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Gate 27, farklı pratiklerin araştırma ve üretim süreçlerini desteklemek ve disiplinlerarası etkileşime zemin yaratmak amacıyla 2019’da kurulmuş bir uluslararası konuk sanatçı programıdır.

You can watch the event as of 10 AM (UTC+3) Monday, April 29, 2024 with English transcription.

Ahu Antmen (AA): Thank you, thank you very much to SU Gender and Gate 27 and to Nour. In the last conversation I prepared too many questions and everybody was looking at me like when am I going to stop asking questions. So today I have around eight questions that I’d like to ask to Nour and then I will open the conversation to the floor. Please join in and ask anything that you would like. The title we chose for our conversation today is “Weaving History” which alludes to various facets of Nour’s practice. Her work is ingrained in history and memory and the experiences of peoples who have been displaced from their land and culture.  

Hence, she brings us stories and images and symbols from those who have experienced war and displacement and have had to experience this most of their lives, sometimes all of their lives as refugees in precarious conditions. For specific focus within this context is how women deal with such conditions and the kind of survival strategies they develop. In this sense, she is also a kind of messenger, an artist messenger I would say, using art as a tool to weave alternative counter historical accounts of dreadful events and living conditions very close to us. So I want to start by asking about how Nour became an artist and then go on to looking at the works. 

So she defines herself as an artist and researcher, and I’d like to start with these definitions of artist and researcher and perhaps link it to the boundaries of art practice today and also think about art education also a little bit, I’d like to talk a little bit about that as we begin. So if you could talk about what it means to be a research artist, because she makes a distinction between what she calls a gallery artist. I think that’s an apt title to make this distinction. So what is this distinction between gallery artist and researcher artist and also, I know you come from an artistic background. Your father is a famous Syrian artist, Hammoud Chantout, so he’s a generation before born in the 1950s, you are of a later generation. Maybe you can also touch on, for example, is your father a gallery artist or how did conditions of contemporary art practice change to make you more interested in research rather than I don’t know, esthetic issues? For example, yeah so maybe we can start with that. 

Nour Shantout (NS): Thank you very much for this question. I’m going to start with thank you. Sorry, it’s going to be very short. Big thanks to Gate 27 and SU Gender and Ahu. It’s an honor to sit here and speak with you about my work and thank you all for being here. The issue of research actually for me was the start of my embroidery project and I left Syria after the revolution in 2012 to have an education elsewhere, I studied in between France and Lebanon and you know, I lived a very difficult historical moment in the revolution and that followed it. And it felt very difficult for me to directly speak about this issue. In 2015 I was in Vienna. It was the so called migration crisis and I wanted to kind of understand what’s happening to talk about it because I know how this events get historicised. But I couldn’t do research on my own people. 

It was very close to me and I didn’t want to be victimized. I didn’t want to be in that passive victim position. So I started to be interested in archiving and counter archiving. I was reading a lot of post structuralist philosophers when I was living in Paris, I was going a lot to museums, libraries, spending so much time there. And then later on I got to know the work of indigenous scholars from Canada and I read a very interesting piece that changed my life, it’s called “Refusing Research” of scholars who were called Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang who wrote this piece and they were dealing with this dilemma like how to write research that does not do harm to the communities, how to face centuries of research that does harm.  

So they started this paper by “research is a dirty word among many…” I’m paraphrasing here “among many native communities among the colonized others, the ghettosized others and so on.” But these people are not producing knowledge having this in mind. Then I went to the lecture of the person who wrote this text and she was saying that she wanted to do research with the people, not about the people. And this was really the base of my thinking in the last years that it is possible actually to write about our own communities, having this responsibility. It’s hard, it’s very hard to start from a subjective position, but it is possible. So this is when I decided to have this researcher-artist position to challenge what research means. This is the first part of your question. The second yes, I grew up in an artistic family, both of my parents. Also my mom was an artist, but everybody knows my dad. Patriarchy. I grew up in the art world, we have a big library of art at home. My grandfather is also a Marxist intellectual, so I was in a very politicized environment as well. So I learned how to navigate the art world. But I knew that if I wanted to be part of this, I will have to do some compromises in the way I work and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do work that’s very slow. I wanted to take my time. 

