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Connectedness via the Realms of New Media

Sezan Al-Sultan's Portfolio - W&M DC Summer Institute on New Media
by

Sezan Al-Sultan

on 10 March 2013

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Transcript of Connectedness via the Realms of New Media

Today’s intertwining realms of New Media have created an abstract forum where any profession, individual, or group can establish a presence in order to further engage people in their mission, cause, or purpose of existence. New Media today does not merely include the works of journalists, newspapers or magazines, on air personalities, or media personal, but it is also being adapted by artists, politicians, students, and citizens alike who have access to a media outlet. A media platform can simply include your personal smartphone, laptop, internet access, photographic abilities, artistic skills, museum exhibitions and much more. It is evident now that the cultural agencies incorporated throughout our lives contain no limit to how far they aid in the dissemination and access of New Media - over continents in mere seconds, from one phone to another in an instant. This “instantaneous” aspect of New Media creates the sense of connectedness to a virtual community that binds us together. In addition, the different cultural agents or agencies such as individuals themselves, social media channels such as twitter, facebook, as well as blogs, broadcasting companies, and venues that present artistic works all give us a hint of the far reaching versatility of New Media, and its accomplishments in connecting individuals of diverse professions, interests, ideologies, and geographical regions. This portfolio highlights the connectedness that New Media has allowed us to achieve and acquire in the 21st century, through the adoption of event reviews, exhibition reviews, and interviews. Wrapped up with manifold examples, these highlighted events or works may not at first sight be categorized as New Media outlets or culture agencies, however with curious and critical examination become analyzed as such. Institute of Current World Affairs Annual Spring Meeting & Symposium Event Review This past Friday the 1st of June, I had the privilege of representing NBC News at the Institute of Current World Affairs (ICWA) Annual Spring Symposium. This event took place at the National Press Club in Washington DC, from 2 – 4 pm, followed by a cocktail reception and an annual dinner for the speakers and attendees. This event review however, is for the sole purpose of informing the public of my experience, not for any NBC News broadcast. At first, I was somewhat skeptical about what this event would entail, since the National Press Club website did not give too much information about the details of the event, other than a name and a person to contact. Being a first time journalist at such an event, not knowing the fellows of the institute or much about the topics at hand, I went in with an open mind as to what I would be gaining from simply attending the event as a member of the press, or the things I would be paying attention to. Let’s just say, I walked in a regular, college-educated undergraduate…and walked out a more informed, internationally aware, and critical journalist. The ICWA’s Spring Symposium this year contained a magnitude of noteworthy speakers from different fields, who focused on increasingly significant global topics today, as well as the major consequences of both. Firstly covered was the issue of water scarcity and security, and secondly, the Arab Spring developments as they have reached Syria. To introduce this evening of lectures, Michael Hood, the Senior International Water Resources Advisor at the U.S. Department of Interior, Dr. Aaron Salzberg, the Special Coordinator on Water Resources at the U.S. State Department specializing in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental, and James Workman, a consultant and author of Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought, gathered their knowledge on the major issues on water scarcity in the U.S. and beyond by presenting us with a discussion titled “Precarious Waters: Three Trans-Boundary River Basins on the Edge. A look at threatened watersheds in the American West, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.” This specific lecture was eye opening in many aspects. It took a different approach to the issues of water scarcity today, by stating that it was not a problem of water at all, but rather attributed it to problems of low supply in natural water basins and ill quality water, higher demands on secure and healthy water, lack of political and governmental commitment to securing water supply, rapid changes in the environment and climate, concerns of weak institutions that supply water globally, and increasing animosities among political groups or regions over presently abundant water basins. Water conservation and re-use is not highly regarded as a solution, even though the natural water basins around the world continue to be drained of their natural water resources, with no aim at recycling this ever significant necessity we all take for granted. This lecture brought into light a globally underdeveloped issue that has been put on the back burner for too long, yet didn’t manage to provide us