Feb 16, 2014

'The Ethical Presenter'

 Marissa Hicks-Alcaraz

As an undergrad in Middle Eastern and North African Studies it was major part of our program's curriculum to understand the ways in which the Middle East has been represented by the West, both in the past and in the present. As Charlotte Banks in “The Constant Dilemma: Curating the 'Middle East'” explains “the Arab world has been presented for so long, it has been described, studied, mapped, put into museums, [and] objectified in so many ways...” The phenomena of Orientalist paintings in the nineteenth century is but one example in a long tradition of the West's misrepresentation of the Arab world. In thinking about curating a film series featuring films by Arab and/or Arab American filmmakers as a possibility for our final project, my responsibility to the artists, their works and the audience is foremost, in my opinion, to not fall into the same old traps as Banks warns in her essay.

So, how does a responsible curator make decisions that are just to the artists, their work and the audience? Laura U. Marks' “The Ethical Presenter: Or How to Have Good Arguments over Dinner” is useful in that it offers a model of a program that is carefully prepared, but does not try to control the interaction between the work and the audience. She argues that the ethical presenter frames a program with an argument. A concise argument allows the curator to fulfill their responsibilities to both its artists and audiences and makes clear the criteria of quality, pleasure and a broader significance. Banks also makes an important argument regarding the responsibility of curating non-Western and especially Middle Eastern art, asserting that a “solid basis of historical, art historical and cultural knowledge related to the specific region on the side of the curator” is crucial. This knowledge should be used to present a well-grounded project to the audience, while allowing the latter to interact freely with the work.

There's validity to both approaches, and I believe that my project calls for the use of both. An ethically responsible program would necessitate a clear defendable argument regarding the quality and significance of the films I were to choose, as well as a solid understanding of the broader issues that surround the works. And of course, as Marks emphasizes, an argument with feeling and heart.

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