When curator Massimiliano Gioni approached them in November 2016 about including their work in an exhibition he was organizing for the 2017 Triennale di Milano, the members of Syrian documentary collective Abounaddara politely declined. But after Gioni’s exhibition The Restless Earth opened in April, the collective found out that several of their works had been included without consent. Though the collective’s name is not listed on the exhibition’s website, their videos were highlighted in a review of the show, which is being held at the Palazzo della Triennale, Milan’s design museum.
According to a statement they sent to Hyperallergic and posted on Facebook, when members of Abounaddara contacted the exhibition organizers about the unauthorized display of their work, “the Triennale of Milano argue[d] they aren’t exhibiting films, but rather monitors connected to the Abounaddara’s Vimeo Channel where those films are ‘available.’” Hyperallergic reached out to the Triennale’s organizers and the exhibition’s co-organizer, the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, but has not received a reply.
“The Triennale of Milano is making use of films that deal with the Syrian struggle for dignity, to serve an aesthetic-political discourse on the ‘refugee crisis’ from a Western point of view,” the collective told Hyperallergic. “Please note we are not criticizing people, but rather a way of dealing with Syria and artisans of images like us. We need to work with people across the world. All [that] we ask is the respect of our artistic and moral rights.”
Founded in Damascus in 2010, Abounaddara is made up of several documentary filmmakers. The group regularly releases short films through their Vimeo page, where many are available for anyone to watch, though they are often shown in art contexts as well, and not without controversy. One of the collective’s videos is currently included in Documenta 14, but in 2015 the group pulled their video “All the Syria’s Futures” from the central exhibition of the Venice Biennale, All the World’s Futures, alleging that it had been censored.
The Restless Earth is concerned with migration in general and the struggles of Syrian migrants specifically. According to the curatorial statement by Gioni — who, in addition to being the artistic director of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, is the artistic director and director of exhibitions at the New Museum in New York City — it “charts both experiences and perceptions of migration and the current refugee crisis as an epoch-making transformation that is reframing contemporary history, geography, and culture.” However, in an article the collective wrote to accompany their Documenta 14 video, Abounaddara criticizes precisely these kinds of projects as “a form of political opportunism.”
Update, 7/27/2017: A spokesperson for the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi confirmed to Hyperallergic that a video monitor in The Restless Earth had been showing videos by Abounaddara, but that the monitor was removed from the gallery on the morning of Wednesday, July 26.