Shumon Basar, the director of the Global Art Forum 2014, discusses the programme of cultural debates taking place next month in Doha and at Art Dubai.
The Global Art Forum offers cultural debate and this year’s topic, Meanwhile … History, is fascinating but maybe not directly related to art. Why is this conversation relevant to the art fair?
It’s relevant to you as a human being more than being relevant to an art fair. Yes, it takes place during Art Dubai, but we’ve developed an intellectual autonomy and energy that is informed by where we are in the world and, indeed, in time. Art as a topic isn’t privileged over other topics. I think that’s healthy. The most compelling art today illuminates the world. In that respect, the “protest against forgetting” has limitless relevance.
The speakers are from varying disciplines. How do you pick them?
The co-directors Ala Younis and Omar Berrada, Art Dubai’s chief Antonia Carver, our team at Art Dubai and previous guests of the Forum – everyone is mined for suggestions. The result comes from mixing accident with carefully crafted order. For example, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera’s new book is about the coup against Salvador Allende in 1973, so Oscar is an ideal host on a session about the Short Seventies. We investigate histories in the Gulf, from the death of pearl diving in the UAE to modern Khaleeji architecture and the influence of Sudanese intellectuals in the late 1960s and early 1970s. [The artist collective] Slavs and Tatars suggested we look at Soviet Orientalism, so that’s what Masha Kirasirova from NYU Abu Dhabi is going to do. All in all, it’s kaleidoscopic time travel.
Do such discussions have a lasting effect on the community?
It’s not for me to say. All I know is from my own experience, being at the right event and listening to the right person can change how you think.
There is an impression that cultural debate engages only those already in the cultural community. Do you agree? And what would you say to encourage the public to visit?
It’s also a social, historical and political debate, in the broadest sense, and the fact that we have diversified the topics in the past few years hopefully makes it more appealing to a greater audience. I urge everyone who is curious about ideas to come along. Thinking will never feel like so much fun.
• The Global Art Forum is at Katara Art Center in Doha, March 15 to 16. Art Dubai runs from March 19 to 21. Visit www.artdubai.ae/global-art-forum for more information