On Saturday 12 September, the Kamarado group exhibition opened at the SMBA. Kamarado is the fourth and last in a series of collaborative projects that are part the three-year Global Collaborations research and exhibition project. After collaborative exchanges with KUNCI in Yogyakarta, the AUB Gallery in Beirut and the Belgrade Museum of Contemporary Art, the Stedelijk Museum/SMBA entered into a dialogue with Clark House Initiative in Bombay, India. Clark House Initiative was founded in 2010 by Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah, as a curatorial collaborative, an experimental institution and an artists’ union concerned with ideas of freedom. In the past year, Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah have collaborated with Jelle Bouwhuis and Kerstin Winking, curators for Global Collaborations, to realise the ambitious two-part Kamarado project, whose Amsterdam edition consists of an exhibition and a related public program. After Amsterdam, the project will travel to Bombay.
As was the case in the first exhibition project in the series, Made in Commons, which took place at the end of 2013 and was developed in collaboration with the KUNCI art platform in Indonesia, the important themes of ‘collectiveness’ and ‘the commons’ are at the centre of the Kamarado project. What meaning or importance does camaraderie still hold, when so many want to close national frontiers to those fleeing from war and terror? What does camaraderie mean in a society driven by materialism, profit and ‘my happiness before anyone else’s’?
The themes of collectiveness and communality are intrinsically linked in the term ‘comrade’. The title of the exhibition, ‘kamarado’, is from Esperanto, the politically neutral language developed in the late 19th century to encourage transcultural communication and exchange. In the first place, the term is associated with such political ideologies as socialism and communism, but, as the curators write in their introduction to the exhibition, the term also evokes connotations of less utopian ideals.
Six artists from different parts of the world were invited to participate in the exhibition, reflecting on the meaning of the term ‘comrade’ from their own practices, contexts and world views: Sharelly Emanuelson from the Netherlands, Adrian Melis from Cuba, Amol K. Patil and Rupali Patil from India, Sawangwongse Yawnghe from Burma, Sosa Joseph from Kerala, India, and Jeronimo Voss from Germany. In the exhibition, the new works conceived and realized for the project are complemented with a number of existing works by Judy Blum Reddy, Mieke Van der Voort, Htein Lin and Rupali Patil, which, as the curators express it, operate as ‘cues’, referencing the historical complexities and relations between the new works. By inserting these cues, the curators want to show the connectivity between ‘here and there’, the present and the recent past, and to speculate on a possible narrative regarding the central theme of the exhibition, which is not based on similarities or a singular position, but instead shows the various manifestations and identities of the comrade today.
Can You Describe This?
Can You Describe This?, an essay written by Zasha Colah, one of the curators, for the SMBA Newsletter, makes it clear that there might be another theme running through the exhibition. This is the question of if, and how, we can describe any situation (‘this’) when confronted with images of terror, war, destruction and repression, with a ‘degree zero of political capacities’. ‘To describe alone, in the sphere of intellectual production, is considered a low form that precedes analysis, critical judgment, and theory. (…) Yet describing or description is also a method that is applied in literature and art history.’ Colah then refers to Svetlana Alpers’ seminal study (1983) on 17th-century Dutch painting and its relation to the prevalent optical theories of those times.
Contrary to narrative, description carries an aura of objectivity and neutrality. But, as is the proposition of Jeronimo Voss’ installation, Initial (Aspects of the Milky Way), which engages with the work and life of the Dutch socialist and astronomer Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960), ‘description is also something unstable’. In Pannekoek’s case, for instance, his observations and descriptions of the stars and the Milky Way were shaped by his socialist ideas regarding the correlations and interdependences within the social (i.e., ideal socialist) sphere.
Kamarado is on view at the SMBA from 12 September through 8 November. An informal walk-through, with interviews with the artists about their work by Clark House Initiative and the SMBA took place before the exhibition opened. On Sunday, 13 September, a special public event further extrapolated the exhibition’s different themes in a programme of performances, films and a lecture.