Shaheen Merali

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Shaheen Merali
Shaheen Merali. c) Jens Liebchen

Article

Infectious Enthusiasm

Shaheen Merali is an artist, curator, researcher, writer, observer and globetrotter, who absorbs the cultural and social peculiarities of everywhere he visits. His art work has been widely exhibited and he has curated over twenty international exhibitions. Merali holds a BA (Hons) in Fine Art (Sculpture). He is currently Head of Exhibitions, Film and New Media of the House of World Cultures in Berlin.
Shaheen Merali’s curatorial practice concerns itself with all kinds of cultural mutations. This includes the diverse dynamics and widely ramified roots and relations of transatlantic Black cultures in the seminal project The Black Atlantic (2004, House of World Cultures Berlin), the complex realities of contemporary Israel and its occupied territories in Dreams and Trauma: Moving Images and the Promised Lands (2005, House of World Cultures, Berlin) as well as the Asian reinterpretation of international contemporary art in The First Chapter-Trace Root: Unfolding Asian Stories (2006, co-curator, Gwangju Biennial 2006). These interests also led to the gathering of works by international artists, who use a so-called ‘culture of camouflage’ to investigate ‘circumstances of domination in regard to the practice of freedom’ in all our tomorrows: the culture of camouflage (2006/07, Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg, Germany) \1.

Merali’s latest curatorial project was a collation of ‘works by artists from a diverse set of social, political, ethnic, and intergenerational spaces bound together only by the confined space that is the city of New York’ in New York States of Mind. (24.08.2007 - 04.11.2007, House of World Cultures, Berlin). \2

Merali once stated that ‘one of the most important paradigms of human consciousness is "resistance" - to make us who we are, who we want to be and it conveys to us a sense of humanity - realizing a sense of power…’. \3 His shows mostly reflect this concept without being ‘over-political’ and/or ‘over-educational’, not leaving the visitor with the bitter taste of being not critical, not political, not committed enough. Still they stimulate to rethink our (own) cultural, political notions of history, present and/or future.

The issues dealt within Shaheen Merali’s shows reflect a variety of cultures and take place at the most different venues. A fact which fits his current job title – Head of Exhibitions, Film and New Media of the House of World Cultures in Berlin, where he is based.

But for Merali it is not only about curating exhibitions himself. To enable projects embracing a vast variety of options of cultural issues from all over the world, he regularly invites renowned international curators to curate shows, which reflect the contemporary artistic practice of their respective regions of origin. Consequently unique exhibition projects of international contemporary art took place at the House of World Cultures, Berlin. Body.City - Siting Contemporary Culture in India (curators Geeta Kapur and Jyotinder Jain, 2003) presented, for the first time in Germany, a comprehensive overview of the contemporary Indian art scene. Far Near Distance - Contemporary Positions of Iranian Artists (curator Rose Issa, 2004) displayed, also for the first time in Germany, ‘a panorama of contemporary positions of artists of Iranian origin operating in and between Tehran, London, Paris and the metropolises of the USA’ .\4

Furthermore Merali managed and organized amongst others Tropicalia, A Revolution in Brazilian culture (curator Carlos Basualdo); China - Between Past and Future (curators Wu Hung and Christopher Philips) in 2006 and in 2005 Spaces and Shadows - Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia (curators Jeab Gaweewong and Ong Keng Sen) as well as About Beauty (curator Wu Hung).

The endless richness of possibilities to (re)present, to examine art and its relations with notions of culture and identity, dream and reality are an important part of Merali’s work. But it is not only the interaction of different concepts of culture, which constitutes his practice. Of course it is also the art itself, as a catalyst of those concepts, and its perception, which concerns him. Joining in the discussion about the phenomenon of a rapidly expanding contemporary art market going along with the hype around artists turned society celebrities, he states:

´Exhibitions as events rather than as visual speculation, the art for which is producing a new history of art, can more appropriately be referred to as “shows” or “showrooms” on account of their populist trappings. More and more, the artist and artistic densities (from museum quarters through sumo catalogues to tented encampments known as art fairs, and, more recently, the gallerist), rather than the artworks themselves, have become the central registers through which the object of art is read and, it follows, art history is made.´ \5