I didn’t want to sell these pieces, most of my work is not available for sale, so I wanted to kind of not to produce. I mean art and commodity we can have a whole talk about this and the relation between art and commodity, and if we can separate it…But I wanted to really produce text, produce artworks and this takes a lot of time like… One of my pieces take three months of daily labor. This doesn’t fit in a late capitalist art market, so I’m using this term not to judge people who do this or not, but the way I was interested in doing art and thinking about art and thinking about the historicizing and the narratives that I’m interested in didn’t fit this very fast art market so I found the other way.  

AA: Okay, okay… This “refusing research” is very interesting. Perhaps art today does this. I mean art is so much based on research, but then research comes to us in a different visual language in the most maybe spiritual sense where we learn about issues of the world from a much more spiritual perspective maybe, do you feel that? I don’t know.  

NS: Totally, and there is so much freedom. And if you’re research based artist, you have so much freedom to play in… What research means that you can add the fictional aspect to it. You can think about exhibiting, exhibition space and the politics of putting artwork in an exhibition environment for example. I know, we’re talking about this later, but for example for “Searching for the New Dress”, I collected a lot of interviews and materials and usually as a researcher this is the first data and then you analyze it. And I didn’t want to analyze it. So in the exhibition, people are the researcher and there is fifty pages of interviews, or a bit less but for each art work there is an interview that kind of relate to it. And you are the one as a spectator who is making meaning between forms and information and text. And so there is a lot of freedom in these places. 

AA: So the spectator makes the work in a way and takes different meanings.  

NS: Yeah, like theater. I’m really interested in theater. If there is no theater, there is no spectator and I think my work doesn’t work if it’s not in an exhibition environment. So when I see the pieces in my studio alone, they’re very different. They’re in the setting with the people around them, questioning if this information is fiction or not, if this is a true story… Questioning, what is the space? Is it a museum setting, is it your studio? So they’re part of the work. People are part of it. 

AA: I mean, it’s very much linked to exhibition making really rather than you know, one piece that also we can link that maybe to this issue of commodification of the art object. Because in this way, you are thinking of an exhibition, the theatrics of exhibition making and everything sits in there and the spectator is part of that, whereas the other way, there is one object that is commodified within a system and that makes you into a kind of gallery artist. I was going to ask this later, but I can ask it now. This issue in relation to victim, feeling like a victim when talking about this kind of atrocities about war, displacement, migration. That position, is that also a reason why, for example, you wouldn’t want your work to be commodified, because you are talking about something that is very sensitive. You are relating to people, you are bringing the experience of people to us trying not to victimize anyone while telling their stories. And when you put this into this kind of art market system, it really can get co-opted and commodified really. And is there, maybe a part of that, kind of you know makes you shy away of being a gallery artist, you know choosing to be someone who does more research perhaps. 

NS: I mean it is a bit complicated, but yes, but also it has to do with the practice and practicing right now. I’m writing my whole Ph.D on the enjoyization of embroidery. And there is a historian and researcher called Rachel Dedman. She introduced the term Imperfect Commodity from Spooner, which means this, like very small practices, are not fitting in late capitalism and neo-liberal society because of the time they take. It’s hard for me also to think of pricing these works. It takes me months of labor, I’m talking to people, they are part of the work, in some of the dresses I was learning with another embroiderer who embroidered on the dress, so it doesn’t make sense. Where are these dresses going to? Who is the collector? You know I have to… I carry responsibility of the community I’m working with. It doesn’t make so much sense to be in someone’s living room at all. If yes, it has to be a specific space. And it’s exactly this and also because of the slowness of the work, and it literally doesn’t fit. Maybe for me, the term gallery artist is just about the way you produce art in the system you’re in and I felt also I’m very interested in writing and philosophy and in theory, and I’m also writing articles sometimes. 

AA: I’ve read some of them yes, they’re very good. You can look at her website, she’s also a writer.  

