Seda Shekoyan

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CIMAM 2021 grantee Seda Shekoyan, Curator and Researcher, Aliq Media Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia.

In 2021, 50 contemporary art curators, researchers, and museum professionals from 32 different countries were awarded support to attend the CIMAM 2021 Annual Conference, in-person and online.

For the first time, and thanks to the generous support of The Getty Foundation who sponsored the virtual platform, 27 grantees attended the conference online, while 23 attended onsite.

Launched in 2005, CIMAM’s Travel Grant Program is designed to foster cooperation and cultural exchange between contemporary art curators and museum directors in emerging and developing economies and their counterparts in other regions of the world.

This grant was generously funded by Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow.

Seda Shekoyan's Conference Report

One of the months of this year, November, became the proper time to talk about and rethink emerging issues and challenges surrounding art institutions, modern art museums and their collections. The main reason was the 53rd edition of one of the key events for the modern and contemporary art museum sector, CIMAM Conference titled “Under Pressure: Museums in Times of Xenophobia and Climate Emergency” held in Lodz and Gdansk (Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, called “MOMA of Europe” by curator Bart de Baere, and NOMUS New Art Museum/Branch of National Museum in Gdansk, Poland). It was a real honour and pleasure to be one of the 50 grantees, beneficiaries, curators and online attendees of CIMAM conference with a title and statement echoing the words of the popular song "Under Pressure" by the British band “Queen” and singer David Bowie. This year’s forum offered a unique hybrid format, with the programs adapted to physical and virtual scenarios, with plenty of functionalities, a range of tools and resources to facilitate access and attendance for all CIMAM audiences. This hybrid format also allowed me to interact with other on-site attendees in networking sessions for possible collaborations, as well as gave me the opportunity to virtually attend the major exhibitions in Poland, included in the program through the clips.

By going beyond disciplinary thinking in addressing the responsibility of art institutions and museums in times of climate emergency, the CIMAM conference made it possible to recognize the best ideas, approaches, practices and institutions from social, economic and environmental points of view. I appreciated the main topical areas of the conference with respective keynotes, perspectives and workshops that facilitated small-group conversations on emerging themes and topics by raising awareness about the diversity of contexts and perspectives of the online and offline attendees. It was nice to see colleagues from various countries and continents, and to have a chance to rethink art institutions and museums as spaces for recognizing differences, to incorporate the complex understanding of climate emergency and commonality into their work, to search and find possible methodological tools to address these issues at the level of institutional programming.

This year’s CIMAM conference gave me a more complex and deeper understanding of climate emergency, handy tips for communicating about climate crisis and growing climate migration that has become more pertinent than ever before when humans, with their technological capabilities, are acting as a geological force affecting the planet’s climate system as a whole. By introducing the essentials of climate literacy, the conference helped me to understand why museums and art institutions are important to the success of some of the Sustainable Development Goals and climate-resilient futures. The various talks of the forum discussed the direct relation of climate emergency to human rights, the distinctions between global and planetary (Dipesh Chakrabarty), the hidden and unexplored interrelations between climate emergency and xenophobia, their commonalities as two different outcomes of one process (extractivist capitalism), and the most recent institutional and curatorial responses to them (Oleksiy Radynski, Hilke Wagner), the notion of living well and its relevance for art (Binna Choi), the idea of deep adaptation agenda (resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation) proposed by Jem Bendell as the only accurate response to environmental destruction, and curator Jaroslaw Lubiak’s presentation of some proposals of deep adaptation for art institutions (Jarosław Lubiak, Poland).

Not in all parts of the world do the museums and art institutions have a space or opportunity to play a key role in addressing various conflicts and policies, humanitarian crises, climate emergencies, for promoting inclusion, curiosity and care, supporting post-pandemic strategies, disseminating scientific information, and protecting cultural heritage. In this sense, I would like to emphasize the case study presentation by curator Hilke Wagner (Albertinum, Dresden, East Germany) about impacts and solutions enacted by her art institution Albertinum, that highlights its potential in helping to overcome political difficulties, and the cautious fight of the museum towards the hostile, discriminatory, nationalistic tendencies and xenophobic sentiments in the local context, her criticism of anti-Islam, far-right protest movements, ethno-religious nationalism and ordinary xenophobia.

Many presentations and speakers of the conference questioned the trustworthiness of museums, addressed the power and limitations of art institutions and exhibition display as a medium of exercising an ecological imagination, real care, empathy and curiosity. Artist and curator Joanna Sokolowska approached skepticism openly and invited her doubts into the conversation, in particular expressing her skepticism towards the idea of “museum as agent of change” by stressing the need for humbleness, while also introducing the notion of “sisterhood” and planetary citizenship (Joanna Sokolowska, Poland). Another talk by art historian T. J. Demos centered on the radical futurity, institutional pessimism and the criticism of neoliberal politics of recognition that celebrate difference without practicing real equity for inclusion and participation (T. J. Demos). Filmmaker Oleksiy Radynski took the era of Soviet Communism in the context of climate emergency as a time capsule of knowledge that may be beneficial in times of a climate journey (Oleksiy Radynski, Kyiv), and Otobong Nkanga told about her long-term research platform "Carved to Flow", envisaged as a structure for care, repair and real impact on lived reality (Otobong Nkanga, Nigeria & Antwerp, Belgium), as well as alternative proposals from the global South (Maristella Svampa, Argentina).

As a CIMAM Grantee and Beneficiary, I would like to express my big and heartfelt gratitude to all founding patrons, board members and organizers of CIMAM International Committee of Museums and Collections of Modern Art and CIMAM 2021 Conference, as well as all attendees and everyone who contributed towards the realization of the three days of impressive and inspiring talks and lively discussions moderated by curator Bart de Baere (Antwerpen, Belgium) and others. My sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow for making it possible for me to virtually attend the CIMAM conference, as well as to other foundations and organizations for their vital support and belief in CIMAM, the president of CIMAM Mami Kataoka, director at Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan). The intellectually stimulating atmosphere of the CIMAM conference was ideal in giving me possibilities to experience great horizons of professional interests by bringing fresh ideas and strengthening my curatorial capacities, making us more careful and engaged for climate action and climate-resilient futures. It will have a positive impact on my future professional career by enriching me with a sense of options and opportunities. I greatly benefited from the Forum, and I hope, also contributed significantly to the CIMAM conference with my writings.