with many solutions we could take as citizens today. I was expecting to be more informed about such solutions so as to make my contributions to the positive changes. However, the few that were briefly mentioned included the need for shorter showers, and flushing toilets without the use of purified water, so as not to waste precious gallons of clean water! This natural resources issue was followed by a conventional topic flooding our media channels today – the rising risk of war in Syria and the consequences of the Arab Spring. This second lecture was of particular interest to me. Growing up in Baghdad, and currently living in Jordan and Lebanon today, this threat of war would significantly affect my life in the Middle East and what it would entail. Paul Rahe, a Political Historian and Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hagar Hajjar, the Director for Syria & Lebanon at the National Security Council of the White House, Andrew Tabler, an author and expert on Syria and Lebanon, and Neri Zilber, the ICWA’s fellow based in Israel, joined their expertise to hold a lecture titled “The Arab Spring could devolve into regional chaos as the Syrian regime threatens to splinter under popular rebellion, while Israel copes with a growing threat from Iran”. What a mouthful of a title right? It presented a mixture of topics into an inadequate two hours. But, as every presenter mentioned, this issue is very “complicated”, and would take hours to decipher. This second lecture presented a background history to the issues on the Middle East and Arab Spring today, and their consequences for the U.S. and neighboring countries alike. As we all may have heard, the massacres, underground alliances, exchange of weaponry, and inconsistent support of major countries, have caused upheaval in the White House and governments of neighboring countries to take an interest in Syria today. What may have started out as a wave of hopeful revolutions in the Middle East, has reached the level of crimes against humanity and involvement of the loss of innocent lives. As brutally uncomfortable as this topic was to cover, there remained positive aspects to this lecture. What I enjoyed most, was that although the subject at hand was a significantly horrid and painful issue, the presenters figured out a way to portray the events in a sense we could all relate to, and used lighthearted commentary to somewhat entertain the audience and capture their attention. While Andrew Tabler took on the podium and gave his 30-minute introduction to Syria’s political history, he mentioned that the Al-Assad regime conducted one of the worst massacres in the history of the Middle East in the town of Hama in 1982. He stated that due to this massacre, the Syrian society experienced a standstill: the economy diminished, unemployment increased, and Syria experienced a baby boom. In Tabler’s words “It is the people who were born during that time, that today are swarming the regime; it is perhaps the best example of authoritarian karma I have ever seen. And it would be beautiful if it wasn’t so bloody and tragic.” However today, there seems to be no end in sight for this humanitarian crisis, and we only hope to see the Syrian population survive this political transition. I do recall the insightful and foretelling commentary that Hagar Hajjar, the Director for Syria & Lebanon at the National Security Council of the White House, provided. However, as such a high ranking member, the details and answers she provided were off the record. As a journalist, I do have to respect the ethics of my hopeful profession, and the decision of Hajjar to attend this symposium for the sole purpose of informing us of the extent to which this issue is far from being solved – a statement reiterated throughout the lecture itself. Although many of her statements were “news worthy”, I have learned from our site visit to the Newseum in Washington D.C., and our lecture on ethics, that such decisions are based on a sense of personal respect for the profession, person, as well as the industry you represent. An off the record news piece or commentary can remain completely anonymous or for safekeeping, but cannot, and should not be used, outside the facilities walls. Another surprising detail of the event was the demographic of the attending audience, when considering the issues covered and their modernity. Although the audience consisted of a majority of middle aged to senior citizens, there were however, a handful of undergraduate and graduate students who were very welcomed into this circle of genius fellows that ranged from artists, historians, writers and research professors, to members of U.S. Department councils, Editors of media productions such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Wall Street Journal, advisors of corporations such as Exxon-Mobil, and much more. This diverse audience comprising a multitude of backgrounds highlights the importance of these issues over a broad spectrum. Water scarcity and global issues in the Middle East affect our lives daily, whether we realize it or not. They demonstrate to us how one region of the world can have such an immense impact on everywhere else, placing the citizens of the world into a tightly knit web with coexisting conflicts, resolutions, ideologies, and necessities. In our world