Magazine article Artforum International

Rasheed Araeen

Magazine article Artforum International

Rasheed Araeen

Article excerpt

SOUTH LONDON GALLERY

Rasheed Araeen is probably best known outside Great Britain for his role as a founding editor of Third Text, a quarterly publication that has contributed significantly to the current discourse on non-Western art. But this publishing initiative is only half the story; Araeen's career as an artist stretches back to the '50s. In the '60s, his work addressed a wide range of issues and incorporated a broad range of conceptual frames, including systems theory, time-based performance, and the geometry and structure of constructed objects. Trained as a civil engineer, Araeen produced metal works that were modular, monochrome, and utilized an open latticework system. The reception of this work was often explained by referencing Araeen's Pakistani background. The modular and repetitive nature of these pieces was explained (to the artist's chagrin) by reference to Islamic architectural and decorative motifs. In retrospect, this misreading seems to have triggered the central concern of Araeen's career: how to contest and contend with a culturally brutalizing and patronizing mode of consumption and interpretation of non-Western art by Western audiences.

For Araeen and others, the problem with London's art establishment of the '60s was its failure to come to grips with a "black" artist's contribution without exoticizing it in some ludicrous manner. (In Britain, by the way, there is a long-standing tendency to refer to all nonwhites as "black"; a telling linguistic convention in light of this discussion.) Moreover, it's clear that Araeen's work at the time was hardly bereft of a signifying context: artists such as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, and Carl Andre were familiar figures on the international scene and the corresponding discourse of "Minimalism" well rehearsed in the art press. Despite this, Araeen's work was taken to be somehow more significant for the culture it seemed to evoke, rather than the culture it actually constituted.

During the last few decades, during which such issues were being widely debated, Araeen returned frequently to the theme of "fear of blackness." With the onset of the Gulf War in 1991, he found an opportunity to further his analysis of racism and to continue his meditation on the cultural consequences of an art practice - Minimal art - deemed pure and contentless. …

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