Expanding Your Horizons: Far-Flung Residencies

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Image Credit: Balbina Sarda

Pau Cata, Curator and Researcher, The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map • www.nacmm.org


But singing the praises of nomadism today within the narrow scope of the European framework, without the radical political demands for equality (as is so often done in contemporary art discourse), appears self-congratulatory, even narcissistic. In such cases, nomadism suggests a contemporary neo-primitivism, one that subscribes to a fantasy of freedom from all attachments, but which cruelly operates in a system that denies that freedom to the very itinerant peoples from whom it borrows its name.1

- T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image

The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map Online Platform

The NACMM – North Africa Cultural Mobility Map – is a research and info-platform about residency and mobility initiatives for artists, writers and researchers interested in traveling and developing projects in or within North Africa. The platform aims at promoting a better understanding of the socio-cultural contexts of the region and strengthening artistic and research collaborations between North African countries.

In order to achieve these goals, the project facilitates:
   ·          A database of mobility programs operating in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt
   ·          Video interviews with artists, curators, researchers and artist-in-residency coordinators in the region
   ·          Information about networking and funding opportunities
   ·          A resources section with artist-in-residency networks and other useful websites
   ·          A research section with relevant on‐line tools, creative projects and experiences on the topic of          cultural mobility in North Africa

NACMM Interviews

One key aspect of the NACMM is the video interviews conducted with different artists, researchers, curators and artist-in-residency coordinators in North Africa. Since 2012, and thanks to the support of different funding institutions, the NACMM team has conducted a series of video interviews in Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. These interviews give shape to an archive of the different infrastructures that comprise the contemporary art scenes of North Africa.
Thanks to the support of different institutions such as the Departament de Cultura de la Generalitat de Catalunya and the Scottish Graduate School for Art and Humanities as well as the hospitality of the Marrakech-based cultural association Le 18, fifteen interviews were done in Morocco. These interviews included artist-in-residency program coordinators as well as art critics, curators and artists such as
   ·          Aniko Boehler, cultural activist and curator based in Marrakech
   ·          Elisabeth Piskernik, coordinator of Le Cube Art Space in Rabat
   ·          Philippe Laleu, artist and former director of the French Institute in Fez
   ·          Karen Headfield, coordinator at Cafe Tissardmine Residency Program near Erfoud
   ·          Jess Stephens, artist-in-residency coordinator at Culture Vultures in Sefru
   ·          Xavier de Luca, founder and director of JISER Reflexions Mediterrànies, based between Catalonia and Tunisia
   ·          Azzeddine Abdelouhabi, director of the contemporary art festival OrientA in Oujda
   ·          Bouchra Salih, independent manager of cultural projects, Rabat
   ·          Mohamed Rachdi, artist, independent curator and art critic in charge of cultural sponsorship at La Société Générale, Casablanca
   ·          Rachida Triki, philosopher, independent curator and full professor of Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art at Tunis University
   ·          Myriam Amroun, coordinator of DJART '14, Algiers
   ·          Ilaria Conti, co-curator of the Marrakech Biennale 2016
   ·          Jean Feline, artist and coordinator of the MINT Collective in Marrakech
   ·          Nicole Billi and Mohamed Boussadi, co-coordinators of the Ke’ch Collective in Marrakech
   ·          Mo Baala, multimedia artist and poet

In 2014, thanks to support from the Anna Lindh Foundation through the Dawrak Citizen Exchange Program and facilitation by the Alexandria-based cultural association El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts, 10 interviews were done in Egypt. The interviews included the following artist-in-residency coordinators:
   ·          Abdala Daif, project manager at Gudran for Arts and Development in Alexandria
   ·          Mohab Saber, project coordinator at El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts in Alexandria
   ·          Reem Kassem, director at Agora Arts and Development in Alexandria
   ·          Mohamed Abla, director at the Fayoun Art Center in Fayoun
   ·          Badr Abdel Moghny, creator of the Badr’s Museum and artist-in-residency in Farafra Oasis
   ·          Hamdi Reda, director of Artellewa in Cairo
   ·          Jens Maier‐Rothe, Antonia Alampi and Habiba Effat, coordinators at Beirut Art Space in Cairo
   ·          Mohammed El Banna, director of the Jesuit Cultural Center in Cairo
   ·          Karima Mansour, director of the Cairo Contemporary Arts Center in Cairo
   ·          Hassan El Geretly, director at El Warsha Theater in Cairo