NS: I don’t know, I don’t introduce myself like that. I’m so interested in text and this is the way that fits me right now to create the language, being research based artist. To put all these interests kind of together.  

AA: Maybe to touch shortly on this issue of art education. Because I come from that field and I’m always very interested in what shapes an artist. How is an artist educated today? How does one become an artist today, it’s such a difficult question. I think and you’ve experienced so many different education environments. I mean Damascus Fine Arts Academy, where you can’t work from the nude model, for example, and then the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts. and then the Beaux-Arts in Paris, which you have to work from the nude model, it’s the epitome of academic art education. And then the Art Academy in Vienna which is very different, very theoretical, very philosophical. And so all of these come together, cooking to make someone like you.  How have all these different environments shaped your artistic language? 

NS: Thank you for this question. Actually, I chose to travel to all these places, and my family was telling me “You have a Syrian passport.” It’s very hard to get visas, why are you doing this? I was interested in many different things, and I wanted to arrive at a specific space, so I chose to really travel a lot at a time when it was impossible to do so. It was very difficult. I’m privileged that I could do this. But the University of Arts in Damascus actually affected my work. That educational system in Syria is very bad, it’s a dictatorship I literally had to smuggle books from Beirut. A lot of books are banned, and the educational system is completely corrupted. You have to be in the Ba’ath Party to be a professor, so there is no freedom in this education. But I met amazing people in this Academy. About the new model actually, we wrote a letter demanding for the nude model. Now I work very differently and I know the male gaze and now it’s very problematic anyway to do sculptures from the nude. But I was interested in learning anatomy and I was in the sculpture department. We all wanted to have a model…. So we wrote a letter and we collected signatures and this is insane in a country like Syria.  

AA: It’s familiar here also… 

NS: And we did that, and then they traveled to Sweden, and they brought nude anatomy sculptures from another university.  So they agreed, but not the live model, the sculptures. And in this university, I was having so many conversations with my colleague Ram Sallam, who was like a very close friend. About the history of art, every day. Even the professors knew us. We sat and drink coffee, and we brought books we talked about…This friend and artist also comes from an artistic family. We talked about the books we were reading, we exchanged information. We tried to mobilize the students in the university. So this, having an education in this environment taught me that you can have education from your colleagues, from your comrades and you don’t have to expect it in the classroom, right? So it was very rich actually, these years were really amazing, very challenging. A lot of us were having difficult situations, the revolution and so on. But it was a very rich experience. In Lebanon I was in a private university and the education was in French, completely a different place. 

I had to do this because I wanted that connection with Europe. There I got very interested in philosophy, so I was having almost a private lesson with a philosopher every week. A very old philosopher who couldn’t actually hear me very well, couldn’t see very well. So I learned to listen because if I wanted to talk to him, I had to scream. So I was sitting with a legacy there, and I also met a German philosopher. So, my interest in theory was very strong.  

There was a lot of connection between the art scene in Beirut and France, and we would always have a lot of artists and people visiting. So here the interest in theory started. I was going a lot to theater in Lebanon, a lot of my friends were in theater, a lot of music gigs and it is a very rich place. Lebanon has a lot of art in comparison to Damascus, but you know there is this regime that controls everything. There is much more freedom in Lebanon and then in France I got interested in the politics of objects and how you can actually produce a political work without a text. I was in a minimalist sculpture department, and a lot of the students were very political, and here I was starting to build installations and so on… 

And I went to Vienna just for the interest in theory, it’s a very strong theoretical university. So I was going to a lot of queer feminist classes. I had a mentor who was from a former Yugoslavia, who was part of different memorial groups and Red Mind Collective. They were working on these very hard moments in history, the Yugoslavian war, and through her classes and meetings with her, I developed this interest in counterarchiving.  

AA: And feminism?  

NS: Yes of course. 

AA: At that time, your interest in feminism .. 

NS: Yes, yes. Right. 

