Past Disquiet is a documentary and archival exhibition based on research conducted by the curators for over a decade around four seed collections of art that were intended to be “museums in solidarity” or “museums in exile”, that incarnated the engagement of artists with a particular political cause. It is an exhibition of stories, told with documents, photographs, pamphlets, press clippings, posters, interviews, and videos.
The research began as the two curators explored how the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, which took place in Beirut (Lebanon) in 1978 and was meant to become the nucleus for a museum in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle. Despite the size and scope of the exhibition, yet unprecedented for the region, it seems to have been totally forgotten. The story of that museum was closely connected to other similar collections and initiatives, namely, the International Museum of The Resistance ‘Salvador Allende’, the Artists Contre/Against Apartheid, and Art for the People of Nicaragua. Their reconstructed stories trace complex and intersecting networks, and rarely explored history of politically engaged artists mobilized in different modes around the causes inscribed in the tri-continental international anti-imperialist solidarity movement of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, such as the opposition to the Vietnam War, the rejection of the Pinochet dictatorship and of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and in support of the Palestinian struggle.
Much like detectives, the curators followed threads from Beirut, Paris, Rome, Rabat, Baghdad, Tokyo, Venice, Santiago, Managua, and Cape Town, back and forth, tracking one thousand and one stories of artists and militants: visionaries and dreamers who organized exhibitions, intervened in public spaces, and created a very particular form of museum to incarnate the causes they were fighting for: museums of solidarity, without walls and museums that were in exile. Eventually, the research refracted an unwritten, or scarcely documented, shared history of politically engaged artists and initiatives, that links grassroots artist collectives in Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Gaborone and Cape Town, artist unions in Damascus, Baghdad, and Casablanca, seminal editions of the Venice Biennial of art, as well as the Arab art biennials in Baghdad and Rabat, and museums in Santiago, Chile and Cape Town. Eventually, we came to realize that we were surfacing a counter-history of art practice, of exhibition histories, of museology, and political mobilization through art worldwide.
The first edition of the exhibition was produced by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in 2015; the second edition by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin in 2016; the third was produced by the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA) and the last was produced by the Sursock Museum in Beirut, both in 2018. This new edition, produced by the Zeitz MOCAA, brings home stories of international solidarity in the arts with struggle against Apartheid and has provided the opportunity to access local archives and to engage with militants, historians, and scholars, and create an additional chapter that foregrounds the vibrant resonance of local militant artistic practice from the 1970s and 1980s with kin practices worldwide.
Research for Past Disquiet was made possible thanks to the support of Rana Sadik and Samer Younis, the Sharjah Art Foundation, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC), ZedGrant, the A. M. Qattan Foundation, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA), Tensta Konsthall, Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej Warszawie, tranzit.hu, and the Institut national de l’histoire de l’art.
The exhibition and visual identity are designed by Studio Safar, a design agency and publisher established in Beirut (2012) and in Montreal (2020).
Zeitz MOCAA’s curatorial and educational programming is generously supported by Gucci and the Mellon Foundation.
Meet the Curators
Photo credit: Belal Hibri
Kristine Khouri is an independent researcher and writer whose research interests focus on the history of arts circulation and infrastructure in the Arab world, and archival practices and dissemination. Khouri is a member of the board of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.
Photo credit: Christoph Terhechte
Rasha Salti is a writer, researcher, and curator of art and film living and working between Beirut and Berlin.
Together, Khouri and Salti are cofounders of the History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group, a research platform focused around the social history of art in the Arab world. They co-authored the essay “Beirut’s Musée Imaginaire: The promise of modernity in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Their current project, Past Disquiet, is a long-term research project which began in 2008 and was transformed into a documentary and archival exhibition. Khouri and Salti are the coeditors of the forthcoming publication, Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, and Museums in Exile published by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (2018).