In 2016, thanks to the support of Jiser Reflexions Mediterrànies and DJART, NACMM will continue with interviews and fieldwork in Algeria and Tunisia. The interviews are heterogeneous in the sense that they not only include the thoughts, worries and hopes of different artist-in-residency coordinators but also engage in the current debates about the development of contemporary creative and research practices in the region. The aim of this archive is to provide artists and researchers alike with the tools to have a deeper insight into topics related to hospitality, cultural exchange and mobility while simultaneously developing a better understanding of the socio-cultural realities of North Africa.

The NACMM Debate
If we look at the ways in which artist-in-residency development is explained on TransArtists,2 the most popular international artist-in-residency program network, we will see that the history of artist-in-residency programs is being narrated as a process that expands from the West to the rest. Alongside this mainstream discourse, though, initiatives that promote mobility, hospitality and cultural exchange through artistic practices and more have a long tradition in the Arab region. The NACMM is an attempt to rethink the history of artists-in-residency from an Arab perspective. With this aim in mind, we propose three main areas of reflection:

1. New historiographies of artist-in-residency programs from an Islamic perspective
The avenues we propose to explore to unearth new ways of understanding the history of artists-in-residency from an Islamic perspective go back to the 10th century and the practices developed by merchants and travellers alike through the trade routes – the Madrassas, or Quranic schools, that promoted interdisciplinary dialogue through long-term residential stays and the Hajj, or pilgrimage, as the ultimate strategy of exchange and encounter. In our understanding, these could be examples that expand taken-for-granted notions of artistic mobility, hospitality and cultural exchange from diverse perspectives in which the artist is not placed at the center of the equation, but instead becomes another piece of the process of getting to discover the other. We propose, then, an archaeology of globalization as a way of rethinking the chronology of artist-in-residencies while at the same time giving voice to invisible histories. The objective would be to unfold new understandings of the richness and potentialities of artist-in-residency programs through a trans-cultural approach to creative production. 

2. Arab artistic developments and the romantic idea of the artist as individualThe artist-in-residency sector in North Africa is as heterogeneous as the countries and cultures that shape the region. Some artist-in-residency programs do not have a structured format; rather, they adapt to the particular necessities of artists and researchers and react, most importantly, to the socio-cultural contexts they grow into. In fact, it has been the debate about the responsibilities of artist-in-residency programs to their communities that has been key when rethinking creative practices in relation to social justice, activism and the ethical dimensions of creative practice. In fact, different meetings and symposiums3 have taken place to discuss the functions, responsibilities and potentialities of artist-in-residencies in the role of cultural innovators. As Ashis Nandy points out, though, it might be not only innovation but also “an unheroic but critical traditionalism” that can become a key aspect in order to invent and reinvent much-needed “signs familiar to the popular imaginary.”4 In our understanding, these signs are crucial to bridging the gap between theory and artistic practices within everyday life.

In contraposition to the mainstream West, in Arab cultures the tradition of individualism is contested by the function of the community as the central aspect of the individual’s development. Although this focus on the community can sometimes be suffocating, we believe that there is a lot to learn from a culture that displaces and unsettles the “I” in favor of the “We”. How does this change of perspectives affect artistic production? What are the challenges that it poses to western notions of “aesthetics”? And which repercussions might this shift have on the future development of artist-in-residency programs in the region and beyond?

3. The appropriations of hospitality and its dissidence
In recent years, hospitality has emerged as a category in Western academic thinking that encompasses a range of issues associated with immigration and other types of journeys. The term is also commonly used as the main characteristic of the artist-in-residency model. We propose to study the epistemologies of this concept from an Islamic perspective as well, and to consider how hospitality and its dissidence are defined, practiced and represented in European and Arab fictions, theories and myths at the start of the twenty first century.5 Following the reasoning in Mireille Rosello’s book Postcolonial Hospitality, we can see different ways in which Western powers rewrite ideals of hospitality that are borrowed from a variety of sources and that sometimes constitute an incompatible system of values. Hospitality is a key term when we talk about artist-in-residency programs, but the field of artist-in-residency studies lacks in-depth research on the overlaps between artistic mobility and the imbalances created by global socio-cultural flows. With the North African region as a framework, how can this hospitality be rethought and implemented? How are local art histories being rewritten through the guest/host relationship? And what is to be learned from Islamic approaches to hospitality in the context of North African artist-in-residencies?