AA:  began right? So maybe we can come to what you actually do as an artist, and you know your identity as an artist is very much of course, ingrained in your own identity as a Syrian Palestinian woman from your generation, you’re in your early 30s. So what you do is an immensely political activity, actually. It’s based on living heritage. So can you talk about how we can slowly start to perhaps look at the work, how you came to embroidery, how you came to think of embroidery as a kind of living heritage. I mean not only past with all these symbols and motifs and so on, but as something that is actually alive, very much linked to the precarious conditions of living as a woman in these refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.  

So maybe you can talk about… We talked about art education, but it seems like your becoming an artist is very much also based on your whole observation experience of just observing everything around you, from your family’s history, from Syria’s history, from everything around you. So you became interested in the idea of living heritage and you came to embroidery. You wanted to learn embroidery, that’s another thing. I mean, in contemporary art today, you can have someone do embroidery for you. You know, it’s very common. There is this issue of the “art of not making,” it’s called. Artists working with crafts, they can have someone do it for them. You especially wanted to learn.  After all this, education at the Damascus Fine Arts Academy, you learn to paint, you learn to sculpt, learn to print. You learn to do this, you learn to do that, but you wanted to learn to embroider, which is a very gendered activity at the same time. So maybe you can talk about how that came about, and then maybe we can move on to your work “Searching for the New Dress.” 

NS: Thank you for this very very interesting question. Actually, the embroidery was always around me as a half-Palestinian person. My grandmother was wearing the dress, and she would tell me specifically that she was wearing it as a political statement. She’s not an embroiderer, she learned in school how to embroider. She couldn’t see her family for a lot of time because of her document, a lot of Palestinians in the diaspora until today had travel restrictions. So her family would send her the dress, and the dress would cross many borders she couldn’t cross, and sometimes they would make it for her. My grandma’s sister, who was a maths teacher, made a dress and sent it to my grandma. 

AA: She knew how to embroider because young girls learned in school from a young age, right? 

NS:– Actually, at some schools, you can learn embroidery today.  

And there is the grandfather. I was interested a lot growing up in my grandfather’s work as someone who is political and his political activities… And I was always learning from him and not looking at what my grandma was doing, but then, as a feminist I was like I’m ignoring a very big and important part in the political struggle of Palestinians. So in 2015, I was in Vienna. She was in Dubai. Every person in the family was in a different part of the world because of the Syrian revolution and the aftermath of it. So she does this gesture, and she sent me a dress and it traveled from Jordan to Dubai from Dubai to Lebanon. I have to go pick it up from Lebanon and I changed it as well, I cut it and changed the cut and she didn’t appreciate this at all. And we had a conversation about this… So I was thinking that this is a very political statement in this time in 2015, to send me this Palestinian dress that actually have a lot of political meaning we will see after, and I decided as an artist who is interested in objects and their biographies, to go back to Syria when I can and when she can and replicate this dress. I’m also interested in replicas and learning from her as well about her connections. So it started really like this. 

AA: So the grandmother is the spark. This is very interesting. I’d like to know, she wears “the” dress as a political dress to assert her Palestinian identity, and then she sends it to you so that perhaps you get an awareness of your Palestinian identity. And she says, “kızım” [my daughter/granddaughter], we say “kızım” “wear this dress”. “My granddaughter wear this dress.” So what’s interesting here is, there is not one feminism there are so many feminisms. And how would you compare, for example, your grandmother’s act as an act of feminism and your replicating this dress, changing a little bit to your own generation maybe, wearing it, or maybe just looking at it? Would you also wear it as a political act? I don’t know, so maybe through the dress, you can talk about the kind of different feminisms that are at play through this item. 

NS: Yeah, I mean also answering the second part of your first question or relating to this, so I would never have imagined that I would have been interested in embroidery before. So when I started doing art, I was in the metal workshop, cutting metal, working in also metal shops in Syria as the only woman. So for me, that was like me being feminist. Like to claim my space in male spaces. I literally went to a metal shop in the countryside and they made fun of me and I told them I want to learn to work with metal. That day I was working on a film set and I had the idea that, oh, I didn’t try metal, so I went to a random shop and then I learned working with steel in a shop where people were filming me literally because I am a woman. Then they got used to me, I was there every day. Yeah, so I had to read a lot of feminist theory to unlearn what I learned in academia and what art means and art production and so on in order to look at something that was always around me. And also claim it. It’s a very gendered practice.  

