What qualifies as South Asian futurisms? How does a curator investigate this topic with care?
Throughout this fellowship, I found myself returning to my favorite childhood hadith: ربِّ زِدْنِي عِلْماً – — “Oh Lord, Increase Me in My Knowledge.” Until recently, the majority of artists with whom I was in conversation were class- or caste-privileged and in or around the New York area. How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with obscured histories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the fine art landscape — and with my own purview?
I reflected on the frustrations of artists who share experiences in which curators have approached them with reductive exhibition proposals based solely on common racial or gender identifiers. A few of the artists I interviewed for this fellowship also expressed hesitation about being included within the category “South Asian futurisms.” I receive their feedback with gratitude.
I seek a constructive, open-ended, and mutable framework of South Asian futurisms spacious enough to encompass the subaltern narratives of caste-oppressed and religiously marginalized communities. I do not have all the answers, but I do have a growing trove of questions.
Thus, I present a working checklist for curators conceiving thematic exhibitions connected to South Asian and subaltern futurisms that includes input from contemporary artists and scholars (denoted by their name next to the proposed question). My intention is that these questions will guide myself and other curators, thinkers, and writers as we strive to avoid replicating ingrained biases.
Curatorial Framework Checklist for South Asian Futurisms
Intention of Terminology
What do futurism and South Asia represent and what set of supremacies within those two ideas must we first acknowledge? — Himali Singh Soin, artist
What does futurism look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like to me?
What does futurism look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like to the artist?
What are the limitations of the English language when describing South Asia?
What are the cultural identifying terms with which the artist does — or does not — connect? Do they wish to be identified as such in writing? Are these terms necessary to include? Do they add substance to the scholarship?
What are the limitations of the English language when describing notions of time, space, and geography? How am I framing and contextualizing my choice of terminology?
Acknowledging and Dismantling Hierarchy
Am I aware of my own relationship to caste and class?
Have I made active, genuine efforts to connect with artists outside of my own caste, class, gender, geographical proximity and/or religious identity?
What are the caste identities of the artists I am including?
Am I tokenizing?
Is the curation subverting, maintaining, or making invisible the caste system? How do I implement Ambedkarite discourse in an informed manner? — Prabhakar Kamble, curator, activist, and artist
Am I maintaining or disrupting hierarchical constructs of class?
Am I maintaining or disrupting linear Eurocentric notions of time, space, and geography?
What is the role of historical consciousness when conceiving futurisms?
Artistic Intention and Process
What is the artist’s intention? What drives their practice? — Subash Thebe Limbu, artist
What artists, thinkers, or movements influence the artist’s work and understanding of futurism?
Who are the artists’ collaborators?
What natural environments have informed the artist’s work?
What archives and primary sources does the artist reference in their research?
What religious iconography is the artist employing? Is it critical and with regard to caste?
How does the artist see their work fitting into the broader context of futurism and historical and contemporary social justice movements?
Am I creating a safe space for the artists? For myself?
What are the contexts in which the artist would like their work to be viewed — formally, materially, and beyond? — Melissa Joseph, artist
How can I assist this artist in reaching the utmost potential for their desired project? — Sa’adia Rehman, artist
What are the resources and technologies available to the artist? How has this influenced their practice?
How has the artist faced — and overcome — epistemic and systemic injustice?
How am I accessing and providing resources so artists may execute their ideas? Do I have the capacity and skills to do so?
Am I giving thoughtful critique and feedback, or am I projecting my own desires?
Sustainability and Connectedness
Am I building a lasting, sustainable, and symbiotic relationship with the artist?
How am I considering climate precarity and materials/waste in my curation? — Anjuli Raza Kolb, associate professor in Arts & Sciences at Dartmouth University
How do we maintain artistic integrity when curating in a commercial space? In an institutional space? On a digital platform?
How does this curation foster connectedness?
Editor’s Note: This is part of the 2022/23 Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, and the second of three posts by the author, the third of which will be an online exhibition sent to all Hyperallergic subscribers. Register here for Sadaf Padder’s virtual event moderated by Editor-in-Chief Hrag Vartanian on Tuesday, March 28, at 6pm (EDT).