Dorian Batycka, curator at Bait Muzna for Art Film, interviews the institution’s director Khaled Ramadan about wearing multiple hats, the importance of context and the archivist as filmmaker
Khaled Ramadan is a curator, documentary filmmaker, artist, journalist and founder of the Chamber of Public Secrets. He co-curated Manifesta 8 in 2008, and the first ever Maldives Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Currently, he is the director of Bait Muzna for Art Film (BMAF), located in Muscat, Oman. In conversation with Dorian Batycka, curator at BMAF, Ramadan discusses his background, the relationship between an expanded curatorial field, documentary aesthetics and the importance of image making in the Arab world.
Dorian Batycka: You are one of the few practitioners that moves between curatorial projects and your own art practice. As a documentary filmmaker, journalist, image maker and curator, how do you negotiate the differences between these fields? Or do you see them as a single expanded field?
Khaled Ramadan: Before I talk about how my work maneuvers between media and art, I need to address this relationship and explain its background. The way in which art is produced and written about has changed for good. Art constantly changes and shifts position and expands in many directions, thus often generating new practices and narratives that may be difficult to describe. During the last decades, there has been a remarkable interaction between cinema, video, photography, animation, computer graphics, etcetera. Trends and genres are integrated into one another, and a variety of technologies and methods are used within one framework. The interaction expands the possibilities of artistic expression, in many cases making the process a central medium in contemporary art practice. With the fusion of new art forms, boundaries are fading and artists like myself working with constructed media find themselves maneuvering between theory, video art, experimental film, documentary, TV production, digital/social activism and curation.
DB: As a result of these changing directions in contemporary art, would you say that your work untangles these hybrid forms successfully?
KR: When organizing exhibitions or art events, I try to focus critically and analytically on the social and historical aspect of the city or the society where the event is meant to take place. I prefer full-scale engagement with the local history. For example, when I worked as co-curator of Manifesta 8, set in Cartagena, Spain, interacting with the social history of the city served as our principal point of departure. During both planning and execution of the exhibition, interacting with the social history of the city made me feel less alien to the local scene. I only use the term curator because it is a recognized term, but what I do often feels more like directing a film than curating, so to speak. Most projects I put together are collective projects that explore the role of contemporary art in modern society with a particular focus on the implications of globalization and the media in relation to our sociopolitical reality.
DB: As a film and image maker, you are often engaged in experimenting with new formats and ideas. How do you typically approach moving image works, as opposed to curatorial projects?
KR: As to my individual work, I lately focused my attention on the culture and history of documentary and experimental film aesthetics. For example, a video called Hysterma (2009), performed by Lebanese artist Raad Yassin and filmed in the busy streets of Cairo, paraphrases Andy Warhol’s Hamburger (1982) video, yet in a way it is anti-hamburger and pro-falafel. In this work, I want to explore how political, cultural, and scientific systems change the ways in which we think about the world around us. The video acts like a cinematic essay that traces the history and archaeology of the iconic Egyp tian food falafel. It also questions the issue of copy right of the falafel and the political struggle between Israel, Lebanon and Egypt over food ownership.
My films, if one can call them that, reflect the work of an archivist, not that of a traditional filmmaker. I often apply and make use of my theoretical knowledge as an art historian in my production. I also enjoy the process of learning when I produce work about communities, people and the evolving social and human system.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The One-on-One Issue #35, pages 60-63.