What does it mean? If I’m doing a gendered practice that was for centuries and until now not considered work. Until now the embroiderers are not wage laborers. In my interviews with them, they tell me that you cannot live from it. So the associations they work with expect them to always have a male member in the family so on. But also, when I visited Syria, and I was working with my grandmother, I noticed that in the post-war, something happened to these practices. Because a lot of men are in prison or they’re in the army women who didn’t work before needed jobs. I heard this also happened in Europe after World War Two. There were shifts, and the shifts can also be the basis for the feminist movement.  

AA: Of course, of course. 

NS:  I heard that a lot of women after the Revolution wanted to learn Palestinian embroidery, and actually, my grandfather has a communal center with other comrades and so on and they told me that they’re doing some kind of workshops on embroidery in this communal center and I was meeting these people, who organized the workshops. They told me that embroidery is not working because women cannot live from it. This is not for profit, it has a very political place. 

And they really wanted to find jobs for these women. So they taught them how to sew with the machines and Palestinian embroidery. I also met the embroiderers. And they told me that they’re now working in factories, because you cannot make a living with such practice. So I was interested in what is happening in these moments and the shifts and what does it mean to learn it and how people learn it as well in the post war… And also where do these women work? Do they work at home? Do they work in the workspace, in the studio and actually, this practice can give the worker, the woman freedom to leave the domestic space. But still in a lot of these organizations, because its very gendered, it’s not helping these woman in the post war. So there are many contradictions that interest me as well. I noticed that it reflects what’s happening in the environment, and this is another aspect that I was interested in. So you know, in the post war, there are a lot of things that changed. I hear a lot of stories that are happening in these places that you think are unbelievable, and who would archive these stories?  

 Who would tell what happened after the Syrian revolution and so on. It’s very hard even to have access to Syria. When I was interested in embroidery, I was seeing that the dress, archives, a lot of what’s happening around it. For example, when I visited a center in Damascus after the siege of Yarmouk, the Capital of the Palestinian diaspora.  I visited the center after they lost all their archives and so on and they reopened in Damascus and they were telling me that there is a red color crisis. You know, the red is very present in the Palestinian dress because the threads were dyed at home in Palestine and so on. So a lot of Palestinians make replicas of the traditional dress as proof that Palestine was not a land without people for… people without a land. So they’re replicating the dresses from the pre-Nakba [catastrophe] in 1948 until today. 

There is a lot of this practice, and because they were dyed at home these dresses, there are a lot of threads, but actually, the threads they’re using are the DMC threads that came with the British colonialism to Palestine. They are French threads. And they have all the colors. But one of the women in these centers told me that there is a red color crisis because Syria is completely closed off, and you have to kind of smuggle these threads, and only one person had them, and all the centers wanted to use the red. So there was no red and they stopped producing dresses. Actually this led me to the new dress project because embroidery actually changes every time something changed around it. And because of this interest from historians and researchers of archiving the dress in a specific time, and I understand why, because there was cultural appropriation of it and so on. There is kind of a wrong understanding of embroidery as something static, and I see it as something that carries what’s around as an archive, as a language where you can really analyze and dig, and so on. 

AA: So that is what you want to do. I guess a counter-history, a counter-awareness. So this dress, for example, the army camp dress… And the project is called “Search for the New Dress” stems from this research. You learn to embroider with these women in the refugee camps, and then you produce from their stories, right?  

NS: I mean, I learned to embroider in my other project, “Museum of Smuggled Dresses.” I will show it first and then come back. So here I replicated all my grandmother’s dresses. It took me around two years of work and in order to do replicas of her dresses, I was learning from her and from other women who were in the suburbs of Damascus. And learning from them theoretically as well. So I was asking them what books do they use and I would get the books and so on. A lot of them were from the Yarmouk camp, but now they moved from the camp, and they’re in the suburbs of Damascus, and here it started, and I created this work. I will get back to it later. I will go to your question about the new dress. Yeah, so the new dress is…I discovered this new dress by chance because I was interested in contemporary embroidery and how it changed after I saw what was embroidered in Damascus.  

