Summer Reading

Summer Reading – On Informality and Nomadism

From our friends at Art Papers, today we bring you an essay on conservation, colonialism, and the “black market archive” of Pakistani film. Author Timothy P.A. Cooper explains, “The case filed by Iqbal Geoffrey, DesiTorrents, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum are haunted by traces of Pakistan’s visual cultural archive—nomadic ghosts of empire that evade the exoteric movements of decolonization in favor of fluid, informal modes of transportation.” This article was originally published in the March/April 2015 issue.bukhari-6

“That England is populated will always come as a surprise; humans can live on an island only by forgetting what an island represents.”

“Nobody has tried it, but in Pakistan I have. Somebody has to do it. We can’t accept the status quo.” Iqbal Geoffrey, writing here in 2005, refers to his intention to subject a selection of employees of London’s Hayward Gallery to polygraph tests to reveal data evidence of what he suspected to be inherent racism. The Pakistani artist, and prominent lawyer, was in the process of filing a claim of racial discrimination against the Hayward Gallery under the recently introduced Human Rights Act. It was his claim that his works left over from a 1989 show were destroyed or mislaid through the active collusion of curators, staff, and cleaners. For the 160 works lost, and the 140 damaged, the artist was offered £65,000, but he instead launched a £65 million claim. Geoffrey, whose biography is shrouded in self-mythology (the Queen, in a rare show of lexical dexterity, reportedly called him the “Arts Counsel of Great Britain”) and audacious acts of career sabotage (including submitting his PhD thesis to the Harvard Law School in the form of a stack of bound black pages), was once one of the leading lights of the early 1960s London art scene. In protest over what he saw as the “cultural apartheid” of the British milieu, Geoffrey became a partially reclusive figure, and his calligraphic abstractions have given way to an extensive series of mail-art projects and litigious interventions.

The short narrative of Iqbal Geoffrey reflects many of the core issues concerning the modern repatriation of cultural objects sent abroad, their dispossession, and these processes’ resulting archival and museological dissonance—with which it will be possible, for instance, to fashion at least one contextual framework for Tate Britain’s exhibition, Artist and Empire, opening in autumn 2015. In time-honored fashion, this major introspective will catalogue the various responses to empire that can be read by reimagining the trade routes and trajectories of collecting habits from point B (the colony) to point A (the metropole). Geoffrey’s lavish call for reparations is symptomatic of serious unease and imbalance within and with regard to prevalent Western museum politics and curatorial models. These will no doubt be eloquently explored by Okwui Enwezor when he curates the 2015 Venice Biennale, but, leaving the circumambulation of this well-trodden path to the experts, we can turn our attention to informal networks of cultural flow, correlative but not imitative of the exporting of images of empire in the 19th century, and the afterlives of those museums left over, like empty munitions factories in the former colonies.

Read the full article here.