Arts | Interview | Navine G. Khan-Dossos: “It’s an important time to think about the power of alternatives”

Hamja Ahsan talks to artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos, whose latest exhibition, 'There Is No Alternative', examines the UK government’s controversial pre-crime and surveillance policies, notably the Prevent programme.

Features, Interviews, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, July 12, 2019 19:07 - 1 Comment

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Hamja Ahsan: We are here in the showroom. So what do you mean by ‘there is no alternative’ and why do you pick this slogan from Thatcher-era politics and how does it relate to state oppression today?

Navine G. Khan-Dossos: ‘There is no alternative’ is still used a lot today in counter-terrorism strategy; it’s a way of describing the UK government’s approach to dealing with Terror in which there is only one way of doing things. This is a very crucial area of law and policy today, and for me this is a challenge to that notion, to suggest that there might be other ways of being in the world and other ways of being part of Civic Society that don’t rely on the measures currently put in place by the Prevent duty. I really wanted the show to explore whether there was an alternative, a genuinely different way of dealing with counter terrorism-related ‘pre-criminality’. And also because there is a big independent review of Prevent happening later this year, it is an important time to consider this subject again from a critical position, and think about the power of alternatives

HA: You are someone who is trained in Islamic art at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and, as you told me, you also worked as a tiler, so how do all these things influence your work, particularly in the mural?

NGKD: As with all artists, all of our training and experiences make us who we are. But the knowledge I gained at the The Prince’s School of Traditional Art and my experience working as a tiler, both made me able to think about painting at an architectural scale, and for the viewer to be surrounded by a painting rather than seeing its edges. I think this is really important in my work; I want people to experience the subject of my work from inside it as an environment. 

HA: As part of the archive of the exhibition, you have included a number of groups and individuals whose work has been demonised by the state and the media. Yell me more about this. 

NGKD: When we talk about Prevent, and we create a public platform that tells the story of this policy, we have to have everyone at the table who has been involved in its evolution over the past 15 years. Even though these groups, such as CAGE and MEND have been demonised by the government and the police, they happen to have also done some valuable work seeing, recording and advocating for other narratives around Prevent. They take on and value the subjective point of view of those who have experienced the policy first-hand, and I think they have every right to be part of this discussion about Prevent as they have already dedicated so much time and energy to providing a critical voice of this policy. If I’d chosen not to invite them to be part of the show’s event programme, I would be just repeating the same models of platforming and non-platforming that already exist and have kept the conversation around Prevent one-sided. I thought we could do better than that. 

HA:You reference Philip K Dick’s Minority Report as part of your research; what influence does science fiction have on your work and what can it tell us about the ‘War on Terror’

NGKD: Originally I trained as an art historian and for the first few years of my work I was mostly thinking about the past. The past became very heavy to carry forward in my work; at one point I started to think about the future where there might be more space to imagine other possibilities rather than things that had happened already. It was a great shift in my work that I think opened me up and gave me more freedom and flexibility in my practice. 

I read a lot of science fiction — Philip K Dick of course but also at the moment Kim Stanley Robinson too amongst many others.  And this has been very influential on my work. Philip K Dick’s description of the ‘pre-criminal space’ in Minority Report is a term being used in government documents about counter-terrorism, without any recognition that Dick was describing a dystopia; that really unnerved me.

The space I have created at the Showroom is quite an ambiguous one — an office from a sci-fi world where we don’t know what the workers do who occupy this space: are they pro or anti-Prevent? I always liked the screens that Tom Cruise uses in the film of Minority Report, that are used to bring together lots of different strands of information. I see my paintings as acting in a similar way, with windows of information constantly being painted on top of each other, creating a more and more complex web of information. 

HA: The symbols you have used in the murals are drawn from official counter-terrorism documents. How did you find them, and how do you think bringing them into a gallery space helps us reflect on their use?

NGKD: All the symbols used in the paintings are real logos created and used by different regional police forces and county councils to visually describe Prevent in their graphic branding.

These logos are mostly on the internet (police and county council websites, twitter feeds etc) or used by local schools or colleges for their Prevent documents. We only ever see one logo at a time in isolation, but the paintings here present them as a whole network of nodes in a wider web, rather than individual isolated cases.

By making large constellations of the logos I am hoping to show how logos function as calibrations targets for the institutions who use them to demonstrate there complicity in the Prevent strategy duty.

HA: Are there any other artists working today who do interesting work on state oppression?

NGKD: There are so many working on this subject that the list be endless! However a few that that I like and respect are Hito Steyerl, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Jeremy Deller, Forensic Architecture, Sanja Ivekovic and Cian Dayrit. 

HA: Thank you for talking to Ceasefire.

The exhibition There is No Alternative is on at The Showroom gallery London until 27th July with an accompanying events programme on the Prevent strategy. For info and tickets check the exhibition website.

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Hamja Ahsan

Hamja Ahsan is an artist, writer, activist and curator based in London. He is the author of the book Shy Radicals: Antisystemic Politics of the Militant Introvert. He was recently awarded the Grand Prize at the Ljubljana biennial 2019 for his current exhibition 'Aspergistan Referendum' based on his book. He was shortlisted for the Liberty human rights award for the Free Talha Ahsan campaign on extradition and detention without trial under the War on Terror, utilising art and film. His recent writing was anthologised in No Colour Bar: Black Art in Action 1960-1990. He has presented art projects at PS1 MOMA at New York Art book fair, Tate Modern, Gwangju Biennale, Staedelschule in Frankfurt, Shaanakht festival Pakistan and Shilpa Academy, Bangladesh. He is founder and co-curator of the DIY Cultures festival of creative activism, zines and independent publishing since 2013. He's on Twitter @hamjaahsan and instagram

Navine G. Khan-Dossos

Navine G. Khan-Dossos is a visual artist working between London and Athens. Her interests include Orientalism in the digital realm, geometry as information and decoration, image calibration, and Aniconism in contemporary culture. Khan-Dossos studied History of Art at Cambridge University, Arabic at Kuwait University, Islamic Art at the Prince’s School of Traditional Art in London, and holds an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art & Design, London. In 2014/2015, she was a participant at the Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht (NL). She has exhibited and worked with various institutions, including Showroom (London), Z33 (Hasselt), The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, SALT (Istanbul), The Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven) Witte de With (Rotterdam), The Delfina Foundation (London), The Museum of Islamic Art (Doha), Leighton House Museum (London), The Benaki Museum of Islamic Art (Athens) and the A.M. Qattan Foundation (Ramallah). She has published work in The White Review and The Happy Hypocrite, and is currently a tutor on the MA program at the Dutch Art Institute and a member of the Substantial Motion Research Network.

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Aug 30, 2019 3:28

Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post.

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