today, you cannot simply sit and differentiate yourself from the “other”, and pretend that their issues have no merit to your own lives, because every person and region is linked in one way or another. As social media demonstrates today, everyone and everything is simply a “click” away. I would advise anyone, regardless of your main focus or interest, to attend such events as the ICWA’s Spring Symposium (which was a free event!), and keep a look out for such opportunities. What I have realized is that they offer you a chance to meet and listen to spectacular presenters about timely issues, and a venture to mingle and connect with members of highly prestigious organizations in a causal setting. Whether you have heard it from this review or not, our world today survives on “connections”. Your next job and step towards your dream depends on it! Through my program in Washington D.C. today, The College of William & Mary DC Summer Institute of New Media, I have been able to meet the CEO’s of C-SPAN, National Geographic, Discovery Communications, NBC Universal, and Directors of Film Festivals that have all reiterated the same concept. So get online, check out these event rosters, and get to clicking! If the fact that you could have heard and learned from such intelligent people, or your curiosity of what is said “off the record” isn’t enough to convince you to attend such events, the potential to find your future job connection will surely suffice. Lalla Essaydi: Revisions Exhibit Review (National Museum of African Art) “These photographs of Morocco are the remains of childhood. Even now they serve as symbolic reminders of my past. It was important for me as an artist to go back and confront the feelings I had attached to this place, to re-encounter the child I was, in order to understand the woman I had become. I created an imaginary space where the voice of these women, through written text, became both their walls and their freedom, where they can be who they want without restraint or hindrance.” - Lalla Essaydi Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan-born artist, who’s lived most of her adult life in Saudi Arabia, and currently resides between New York, Boston, and Morocco, has risen to the challenge of attempting to break the Arab woman’s stereotype in the modern world. She does so through her contemporary works of art, which include diverse paintings and photographs alike that embody and examine the Arab female identity. Having had experience in numerous forms of media, her current Revisions exhibit bring together pieces from each of Essaydi’s photographic series, rarely seen paintings, and a multimedia installation. These compiled works express a personal narrative and critical reflection of the artist’s life as a liberal Moroccan, Arab, African, and Muslim woman who considers herself occupying a spectrum of cultures (NMAfA). Essaydi deems her work as “intersecting with the presence and absence of boundaries – of history, gender, architecture, and culture – that mark spaces of possibility and limitation” (NMAfA). The exhibit at the National Museum of African Art includes a multitude of photographs, for which she has recently attained much fame for, and a select few absurd, satiric, yet interesting paintings. Going into this exhibit with the intention of writing a review, I was a bit skeptical to say the least. After doing some background research on Essaydi and her goals of illustrating themes of gender issues within Islamic cultures and the relationship between the East and the West, I wasn’t quite sure whether this “story” of photographic narrative would strike a cord in every viewer, let alone myself. As an Iraqi-born Muslim female, who lives between the East and the West, and has made the transition to the United States following the 2003 invasion, I was expecting to find out whether I agree primarily with the techniques in which Essaydi portrayed our demographic, or whether I could relate to what she was demonstrating to the public. Surprisingly, I left the exhibit strongly identifying with the themes at hand, and having gained more knowledge of my own Islamic culture as well. As distinct as every Arab culture might be, what connect us are our ideologies and our personal identification to them (as seen in our Islamic traditions). The exhibit is strategically placed in an open space that combines all of Essaydi’s works into one hall, with numerous large and medium sized photographs occupying each corner. This was done to illustrate the overlying and overlapping themes of each photograph, and seems encourage the viewer to reflect on the exhibit as a unit rather than each photograph in its singularity. Interestingly, the exhibit consists of two entrances that introduce the artist with the same paragraph, and one exit. This appears to be a technique to urge the museumgoers to enter and explore the exhibit and it’s Moroccan wonders. Personally, I would promote the entrance to the exhibit from the second entrance, which begins with colorful photographs of women in harems, traditionally their “proper” place in society. Following this suggestion and continuing along the right wall, the viewer can more easily interpret the theme of the exhibit and follow the breakdown of women’s significance as a unit, to identifying the power and focus of a single woman stripped