Monday 9 July 2012

Comfort and disturbance

Photo: Lalla Essaydi

Returning to Washington; meeting again my fellowship colleagues and the Kennedy Center team; the new fellows joining us this year; the first week of seminars, projects and presentations; the first museums and shows; the 4th of July celebration; the talks, the endless talks, about the history that is being written in some of our fellows´ countries... An inundation of thoughts and feelings.

The first seminars reminded us of the clarity of the Kennedy Center mission and of how disciplined this team is. Disciplined in the sense of concentrated, focused, organized, clear about its path and where it aims to get to. And I was unable not to feel once again surprised by the fact that all its members ‘speak the same language’, something I had never seen in practice before coming to the Kennedy Center and haven´t seen again since. There are no ‘deviations’ (which does not mean there may not be disagreements), the mission is concrete and everyone knows what he/she has to do to fulfill it. This is not easy to happen, but it is not impossible either. It takes a strong leader, conscious and clear about his/her vision; it takes good professionals surrounding the leader; it takes perseverance and discipline; it takes work, a lot of work; and it takes talking, a lot of talking, as Michael Kaiser would say.

This year we are joined by fellows from Oman, Singapore, Australia, Zimbabwe, Bosnia, Albania, Ireland, England and Colombia.  Each one represents a particular case within the cultural management field: publicly funded institutions, private ones, personal projects, funding institutions. Each one faces very specific challenges, but there are others, common almost to all: concerns regarding funding and sustainability; lack of cultural policies in the countries of origin; lack of planning; the audineces and their tastes and needs; social and technological challenges. As we are getting to know our new colleagues, it is with great pleasure and satisfaction that we are finding out about the progresses of some of the old ones in the last year; the small or big changes they have managed to bring about in their institutions, a result of our learnings at the Kennedy Center and also through our colleagues in the fellowship, experienced, entrepreneurial, intelligent, informed and concerned cultural managers. Being in their company is a great challenge.

The concerns of our egyptian colleagues regarding their new President (a member of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the stance he´s going to adopt regarding culture and the arts have often been the subject of discussion. I look at those people: courageous, determined, sensitive, full of dreams and willing to create and have an impact in their society (through culture and the arts), people who are fighting for democracy, who value their freedom and who reveal, at the same time, some anxiety and scepticism regarding the possible results of this fight. I think again of Marta Porto´s text The imaginary, a space for thinking about democracy, which was published here last week. I think again of the debate among North Africa Thinkers (in french) which the Programme Next Future organized last month. And I think of all of us, who assume the role, among others, of guardians of the democratic values. And I ask myself: What has happened to our democracy? What has happened to us? How do we use our freedom? What does it mean the fact that we have given up on our right and obligation to get involved in the affairs of the community (the ancient greeks used to call the person who would not get involved in the affairs of the city an “idiot”, which at the time meant “a private person”)? The fact that we are fighting for ideals and convictions, but we observe a strategic silence when these ideals are being violated by people whom we might need in the future? Or the fact that we consider ourselves to be untouchable and unaccountable when we take up management positions (at any level)? Culture nurtures sensitive and critical minds, it cultivates values, but little may happen if there is not a good fertilizer, that is intellectual honesty and awareness of the responsibilty, both personal and collective.

“The arts should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”, quoted a fellow during his presentation. And I had beautiful moments of comfort and disturbance last week. On Sunday, I visited Lalla Essaydi´s exhibition Revisions at the National Museum of African Art. Lalla Essaydi projects on the female body her thoughts on issues of genre, culture and religion. The exhibition includes photos, paintings and installations; beautiful, refreshing, provocative and sensual images. On Thursday, it was the premiere of Giselle at the Kennedy Center, by the Ballet de l´Opéra National de Paris, which is on tour in the US. It´s been many years since I last saw this ballet. The second act was of an indescribable beauty.


Rui Matoso said...

Olá Maria,

Achei muito pertinente este "post", especialmente o trecho «And I ask myself: What has happened to our democracy? What has happened to us? How do we use our freedom? (...)» . São questões que tb me tenho colocado e tentado debater, do ponto de vista discursivo e pragmático, nomeadamente ao nível local (da comunidade/cidade) onde vivo regularmente (Torres Vedras).

Julgo que é à escala humana (a cidade, devido ao factor proximidade e à interacção social mais frequente: é fácil esbarrar com um "detentor de poder" ao virar da esquina) que o uso crítico da liberdade de expressão se torna mais operativo, mas tb mais calculista/oportunista. Talvez por isso os "agentes culturais" se remetam quase sempre ao silêncio público, não dando publicidade às suas ideias e opiniões, calculando os problemas que daí poderão advir numa sociedade democraticamente ténue.

Lembrei-me tb dos meus texto publicados no Jornal Badaladas (, um semanário regional/local...e que a Maria, caso ache relevante pode consultar aqui:

Obrigado e
Um beijinho,
Rui Matoso

Maria Vlachou said...

Rui, muito obrigada pelo teu comentário e pela partilha das tuas preocupações, que são também minhas e de outras pessoas.

As conversas com os meus colegas egípcios continuam muito presentes na minha cabeça. Houve momentos que perante o entusiasmo, o optimismo, o sonho do futuro democrático, senti-me profundamente scéptica, considerando o caminho que nós temos levado e o "uso" que temos dado.

Continua também muito presente a conversa dos pensadores do Norte de África (chegaste a ver a gravação?) e o momento em que discutiram a aparente "abstenção" da Argélia da Primavera Árabe. A convidada argelina falou de iniciativas pontuais, quase individuais, ao longo dos últimos 50 anos. Falou do medo e do facto das pessoas não se terem juntado, não terem reagido como corpo social. E disse ainda: "O que é revolução? Revolução é dizer 'não' ao rei"...

Acabo de ler uma série de textos de Aung San Suu Kyi e num deles ela começa afirmando que não é o poder que corrompe, é o medo: o medo de perder o poder ou de ser castigado por ele. E isto diz tudo.

Obrigada pela partilha dos teus textos. Irei ler com muito interesse e atenção.