How might the story of a life be told through stone? Specifically, how might the story of the life of Zakaria Almoutlak—a sculptor from Homs who joined the Syrian revolution in 2011 and later fled to Belgium, where he now lives—be told through the carving of limestone and trafficking of antiquities, the fabrication of histories and destruction of memories? For Liner Notes 2, Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne will address this question with Almoutlak and M. NourbeSe Philip. The live-streaming conversation is occurring in conjunction with the publication of “Four Songs without Z,” a suite of songs written by the artists with Almoutlak, in Unknown States, a new issue of Triple Canopy devoted to the fictions that give rise to nations and nationalities.
“Four Songs without Z” is part of a years-long collaboration between Pandian, Zins-Browne, and Almoutlak that renders the banalities and atrocities that Almoutlak has experienced through sculpture and vocal performance. The suite of songs provides a fragmentary account of Almoutlak’s life that draws on memories and fabrications, legal documents and cell-phone videos, tradition and speculation, presented as videos by the artists that mine the same materials. The singers, Doraiswamy and Aliana de la Guardia, improvise as they move between lyrics, weaving the fragments together, migrating Almoutlak’s stories into melodies from a range of popular, folk, and classical genres. Instead of channeling Almoutlak’s experiences into the construction of a single, legible, stable identity, the songs offer a composite of shifting parts and perspectives. They reflect on Almoutlak’s experience working at his father’s sculpture atelier in Homs, carving stone sculptures in the ancient Palmyran tradition, which have come to symbolize Syrian heritage (especially after the pillaging of historic sites and museums by ISIS). The Almoutlaks were often commissioned by the Syrian regime to create forgeries, many of which have been acquired by prominent museums around the world.
Liner Notes 2 will consider how lives and histories are defined and reconfigured in the creation, circulation, destruction, and reconstruction of monuments, especially given the recent efforts to dismantle those honoring agents of colonialism and slavery. Pandian and Zins-Browne will be joined by Almoutlak and Philip, whose forthcoming essay for Unknown States considers how monuments shape memories and identities. The conversation will be punctuated by a prerecorded video transmission from Evan Calder Williams, who has written extensively about the destruction of goods and symbols as a political act and as imagery.
For Liner Notes 1, on June 10, Pandian, Zins-Browne, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Ganavya Doraiswamy will ask how to tell the story of a life through song, and speak about collective improvisation as a vessel for endless variation. Video recordings of Liner Notes 1 and 2 will be available soon after the events.
Both events are free and will be hosted on Zoom. Registration is required to receive the meeting link.
This public program was made possible through generous support from Jane Hait, a founding member of Triple Canopy Director’s Circle; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Research for Unknown States, Triple Canopy’s twenty-seventh issue, was made possible through a Craft Research Fund grant from the Center for Craft.
- Zakaria Almoutlak is a sculptor living in Brussels, Belgium. From childhood until the Syrian revolution began in 2011, Almoutlak worked with his father in an atelier in Homs, sculpting in the Palmyrene and Roman traditions as well as taking part in the family business of trading antiquities. Almoutlak was involved in the Syrian revolution as a media activist and imprisoned twice by the Assad regime. After suffering an injury during a bombing in his home city, Almoutlak left for Europe and, in 2018, received refugee status. He is a volunteer for several organizations that work with refugees in Belgium and a board member of the Brussels-based nonprofit Refugees Are Not Alone (RANA). His first artwork presented in Belgium was a sculpture of the priest of Palmyra for the Meli Melo Festival in 2017. With Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne, he has been a key collaborator in Atlas Unlimited, an ongoing series of exhibitions in Brussels, Antwerp, Chicago, and New York. He currently runs Almoutlak, an import/export atelier that sells works by Syrian artisans.
- Karthik Pandian is an artist who works in exhibitions and public interventions to unsettle the ground of history. He uses moving image, sculpture, and performance to render the mythologies of the present through forgotten, fragmentary, and futuristic pasts. Pandian has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), Bétonsalon (Paris), and Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis). His work has been featured in numerous survey exhibitions, including the first edition of “Made in L.A.” at the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles); “La Triennale: Intense Proximity” at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris); and “Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society, 1915–2015,” at Whitechapel Gallery (London). He is currently working on a series of temporary public artworks in Boston and Minneapolis, which can be followed on Twitter via @videocommune. Pandian teaches in the Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies at Harvard University.
- Andros Zins-Browne is a choreographer who works at the intersection of installation, performance, and dance. He is a proponent of “expanded” choreography: extending choreographic notions into work with non-dancers, singers, texts, and objects. Considerations of the interactions between materiality and immateriality are central to his work, most recently his work with voice. His performances have been presented at the Institute for Contemporary Arts (London); the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City); Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai); and the Fondation Galeries Lafayette (Paris). His ongoing collaboration with Karthik Pandian, Atlas Unlimited, addresses movement, destruction, and reconstruction through sculpture and performance, and has been presented at Performa 19 (New York City), Netwerk Aalst (Brussels), 80WSE (New York City), and the Logan Center (Chicago). Zins-Browne is the recipient of grants and awards from the Goethe Institute, the Flemish Cultural Ministry, NYSCA, and, with Pandian, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.
- M. NourbeSe Philip was born in Tobago and lives in Toronto. She is the author of numerous works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her collections of poetry include Thorns (1980); Salmon Courage (1983); She Tries Her Tongue (1989); Her Silence Softly Breaks (1988), which won a Casa de las Américas Prize for Literature; and Zong! (2008), a polyvocal, book-length poem concerning slavery and the legal system. Philip has also published two novels: the young adult novel Harriet’s Daughter (1988) and Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence (1991). Philip’s essay collections include Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture (1992), Showing Grit: Showboating North of the 44th Parallel (1993), CARIBANA: African roots and continuities—Race, Space and the Poetics of Moving (1996), and Genealogy of Resistance and Other Essays (1997). She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and MacDowell Colony, and awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, and Toronto Arts Council.
- Evan Calder Williams is the author of Combined and Uneven Apocalypse (2011); Roman Letters (2011); and Shard Cinema (2017). He is the translator, with David Fernbach, of Mario Mieli’s Towards a Gay Communism (2018). His writing has appeared in Film Quarterly, WdW Review, Frieze, the Journal of American Studies, Mute, Cultural Politics, and the New Inquiry. He is part of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine and a founding member of the film and research collective 13BC. He has been an artist-in-residence at Issue Project Room and has had solo exhibitions at Mercer Union (Toronto) 80WSE (New York City). He has presented films, performances, and audio works at La Biennale de Montreal, the Serpentine Gallery (London), mumok (Vienna), the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, Portikus (Frankfurt), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), Swiss Institute (New York City), and Artists Space (New York City). He teaches at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.