Feb 2003 – Oct 2003

written by Gilane Tawadros


Veil: The word alone conjures up images in the mind's eye. In the aftermath of 11 September, the veil has become synonymous with cultural and religious differences that have been presented to us repeatedly as unbridgeable, alien and terrifying. The fact that the veil and veiling have been a part of both Western and Eastern cultures for millennia has not diminished from their overwhelming association with Islam and an abstract, exoticised notion of the East. Veil is a major exhibition and publication that brings together the work of twenty international contemporary artists whose work explores the symbolic significance of the veil and veiling in contemporary culture with all its complexities and ambiguities. Conceived by Zineb Sedira long before the events of 11 September, the project emerges directly from the practice of two artists - Sedira and Jananne Al-Ani - who are interested in the myriad, possible readings of the veil, both visible and invisible. Researched and developed by both artists over a period of four years, Veil is curated collaboratively by Al-Ani and Sedira, with David A. Bailey and Gilane Tawadros.

Why is it that the veil has had such a huge impact on visual culture? As the novelist Ahdaf Soueif points out there is no single word in Arabic equivalent to 'the veil'; while its physical, manifestations are as varied as the social, historical and cultural contexts in which it is to be found. In a popular sense, the veil relates to questions of dress code, social status, modesty and notions of the traditional and the religious. With today's commercial branding of adornment, the veil has come to assume new significance in the context of worldwide debates on multiculturalism. In contemporary Europe, more specifically, the veil is a persistent symbol of Europe's struggle to come to terms with cultural diversity and social inclusion.

The season begins in February 2003 with the launch of the UK tour of the Veil exhibition and the publication of an accompanying anthology of writings, Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art. In the summer as part of Made in Paris, inIVA showcases four of the Veil artists - Marc Garanger, Ghazel, Samta Benyahia and Majida Khattari - in week-long shows at TheSpace@inIVA (June 2003). All Paris-based and working in a variety of media, from photography and video to performance and installation, these artists bring different interpretations and experiences of veiling to their individual artistic practices.

The secular and the profane are explored in another inIVA interdisciplinary project that cuts across multimedia, live art and new technology. Starting at Easter, the artist Rokeby's multimedia voyage MEMEX takes him on a forty-day pilgrimage through the streets of London. Transformed by cutting-edge technology into a cyborg, Rokeby maps out a journey of self-discovery, both physical and virtual, that takes him to sites scattered throughout the city which are charged with memories of intolerance and racial violence. Through MEMEX, Rokeby invites us to participate in a journey that reinvents the religious pilgrimage for a multimedia, secular age.

With the publication of Jean Fisher's Vampire in the Text (May 2003), inIVA launches a new series of anthologies that - by gathering together both previously published and new writings by leading international art critics - seeks to contribute to a new canon of truly international art history. Later in the year, Kobena Mercer chairs Cosmopolitan Modernisms (October 2003), a symposium that seeks to redefine definitions of modernism, taking into account the level of cross-cultural interaction in the contemporary art world, a concept that lies at the heart of inIVA's mission. October also sees the publication of Guy Brett: Selected Writings on Art, the second title in our new anthology series; texts reflecting the cross-cultural and experimental nature of the London art scene since the 1960s are reproduced alongside seminal essays on Latin American artists.

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