The NACMM is a cartographic exercise that intends to reflect upon all these questions while portraying the richness and diversity of residencies in the region. Complemented by the different sections of the NACMM online platform, the map aims at rethinking the traditions and contradictions, the interests and imbalances of cultural mobility in the region today.

NACMM Partners

The NACMM project is being developed by:

CeRCCa – Center for Research and Creativity Casamarles is a cultural association created in 2009 in Catalonia. CeRCCa works with a double strategy. On one hand, it provides living and working space for artists and researchers through its artist-in-residency program. Through its interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to artistic creation, the program responds to CeRCCa’s interest in rooting itself in the local community. In order to link the local with the global, CeRCCa also develops international research and curatorial projects that have critical reflection on the phenomenon of cultural mobility as a common denominator.

El Madina for Performing and Digital Arts was founded in 2000 in Alexandria, Egypt. It works in arts and culture through training, production and culture-space management and supports artists and youth initiatives. El Madina works closely with local communities to create a cohesive social environment characterized by diversity and pluralism. Its activities range from public workshops and training in theater and new media to production support and interventions in the urban fabric of Alexandria and beyond.

Le 18 is an independent, multidisciplinary cultural space in the medina of Marrakech that hosts artist-in-residency programs, exhibitions and monthly gatherings in a variety of artistic disciplines. The space has become a cultural point of reference in the city as its activities develop, ingrained in the socio-cultural territory of the city. KawKaw is a project initiated by Le 18 in 2015 that responds to the need to create new spaces of dialogue and exchange for artistic initiatives in the Maghreb region. The Kawkaw project comprises a production and research artist-in-residency program, an annual exhibition and a series of public talks.

JISER Reflexions Mediterrànies is an association that promotes artistic projects with the objective of fostering the mobility of young artists while encouraging cultural exchange in the EuroMediterranean region. One of its main initiatives is the Résidences de Création BCN>TNS, an artistic residency exchange between the cities of Barcelona and Tunis. As part of the Euro-Mediterranean platform Trans-Cultural Dialogues, JiSER created DJART, which was initially a festival but has now evolved into a cultural association that is active in Algeria, developing projects that combine art, the public space and critical reflections on urban transformations in Algiers.

L’Atelier de l’Observatoire is an association based 30km outside of Casablanca. The project fosters relationships between artists, researchers and the general public, in close partnership with social activists and local communities in Morocco. L’Atelier de l’Observatoire works at the crossroads of heritage, contemporary art and environmental issues, producing and presenting exhibitions, workshops, training programs, artworks by emerging artists, publications and research projects.

During 2016 and 2017, the objective of the North Africa Cultural Mobility Map team is to coordinate a series of meetings and public workshops in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt organized by each of its partner organization. In this way, the Maghreb region can be fueled and fed by its own active organizations on the ground, creating a closed-organism feedback loop which will both sustain and draw from its constituents. During upcoming meetings, an important discussion topic will be the necessity to join forces with already-existent local networks.

The North Africa Cultural Mobility Map is by no means a complete project; rather, it is an open and organic online portal. We look forward to your comments and feedback!


[1] T.J. Demos, The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

[2] “The first wave of artist-in-residence programs as we still know them, arose around 1900. In the United Kingdom and the United States, art-loving benefactors regarded the offering of guest studios to individual artists as a new kind of romantic patronage.” See www.transartists.org/residency-history.

[3] Cairo Residency Symposium, How to Develop Honest Reciprocity? (2009); Warsaw Residency Symposium, Retooling Residencies (2009) and Amsterdam (2010); and the Nida Arts Colony Symposium on Remoteness (2012) to name just a few.

[4] Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of the Self under Colonialism (Oxford University Press, 1989).

[5] Mirelle Rosello, Postcolonial Hospitality. The Immigrant as Guest (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002).