For Merali ‘art history remains the point of departure’ \6 for making and presenting art. The presentation of art, that is the very preparation of every single exhibition, for him also is a major creative process and a challenge itself:

´The making of an exhibition programme is both a private and public enterprise. It exemplifies by choice and site as much about the artists concerns and skills as well as the curators ambition and motivation. To deal with such a plethora of material, positionalities and substantial ideas, which are in due course to be introduced into the public domain can be daunting in its planning stage …. But it is within this exciting frisson that contact will be established that assists in displacing doubts, subsequently allows amplifications beyond that which had been envisaged, planned or executed as “the exhibition”´.\7

Besides curating over twenty international exhibitions Merali worked on the post graduate programme at Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design (1993-2003) and as a researcher in the School of Communications and Creative Industries at the University of Westminster (2001-2003). He is co-founder of Panchayat Arts Education Resource Unit in East London, an archive that specifically addresses the needs and issues of non-European artists and cultural producers. His works as an artist have been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including two survey shows in New York, Out of India, Queens Museum and Transforming the Crown, Bronx Museum.

Merali’s nearly uncountable activities, which are only outlined here, all reflect his infectious enthusiasm about what he is discovering and developing within the framework of his job, his passion: art and its diverse complexities and realities.


First published by www.a-n.co.uk in November 2007


Quotations:
1) Shaheen Merali, Press release for the exhibition all our tomorrows: the culture of camouflage (23.11.2006).

2) Merali, States of Mind, in: the same (Ed.), New York – States of Mind. Art in the City (London: Saqi Books, 2007) p. 16-38, p. 16.

3) Merali, www.blackatlantic.com/4/#, 4.22 Shaheen Merali – Curatorial Statement (19 July 2007).

4) Project description on www.culturebase.net/project_detail.php?173 (18 July 2007).

5) Merali, States of Mind, p. 18.

6) Merali, States of Mind, p. 16.

7) Merali, www.blackatlantic.com/4/#, 4.22 Shaheen Merali – Curatorial Statement (19 July 2007).


Author: Yvette Mutumba

Bio

Shaheen Merali, born in Tanzania 1959, is an artist, curator, researcher, author and editor of numerous books. His family moved to London in 1970. He currently heads the Department of Visual Arts, Film and New Media at the House of World Cultures in Berlin. Earlier, he was a Senior Lecturer at the Central Saint Martin´s College of Art and Design and a researcher at the University of Westminster. As an artist, he exhibited nationally and internationally, and has had two large survey exhibitions at the Bronx and the Queens Museum in New York. He curated more than 20 exhibitions.

