Murray (17) Ellen Gallagher (26) Erin Shirreff (1) Florian Maier-Aichen (19) Fred Wilson (35) Gabriel Orozco (55) Glenn Ligon (15) Hiroshi Sugimoto (54) Hubbard & Birchler (8) Iigo Manglano-Ovalle (25) Ida Applebroog (27) James Turrell (48) Janine Antoni (43) Jeff Koons (89) Jenny Holzer (99) Jessica Stockholder (37) John Baldessari (79) John Feodorov (4)

Significant things often begin in peripheries where there is room to reinvent, to take risks, to experiment and to push boundaries. My own career began in one of the peripheries of the New York art world: the club scene. I often have flashbacks of keeping art works intact from tipsy club-hoppers installed inside of every nook and cranny of the Tunnel hallways (a subway station turned mega-nightclub). Extravaganza type one-night art events have been frequently staged in nightclubs for decades, becoming especially popular in the post-Warholian late 1990s. But that model quickly felt insufficient when juxtaposed with the onslaught of new contemporary artists flocking to New York in the late 1990s. Thus, inside the infamous Limelight club (formerly a church), I set out to launch three weeklong exhibitions that would be open to the public during the day. This permitted me to invite museum curators and gallery owners to collaborate on projects they would not have been able to realize at their own venues because of various limitations. Those years proved formidable in informing my curatorial practice, a great deal of which has to do with mastering the art of communicationan ability to weave a tapestry of otherwise improbable and fascinating people, concepts, and artistic practices. Ten years down the line, the Tunnel is now a legitimate art space, transformed into one of Chelseas sprawling new gallery complexes, while going to an opening at MoMA feels more like stepping into a wonderful nightclub. Thats a phenomenon! Was there some pioneering of a sort, or was I simply in the midst of a swinging pendulum? Peripheries have their own sets of challenges, naiveties, and failures, so there came a moment when I had to stop and contemplate what I really wanted to accomplish. My focus on Central Asia is logically autobiographical. I grew up listening to classical music, epic tales, and poetry fused with daily political debates between my family members. From my parents, and the Afghan collective, I inherited an intense awareness of the world with the premise that it was whole and connected, and that I was at its center just as powerfully as anyone else. This hypothesis broke down upon my arrival in New York as a young teenager. Almost no one my age had ever heard of the country. It was a disappointing and baffling reality, which in turn initiated my interest in the psychological make-up of collective societies. At the age of 20, standing in front of a Giotto painting at the Uffizi, beyond aesthetics, I was floored by its liveliness, and communication. I thought Wow, there must be artists making revealing works like this everywhere now and I want to know them. I decided to study art and work with artists in that instant.

support art21
Your tax-deductible donation provides crucial support for Art21 projects.

admin
Admin access

Mithu Sen. "MOU, Museum of Unbelongings," 2012. Site-specific installation, fabric and found objects. Courtesy of the artist.

Josephine Halvorson (2)

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 3 of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog


GK: How did you prepare the ground for art from Central Asia in the States in the mid-00s, after 9/11, and how did you connect the dots to Kassel in less than a decade? Is the art world perhaps redeeming itself for ostracizing creatively active regions after having followed politically-charged leads for too long? LA: Contemporaneity, much like modernity, art, and creativity does not belong to one race, place, or economy. I wanted to look at how it happened to unfold in Central Asia. I have approached my research from a broad perspective, thinking of maps as essential conceptual tools in life. Sufism sees the universe in concentric circles radiating both inward and outward. Geography was as important a discussion as philosophy and literature in my household, as well as in school. Living in Afghanistan it was clear that I was encircled by countries that share centuries worth of linguistic, cultural, ethnic and spiritual ties, located within the larger continent of Asia. Looking at Central Asia inherently meant looking at other parts of the world. Many events in the past two centuries have isolated or fractured our knowledge about artistic contributions while obsolete measuring sticks (based on East-West inferiority or superiority complexes) are still used to write art history. Art and curatorial work have become my means for experiencing the world as connected, no matter how great or minute in scale. Driving this has been a series of partnerships with artists who are transforming perceptions, filling contextual gaps, and creating access to what is otherwise inaccessible. Given that Central Asia was isolated by the schisms of twentieth century politics, I have had to tailor my own course of discovery and engagement, while connecting with colleagues that share similar ideals elsewhere. There is no doubt that some great breakthroughs have been made. In the same manner that other formerly invisible regions in the world (South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, East and South Asia) have joined an explosion of transnational contemporary art activity, artistic communities in Central Asia are overcoming isolation. The process has required conscious and diligent effort by individuals inside and outside of the regionin peripheries as well as in central arenas. I have managed to act as facilitator, interpreter, and enabler of this process, which is gratifying, but there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. As you noted, in the appeal I made during my presentation at the 2011 March Meeting in Sharjah, this will require much more collaboration and support. GK: This column has often made me consider the works of art that have never left the studio. What are those? If never shown, if an art dart has missed a work by a decade or longer, what do we make of that? Does art get stale? LA: On a recent trip to Delhi and Kabul, I am thankful to several artists whose studios I visited with a renewed sense of what a studio visit means. While as a curator, it is impossible not to automatically think about how, where, and why works could be presented, I have equally accepted that this does not have to be the end result of a studio visit. We must remember that works, whether in a museum, gallery, or piled up in an artists studio, are primarily tools for developing art practice. Visiting an artists studio is like entering an artists mind, no matter what the setting, it is an intimate space that acts simultaneously as a creative incubator and exhibition space in its own right. Perceiving this, I find myself more open to embracing the visit as a chance to interact with an artistic practice, experiencing the rich and often delicate exchange that occurs between artist and curator as audience. In 2004, on an extensive research trip in Central Asia, I made my rounds to dozens of artists studios. Particularly intriguing was that of artist Vyacheslav Akhunov in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, mainly because of an overwhelming sense that there was much more that he was not showing me. My second studio visit with Akhunov was in late 2009, this time at a caf in Chelsea while he was visiting New York. What he revealed was astonishinga never-before seen digital compendium of some 3000 pages of drawings and notes he had been actively conceptualizing in the form of notebooks since the 1960s. For fear of persecution (Soviet and Post Soviet eras) he had kept the vast majority of this work hidden for nearly four decades. All of his works I had seen and exhibited since 2004 suddenly clicked, taking on a profound new significance. In fact, so deep was the inspiration from this second fateful studio visit with Akhunov that he is the subject of my dOCUMENTA(13) 100 Thoughts 100 Notes notebook contribution.

1/13/13 6:35 PM

Josiah McElheny (44) Judy Pfaff (40) Julie Mehretu (60) Kalup Linzy (20) Kara Walker (86) Keltie Ferris (10) Kerry James Marshall (47) Kiki Smith (85) Kimsooja (20) Krzysztof Wodiczko (37) Lari Pittman (21) LaToya Ruby Frazier (12) Laurie Anderson (57) Laurie Simmons (42) Laylah Ali (36) Liz Magic Laser (2) Louise Bourgeois (93) Lucas Blalock (8) Lynda Benglis (5) Margaret Kilgallen (17) Mariah Robertson (5) Marina Abramovi (16) Mark Bradford (100) Mark Dion (88) Martha Colburn (8) Martin Puryear (35) Mary Heilmann (33) Mary Reid Kelley (8) Matthew Barney (52) Matthew Ritchie (30) Maya Lin (56) Mel Chin (32) Michael Ray Charles (6) Mika Tajima (7) Mike Kelley (84) Nancy Spero (51) Oliver Herring (54) Paul McCarthy (46) Paul Pfeiffer (22) Pepn Osorio (16) Pierre Huyghe (35) Rackstraw Downes (5) Rashid Johnson (17) Raymond Pettibon (52) Richard Serra (69) Richard Tuttle (37) Robert Adams (37) Robert Mangold (4) Robert Ryman (31) Roni Horn (34) Sally Mann (30) Sarah Sze (11) Shahzia Sikander (32) Shana Moulton (11) Susan Rothenberg (19) Tabaimo (4) Tim Hawkinson (22) Tommy Hartung (4) Trenton Doyle Hancock (38) Ursula von Rydingsvard (35) Vija Celmins (29) Walton Ford (21) William Kentridge (91) William Wegman (35)

Vyacheslav Akhunov. "Art-cheology," 1976. Drawing on manuscript page. Courtesy the artist and AhmadyArts.

