Winter 2007 | ArteZine

Reflections: Jayce Salloum

By and

Q: How do you see the state of contemporary international art? How does art function in today’s global society?


A: There is no one transcendental state of contemporary international art, but if you are speaking of the ‘art market’ then it is generally as it always has been, mediocre, self-serving, ahistorical, neo-liberal or conservative (same diff), and mildly titillating from time to time when it needs new blood. If we can label “contemporary international art” as a genre then I would describe it as exemplary of vacuous conceptualism. It is almost like a cloud of chemical gas that floats through the atmosphere and indiscriminately overwhelms the innocents and not so innocent alike.

Art functions as a commodity globally, or I should say the art market functions in this manner. There are functions of art that differ from this, that rest in elsewhere, but these are predominately buried beneath the pomp and circumstance of the contemporary art world waiting to be ‘discovered’, co-opted and commodified for exportation/importation in an ever revolving cycle of consumption, digestion and excretion to be lumped onto the pile of cultural-compost for ever future endeavors.


Q. What role does scholarship (art criticism, art historical discourse, etc) play in shaping our perceptions and understandings of art?


A: I hope a greater deal than is evident.


Q: How do you read the current interest in Middle Eastern and “Islamic” contemporary art in European and North American art institutions, markets and galleries?


A: This is part of the age-old cycle of repulsion and fascination with all things ‘oriental/other’. It was and is necessary to show artists and works based on their own concepts, not packaged as a remnant from the Worlds’ Fair expositions, where each country (or their sponsor’s) procures a booth. The terms ‘Middle Eastern’, ‘Islamic’, and ‘Arab’ have to be continually questioned and opened up. What are these constructs and are they even relevant in the way they are used presently, or is it another form of appropriation..? There is a renewed (neo)orientism at play, one could even call it a type of colonialism. It is increasingly more fashionable to have a token exhibition with an Arab or Middle-Eastern theme, usually one that avoids the complexities of subjectivity and identity outside of an indexical vein. How are you defining the subject and to what purpose is it being put? Do we all chose to be identified prima facie this way, is this our most important concern? Hardly, I would think. What is more significant is the overlapping and individual concerns of the artists.

The period immediately after 9-11 (up till the end of 2003), is one of a different ilk. Institutions will sometimes dare to use the word ‘arab’, needing something tangible to grab onto. These requirements are comprehendible, but no less disturbing in their gross acts of generalization. (1) During this period there was (and there still is, a certain need, an exigency to have representations from the Arab world visible, demanding a presence of their own and in opposition to the narrow stereotypical gaze that was/is presupposing them/us, denying voices, and attempting to inscribe identities for them and for us. As I wrote in October 2001:

In the current climate of suppression and repression of any debate and dissention, discursive activities such that art can be, may be one of the few domains left for us to express unpopular ideas, resistance, and the complexities of our lives and the lives of those we choose to identify with. We need to protect our right to be self-inscribed. This is one arena that we should not give up on easily, this cultural sphere, these domains of discursivity. We have struggled for this space to call our own and it is one that we can still use to champion difference, to provide a heterogeneous engagement with the social and political realities around us, and to facilitate a means of contemplation that can counter the imposition of consent. (2)


Q: What artists, movements, or schools have had the most impact on your work?


A: Too many to really attribute here but I am a great lover of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists.


Q: As art progresses into the 21st century, can you reflect on art of the last century? What or who marks the importance of art in the 20th century? What or who has ushered in art of the 21st century?


A: The banks.




1. “We should pay attention to language and relationships to the social and political. Being identified as an Arab now has the same repercussions as before except they are heightened. The repulsion and exoticism of the ‘arab’ subject still exists side by side, collapsing into each other and swallowing ‘us’ with it. We cannot have an exhibition these last few years without having to relate it to 9-11. We are not allowed to. It is one of the first questions out of the journalists or critics’ mouths and they demand an answer, one that fits into a sound bite that they can exploit to ‘rewrite’ you as being one of ‘us’, or one of ‘them’.” Jayce Salloum, Fuse Magazine, Toronto: “everything and nothing”, or art and the politics of “war”, Vol 24, #4, 12/01.

2. Ibid.





Jayce Salloum‘s work exists within and between the very personal/local and the trans-national. It engages in an intimate subjectivity and a discursive challenge. He has worked in installation, photography, video, performance and text since 1975, as well as curating exhibitions, conducting workshops and coordinating/facilitating cultural projects. A cultural activist, his work critically engages itself in the perception of social manifestations and political realities. Salloum has lectured worldwide and has exhibited at the widest range of local and international venues possible, from the smallest unnamed storefronts & community centres to institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada; Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Rotterdam International Film Festival; CaixaForum, Barcelona; 8th Havana Biennial and the 7th Sharjah Biennial. His texts have appeared in many journals such as, Third Text, Documents, Framework, Fuse, Felix, Mix, Public, Pubic Culture, and Semiotext(e). An essay on his work recently appeared in Image and Inscription: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Photography, (YYZ/Gallery 44 Press, Toronto). His most recent essay, “sans titre /untitled: the video installation as an active archive” is forthcoming in : Projecting Migration: Transcultural Documentary Practice (Wallflower Press: London, 2007, dist. Columbia Univ. Press), and was recently published in the Documents of Contemporary Art series title The Archive, Whitechapel Gallery, London. In 2006 his work was featured in the 15th Biennale Of Sydney, and in a solo installation at the Museum Villa Stuck, Munich.

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