Inside the curator’s mind: Sara Raza talks to me about curating as a practice for artists

Artists want to be curators & curators want to be artists

I was lucky enough to be one of the selected artists invited to discuss this theme with Sara Raza this week at a Notting Hill gallery where my work is on show. Sara Raza is an independent critic & curator, former curator of public programmes at Tate Modern, critic and an editor for ArtAsiaPacific Magazine (West and Central Asia), & she also reviews editor for Ibraaz a non-profit research platform for Middle East/North Africa, & visiting lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute of Art for the MA Contemporary Art programme since 2010.

Sara structured the discussion by exploring the notion that artists want to be curators & curators want to be artists. And Sara is truly an artist in her own work, very aware of the artist’s perspective, she stands apart from other curators.  It was a fascinating talk that inspired me through her own tremendous achievement, pointed me in the direction of some of the major art shows to become part of, took  a fresh look at the artist from a curator’s perspective, and applied theories and tools she has used to forward her own career to my own as an artist.

Having written on contemporary art for numerous publications (including ArtReview, Artkrush, ArteEast, Bidoun, Contemporary, Nparadoxa to name a few), and with her independent projects which have also received attention from the major press, she is a rather inspiring lady. Here’s a few things I learned:

Sara talked about the crossover between artists and curators, how we have to be aware of each others practices. She sited some artists who cross barriers: Vito Acconci becomes curator of his own pieces, (of the audiences reactions at times), Catherine Bigelow – a Hollywood film maker (Point Break) who originated as an artist, Goshka Macuga (she uses other artists work within her own – curators love her as she does things that they never could, like placing works inside each other – see image above).

One of the big considerations for a curator is location/locality – how does the work fit the place/audience/cultural values… and whilst on a basic level this could just be  a ‘practicality’, to me this highlighted a really important process for an artist to consider: Are we fully aware of our audiences, the spaces in which our work will be shown, its curatorial impacts & our practices in the context/s of the wider world?

Sara impressed that it is important for artists to have discourse with writers and curators, to take their work into a wider context. Sara was keen to stress that an artist should never change their practice to ‘fit’ in with a show / curator / art fair. However, evolving work to respond to a brief is good practice and of course can push you in new directions to break boundaries, particularly as a lot of biennials have special themes or project spaces.

A few great projects that we discussed were: The “I’m a curator” show at Chisenhale Gallery, the No Soul For Sale exhibition at Tate last year where artists and DIY art collectives came into the space. (Actually, it was great that this came up as some of my work showed in the artist community project at Tate Modern during that festival – see below)

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Art fairs – They are no longer just about selling, but have evolved to be multipurpose, artists platforms, networking opportunities, radio showcases, as well as a place for discourse. Check out The Hong Kong Art fair, Armory Art show, Art Basel, Art Maimi Basel, Shanghai Fair, Frieze, and the powerful and magnetic Art Dubai. Biennails to keep an eye on: Sharjah Biennial, Documenta, Manifesta, as well as of course Venice (you’ve got until 27th November to experience it!)

For the artists among you, here was Raza’s final piece of parting advice – the “7 steps of curatorial design” which have helped her through her impressive career, and we discussed how they could also be applied to the artist (e.g. when creating artwork or applying for residencies, writing proposals):

Who – who am I making it for, audience?

Why – what is the situation/purpose

When- Timeframe

Where – Site/locality / space, as well as cultural specificity – are there cultural rules to stick to? (She sited examples of offensive work in strongly religious countries, and a piece which got quarantined in China for containing stuffed horse legs – no dead animal allowed!)

What – what is my work?

What for – goals? aims? Opportunities?

How – How will I achieve this?

Raza has curated, lectured and published internationally. More info on Raza on her website


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