Works

Contributions to books

Published Written
Lisl Ponger. Photos and Films Edited by Landesgalerie Linz and Kunsthaus Dresden, published by Wieser Verlag, Klagenfurt 2007, published for the exhibition: Lisl Ponger, Imago Mundi, ISBN: 978-3-85129-709-6 Contribution by Shaheen Merali: Is it still you? Was it ever you? Can it ever be you? p. 135-146 Stopover Berlin. Asia-Pacific: Changing the World Edited by Annette Hulek, published by the House of World Cultures, Berlin 2007 Contributions by Shaheen Merali: “It’s so tiring for another artist to do a Mao thing” (Terence Koh in conversation with Shaheen Merali) Das vermessene Paradies. Positionen zu New York Edited by Bernd M. Scherer / Detlef Diederichsen, published by Theater der Zeit in association with the House of World Cultures, Berlin 2007, ISBN: 978-3-934344-97-6 Contributions by Shaheen Merali: "Ich interessiere mich sehr für Mechanismen der Verweigerung“ (Fred Wilson in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 134-145 "Ich mache Filme über die Welt und für die Welt“ (Jem Cohen in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 240-253 Feindbilder. Ideologien und visuelle Strategien der Kulturen Edited by Lydia Haustein / Bernd M. Scherer / Martin Hager, published by Wallstein Verlag in association with the House of World Cultures, Goettingen 2007, ISBN: Contribution by Shaheen Merali: Sichtbarkeit und Ideologie. Künstlerische Strategien im Umgang mit Differenz Gwangju Biennale 2006. Fever Variations Published by Designhouse Co. Ltd, ISBN: 89-7041-935-7 Contribution by Shaheen Merali: On Visuality, Ideology and Facilitating Artists, p. 45-55 Der Black Atlantic Published by the House of World Cultures in cooperation with Tina Campt and Paul Gilroy, Berlin 2004, ISBN: 3-9808851-5-1 Contributions by Shaheen Merali: “Kunst kann Diskursthemen vorgeben. Die Welt verändern kann sie nicht” (Lisl Ponger and Tim Sharp in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 99-111 “Ich erfinde mich nicht immer neu. So verzweifelt bin ich nicht” (Isaac Julian in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 212-220 “Sind nicht alle Räume transkulturell?” (Keith Piper in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 282-291 freeze/spin Edited by Nevin Aladag, published by Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2003, ISBN: 3-932754-41-7 Contribution by Shaheen Merali: Pop of Minority Interarchive. Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field Edited by B. v. Bismarck / H.P. Feldmann / H.U. Obrist / Diethelm Stoller / U. Wuggenig, Köln 2002, ISBN: 3-88375-540-0 Contribution by Shaheen Merali: Panchayat, p. 276-280

Forthcoming Books 2008

Published Written
Re-Imagining Asia. A Thousand Years of Separation Edited by Shaheen Merali, published by Saqi Books in association with the House of World Cultures, London 2008 Young Indians Edited by Gayatri Sinha. Published by Bodhi Art Gallery , India

Books/ Works edited by Shaheen Merali

Published Written
New York States of Mind. Art in the City Edited by Shaheen Merali, published by Saqi Books in association with the House of World Cultures, London 2008, ISBN: 978-0-86356-681-3 Contributions by Shaheen Merali: States of Mind, p. 16-38 "I make Films of the World and for the World“ (Jem Cohen in conversation with Shaheen Merali), p. 198-206 Spaces and Shadows. Contemporary Art from South-East Asia Edited by Shaheen Merali, published by House of World Cultures, Berlin 2005, ISBN: 3-9808851-7-8 Contributions by Shaheen Merali: Impression Management. Travel Notes on Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, p. 28-31 “The statements of resistance are in the works, not in the words“ (Ong Keng Sen in conversation with Shaheen Merali and Annette Bhagwati), p. 32-33 "Fun is the new weapon“ (Gridthiya Gaweewong in conversation with Shaheen Merali and Annette Bhagwati), p. 34-35 “ "We resist because we have nothing” (Interview of Philip Cheah by Shaheen Merali), p. 36-37 Lipsmackin’, p.113 About Beauty Edited by Shaheen Merali, published by House of World Cultures, Berlin 2005, ISBN: 3-9808851-6-X Contributions by Shaheen Merali: A Rose by any Other Name, p. 9-16 Far Near Distance. Contemporary Positions of Iranian Artist Edited by Shaheen Merali and Martin Hager, published by the House of World Cultures, Berlin 2004, ISBN: 3-9808851-4-3 Tehrancentric and Iraninity, p. 20-29 Blackpop Edited by Shaheen Merali, published by Saqi Books, London 2004, ISBN: 0-86356708-8 ImagiNative. Research as Astistic Strategy Published by Lisl Ponger / Tim Sharp in association with the House of World Cultures, Berlin 2004, curated by Shaheen Merali.

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

RE ASIA

Exhibition, Films, Literature, Dance, Conference

(13 March 08 - 18 May 08)

New York

Exhibition, Film Programme, Music, Conferences

(23 August 07 - 04 November 07)

DREAM AND TRAUMA

Moving Images and the Promised Lands

(02 December 05 - 18 December 05)

Black Atlantic

(17 September 04 - 15 November 04)