And with that , Widad Kawar, who archived Palestinian embroidery, named the dress, the new dress or the camp dress. And she wrote in her book “Threads of Identity” only around two three pages about it. Even though she named it, she wrote very little about it. And in these pages, she says that she ignored it for years because she saw in the new dress the disappearance of the tradition. The new dresses emerged after the ‘48 Nakba under which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from Palestine, and my family actually is among them. So embroidery in Palestine was a peasant culture, it was done by peasants. And each village had its own motifs. After the Nakba, most people in the refugee camps were peasants because urbanities, a lot of them had the privileges to move to other towns and cities around.  So they knew how to embroider, and some of them also learned how to embroider because there were some kind of associations by feminist women who were also the leaders of the first-wave feminist movement in Palestine.  

And here embroidery started to turn to labor again like in the Syrian situation. Then they met together, and this new dress emerged from many different traditions of embroidery or motifs from each village, and it was done with very cheap materials, factory-manufactured fabric. In contrast to the traditional dress. It was machine embroidered a lot of times, so it reflects the economical situation of the embroiderer. And for me, this new dress kind of alienated the dress from the embroiderer’s body. Before the Nakba, these dresses were very personal; the people would do it for themselves, for their bodies, and then produce as a commodity. Right now, a lot of the embroiderers I met cannot afford wearing.   

AA: That’s another thing I wanted to ask you; there are so many issues related to gender but also to class when we look at these dresses because, as you say, the people who make them cannot wear them. So you know, that really reflects the situation. Also, when you turn it into an artwork that also adds another layer. … 

NS: Yeah  

AA: … I guess, I don’t know what you think about that. Also, in some of these camps, of course, this is a gendered activity, but I learned from your writing that men also embroider these dresses, but secretly, because it’s an economic activity, you know it’s done to make a living from it in certain situations, in contemporary situations. So in that sense this whole issue of gender and class also comes into the conversation when we’re looking at the contemporary version of these dresses, I guess yeah? 

NS: You mentioned before about… it was a very interesting point. You mentioned how many artists do not produce embroidery, and this has to do with class. Many artists now embroider themselves, but actually, when I meet with people, they’re shocked that I am doing this. It is really a lot of time, a lot of time to do it. But for me this is part of the work, the connection between my body and this piece is part of the work. It’s also an anti-capitalist practice to make time, to spend hundreds of hours on producing one work while I can… I know so many people who can do this right, but this doesn’t make sense for me. So it’s very important for me if I am an anarcho-communist, to do it myself. To put it as a claim. You know this time it takes? And who wears it? Who can afford to do it?  and so on. And there is a lot of personal aspect to the work. The front of the dress, for example, is a piece I found in my mom’s closet. It’s kind of waiting to be a dress, and we don’t know anything about its history. My mom doesn’t remember, and she cannot go back and make it as a dress. So I wanted to put in the front of the dress, which is the back if you’re coming to the exhibition. So you’re facing the back. Here there is a map of the Yarmouk camp. I think I have time… 

AA: You also work a lot with maps. She works with maps. She changes maps because she wants to problematize the issue of an objective map. Turning it into something subjective, problematizing the whole issue of mapping…  

NS: Yeah 

AA:in a way. 

NS: I was embroidering. I usually I started this whole dress. I worked on a long piece, and it started with this map, and I was embroidering next to my grandfather, and he was telling me “What are you doing?,” and he knows a lot about the political situation in the Palestinian camps. And I told him I’m embroidering the Yarmouk camp map. And then he was telling me that this is a propaganda map. And I know this, right it’s part of my work. After the Syrian revolution, there were thousands of these maps produced by different people. So here this color presents ISIS and this map was produced by the regime to justify the siege of the Yarmouk camp. So I put it, and I removed all the colors, and here I wrote a sentence from an embroiderer I met because I was asking them if they were embroidering under the siege and they told me they never stopped embroidering. But knowing the political situation, these threads are literally from France, how would you get them to the Yarmouk camp?  