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 4 of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog


While the artist-curator relationship can be difficult to navigate at times, when allowed to unfold organically it can also reveal new levels of work, thought and consciousness that would be unattainable through institutional type interactions. Curatorial work to me is linking poignantly disconnected ideas and contradictory concepts to facilitate critical thinking for the public as an essential aspect of exhibition making. My practice involves framing processes that could create an experience or experiences of consciousness. This cannot be dictated by time. If a work is leaving the studio for the first time in decades, it is essentially up to the curatorial process to expose that works significance. More so than art, and even if we do not like to admit it, curatorial work can go stale. It is an exploratory field, and there is a level of freedom to it that we are only just beginning to test. I recognize that my role has moved far beyond the bounds of exhibition and now encompasses lectures, essays, studio visits, and even the conversation that I am opening up here. And, thats a wrap until next month. Stay tuned for part 2 of this conversation with Leeza Ahmady in May.
6 Tweet 6 Like 14 1

1/13/13 6:35 PM

Yinka Shonibare MBE (61) Art21 News (300) Biennials (61) Education (432) Exhibitions (735) Festivals (49) Guest Blog (710) Interviews (305) Locations: (1669) Africa (15) Argentina (5) Asia (15) Australia (12) Brazil (2) Canada (48) Caribbean (2) China (24) Colombia (5) Cuba (4) Denmark (11) Egypt (2) Finland (10)

Posted in: > Inside the Artist's Studio Similar posts: Inside the Artists Studio: Leeza Ahmady (Part 2) , Gwangju Biennale , New guest blogger: Naomi Beckwith , Inside the Artists Studio | Sofa Hernndez Chong Cuy , Inside the Artists Studio | Abdellah Karroum Comments (3)

3 Responses to Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) Inside the Artists Studio: Leeza Ahmady (Part 2) | Art21 Blog on August 3, 2012 11:00 am [...] am pleased to share with you the second half of my discussion with Leeza Ahmady, a continuation of Aprils [...]

France (26) Germany (83) Greece (23) Guatemala (1) Iceland (2) India (7) Iraq (2) Ireland (7) Israel (1) Italy (31) Japan (6) Korea (2)

Inside the Artists Studio: Leeza Ahmady (Part 2) | Uber Patrol - The Definitive Cool Guide on August 3, 2012 11:20 am [...] am pleased to share with you the second half of my discussion with Leeza Ahmady, a continuation of Aprils [...]

Ahmady Arts | Blog | Interviews, Projects and Articles on August 30, 2012 12:38 pm [...] Do Peripheries Become Center? An Interview with Leeza Ahmady Art: 21 Inside the Artists Studio Part I April, 2012 [...]

Mexico (11) Middle East (14) Netherlands (13) Peru (3) Poland (3)

Trackback URI | Comments RSS Name (required) Email (required) Website Leave a Reply

Russia (2) Scotland (3) South Africa (13) Spain (29) Sweden (10) Switzerland (18) Taiwan (1) Thailand (1) Turkey (22) Ukraine (1) United Kingdom (154) USA (1271) Boston (27) Chicago (165)

Submit Comment

Connecticut (3) Houston (9) Indianapolis (28) Los Angeles (185) Miami (18) Minneapolis (3) Nebraska (3) New Orleans (23) New York City (569) North Carolina (4) Ohio (10)

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 5 of 6

Inside the Artists Studio | Leeza Ahmady (Part 1) | Art21 Blog

1/13/13 6:35 PM

Philadelphia (21) Pittsburgh (6) Portland (3) San Francisco (89) Seattle (12) Texas (30) Washington (4) Washington D.C. (28) Media: (1629) Architecture (60) Design (82) Drawing & Collage (285) Fashion (27) Film & Video (421) Food (42) Installation (590) New Media (261) Painting (377) Performance (346) Photography (329) Printmaking (95) Public Art (224) Sculpture (455) Social (208) Sound (41) Sound & Music (100) Photos (23) Podcasts (14) Prizes (46) Programs-Events (297) Publications (103) Season 5 (113) Season 6 (32) Support Art21 (19) Uncategorized (75) William Kentridge: Anything is Possible (20)

Art21, Inc. 20012013. All rights reserved. Art21 is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization; all donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
contact us posts(RSS) comments (RSS) top

http://blog.art21.org/2012/04/27/inside-the-artists-studio-leeza-ahmady-part-1/

Page 6 of 6