And then they told me in the sentence it says, “under the siege, the threads were collected from under the ruins of embroidery centers.” So people would collect the threads and sell them to the embroiderers. Even though the embroiderers know they cannot sell this work, for them it was kind of a practice of resistance… They would embroider together… and embroider until the last moment. I saw pieces from under the siege, what happened much more than if you try to look at these maps produced there. There is also actually the work… all the idea of the work started with this polaroid, this is my grandmother holding it, in 2020. I visited her when I was almost done with my other project and she told me that… this is her last work. It’s very familiar in Palestinian families to have the map of Palestine before 1948 embroidered by someone in the family. 

It’s in every Palestinian house. I was thinking, this map is also kind of alienating embroidery from the embroiderer’s body because people do it for their homes and the same map on the intifada [resistance] dress in the first intifada. These are intifada dresses, I just added them next to the map, so I made a connection. So, in the first intifada, raising the Palestinian flag was banned, so women would embroider the flag on their dresses and wear it in the front lines of demonstrations. And this dress actually functions as a demo banner. So like, here, it’s “revolution,” “we will come back,” “revolution and the victory,” and so on. So here I was imagining a dress to speak about a new dress as well. The intifada dress is kind of the aftermath of one of the new dresses, also a contemporary dress. A dress to speak about what happened in Yarmouk. 

 And then… I did this map of the Palestinian camps; official and unofficial camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. These camps… When I say camps, not a lot of people know that they’re neighborhoods right now, so they’re not temporary.  

AA: Yeah, they’re within municipalities now, yeah? They started off as a camp, but it’s a part of the municipality with hospitals, schools,…  

NS: And each country is different. And Syria that Yarmouk camp because Palestine and Syria relatively had more rights than Palestinians in Lebanon, where the camps is completely ghettosized the Shatila camp where I’m working right now. 

In Syria in Yarmouk, a lot of working class Syrians would live in this neighborhood as well. So, not just Palestinians and for me, this kind of contrast between a camp as something temporary and the long-lasting diaspora of the Palestinians as in this map. Also, I had to put two maps together to create this map because it has the official and unofficial camps as well, and it’s kind of a response to my grandmother’s map. My grandmother’s map is actually an anti-colonial map, but it’s also the map of Palestine that was drawn by Sykes and Picot. But the map keep changing. So I was like what happens if I do a map of the now? As a continuation of this tradition, this is the work… And the back of it is the Saya fabric [a silky fabric]. I learned in Istanbul, and I was looking for this fabric here. I had a journey. It’s another story for another talk. I learned that before the world war, it was actually coming from Syria, and then in Turkey they learned how to produce themselves and here is called “mantin” fabric. But this fabric also became kind of a political fabric for me when I bought it in Damascus, the person who was selling it to me told me that they burned all their factories in Al Muta and because Al Muta is a place that was with the revolution. So it’s a fabric that’s disappearing. 

And I worked with different kinds of maps as well in this project and I layered them with stories, interviews, emails and all the journey of searching for contemporary embroidery now. And how it was influenced by the migration of Syrian woman. Here, I was kind of tracing how the stitches travel and what it means to be a migrant in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. I did the fieldwork for this work in Shatila camp in Lebanon, it’s a Palestinian camp, but it was hosting Syrian people. And I was interested as well in seeing if Syrian and Palestinian traditions will mix in these places. And this is also the topic of my doctorate. What does it mean to practice embroidery in such a counter zone as a place outside society as the Palestinian camp? A practice that has many political meanings as well in it. As a Syrian person who didn’t practice embroidery before the war, you’re practicing it now because you need an income in this place and so on.  

AA: Let me ask you one last question, and then maybe the audience would like to ask you some questions, but… Looking at this work, of course, it’s very much tied to your identity as a Syrian woman. Can you imagine yourself doing some other kind of work? Is it a kind of… it’s almost like you are continuing the heritage of your family? It’s dutiful in a way, and you carry this kind of dutiful attitude towards your artistic practice. I mean, do you feel that kind of duty because you are, you know, living in Europe, and you know that this bringing this kind of work into museum space, institutionalized space, questioning the history of those institutions within those institutions, is all this…  

This is an immensely political act, so when I look at this kind of work, I often have this question. What is art for? Why do we produce art? I mean, there are some artists who make us question this, what is art for? So what does it mean? Do you see it as a kind of resistance? Is it a political act? Can you think of yourself outside of this political sphere because for example, when I looked at your portfolio I also saw some works which are I thought maybe when you are studying in Vienna or maybe Paris, they are non political in a way. You talked about them a little while ago, more concerned with the politics of art-making in a much more abstract manner, for example. But this is just so much more tied to your identity as an artist. Do you feel this kind of responsibility? Maybe that’s this responsibility to carry this resistance to the artistic sphere in which you are part of.  

NS: Thank you. It’s a very complicated question. I will try to process it… 

AA: I don’t know if I could ask.  

NS: It’s a really great question. I get asked quite a lot as well if my work is political… I read a book that actually affected my work a lot by Jacques Ranciere, “The Emancipated Spectator” and I don’t think there is art that’s not political. Even abstract art is political. If you’re putting an image in space and you have people who are coming to the space to see what you’re producing, it is political, and if it’s apolitical, it’s also political. But there is kind of politically engaged art and socially engaged art in all these differences. And I would like my work to be politically engaged art to question kind of power dynamics of certain spaces and so on. And actually what made me arrive here is my anger in places like museums, libraries 

and how my grandmother’s dresses is in an ethnographic museum with the wrong information. As someone who likes to spend a lot of time as well in these places.   

So that the knowledge about these objects in the history of art is written by the colonizers, and I spend a lot of time in my studies in Paris in the Louvre museum; for example, you see the whole Iraq cities in this museum. And I’m like, but who writes the information about the stolen object in the museum? Because probably if you write the right information, you question the existence of this object in this place. And there’s a whole artistic practice about repatriation, and giving back these objects and so on. And so even I will go to very earlier work from me, a point from the future I think you were referring to earlier works, where this was when I was studying so it’s done with very very little budget like you can’t imagine. So it’s a bit different production so I went to this imperial museum [Louvre], and I found the signs very interesting in this museum. I was wondering what happens if I put the signs of the museum next to work clothes I collected from theaters, from… this is my clothes for example  

AA: .. From everyday life. 

NS: … Yeah, from everyday life. What happens in the space? So this question was really in my early works and what I saw. A lot of people were behaving very differently in the space because of the signs. And a lot of them asked me about this from the theater I played here with the architecture of the place. It helped me because it was like glass cases etc. So I used the architecture of the place and they were asking me if this is a historical object, because some of them entered from the other side and they believed this sign for example. And there was this play and they were also very silent in the play in the exhibition space. They’re literally just because I replicated the signs of a museum.  

What it does, I mean, of course, they know it’s fiction, but I was really interested in this, and from here, the interest came. About the responsibility, it’s a big responsibility, but I don’t see that…I mean, when you are someone from colonized people in diaspora, you don’t have a choice to be political or not. Nobody forces you, but because you’re growing up with this. Seeing that your grandparents cannot go to see your graduation because they don’t have the right papers for… Seeing that your grandpa spent a lot of time in prison because he’s political. You see whole generations of people living in the diaspora and so on. I don’t think it’s like a moment where I’m like, okay, I have the responsibility; I have to do something about it.  

It’s already in me, but I had to wait a lot to find my visual language or because I really want to respect this kind of counter knowledge. What I’m experiencing right now and how I’m learning these practices. So I think I am already a political person from years and years even when I was living in Syria but it just took me some time to have the tools. And I think reading Feminists of Color, Black Feminists helped me to do this. I was teaching a class which is called the Master’s House, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” from Audre Lord. All these texts I was reading while living in Vienna prepared me kind of to deal with issues so close to me from a subjective. But yeah, so I don’t know if it will or how it will change in the future or not. I’m just living in these conditions, and I have a lot of questions I want people to pulse, and I would like just to offer a place to pulse questions.  

AA: It is all about dismantling though. Yeah, yeah, so any questions? Thank you. Thank you.