of her stereotypical image, popular misconceptions, and expectations. The intended audience is not specific to other artists, or as one might think, the Arab or Muslim viewer, but to society as whole, in order to promote feminism not only in the United States, but across all cultures and regions across the globe – predominantly those that are somewhat lagging in the democratic front. Essaydi confirms this concept through a PBS interview by stating that she is “very much interested in a way of becoming a bridge, because I want to make it known that Orientalist paintings are just Western male fascination and a fantasy. I want people to understand that. I’m not laying blame on anyone, but I want people to acquire a different kind of seeing. I want them to synthesize themselves with these situations where women are portrayed so they would start seeing other things than sexual exploitation”. Essaydi wants to live in a world where women are not objectified and used in ways that strip them from their true potential and significance in the formation of culture and national. The exhibit also includes various forms of multimedia, from photographs, Polaroid film, and chromogenic print, to videos, and online versions of Essaydi’s works. This technique, which is often seen today, allows for the accessibility of knowledge, intervention, and involvement in the artistic world that we as members of other professions might have a difficulty relating to. Lalla Essaydi illustrates, in my opinion and through my experience, one of the most controversial themes in Islam and the Arab world – the “double standard” that dominates our lives as Arab women today. Simply put, traditionalist views on Arab women restrict them to confined spaces in society. Note here, that I do not use the term “Arab” and “Muslim” interchangeably, that is because Middle Eastern territories include a multitude of religious backgrounds, and although Essaydi is depicting the Muslim Arab woman, she struggles to broaden her “feminist” audience in this exhibit. Although some countries have set these double standards and expectations to a higher level than others, there remains a degree of this concept in each country today, in Western or Eastern regions alike that impede the personal growth of women. Each photograph in this exhibit centralizes the female – plural and singular units – adorned with oriental and traditional backgrounds. However, Essaydi intentionally substitutes cloth or skin for paper, and inscribes each woman with calligraphic Islamic script with the use of henna in place of ink. The text used, was taken from the artist’s personal journal entries that chronicle her thoughts on memory, identity, and personal freedom (NMAfA). The Islamic scripture itself symbolizes a form of rebellion and the persistence of obtaining freedom for these Moroccan women, since calligraphic writing was historically inaccessible to women (NMAfA). It was very interesting to contemplate and interpret the juxtaposed use of women in their natural confined habitat and their disruption from norms through the use of something as simple as writing and the act of bearing their skin. An Arab Muslim woman is stereotyped as conservative and innocent, and as such, she must continue her life bearing as little flesh as possible. The use of predominantly white backgrounds, dress, as well as traditional pieces indicate this idea of innocence, however the calligraphy on the bare bodies of these Moroccan women in and of itself is an abomination and disgraces their nature, yet lingers as a powerful message – even to an Arab Muslim woman as myself. To continue the exhibit, the video itself juxtaposes the traditional Moroccan woman with the more contemporary path she might encounter today. Following my run through, I can safely assume that exhibits like this would be banned from appearance in Arabic countries, simply for its use of explicit images and ideologies. Lalla Essaydi does a spectacular job at introducing Arab women’s issues through the use of new media in her works. She cleverly uses various forms of media to indicate the connections of women’s concerns across the globe, by precisely identifying the Moroccan woman and her struggles. Her attempt to illustrate the whole through a single cultural product was an ambitious and distinct path to pursue; yet she managed to depict her concepts precisely as she wanted to. In this sense, Essaydi was able to bridge cultures and peoples, through the use of multimedia, but more importantly, through an issue that dominates women’s live today. The risk she took with her exhibit has opened up doors that may or may not pave the way to a more homogenized culture. However, she has managed to deconstruct the traditional identity of the Arab Muslim woman in today’s world, and form a hopeful and more contemporary image of her. Only time will tell whether her art will stay true to purpose and create social change. All in all, it is clear how New Media dominates our lives, and continues to evolve to reach such diverse fields. Art Metamorphosis Gala on the Washington Harbour (June 14th, 2012) How culturally and artistically inclined is Washington DC? In the opinion of the event coordinator Sandro Kereselidze, Washington DC needs a higher degree of culture especially in areas such as Georgetown, which struggle to keep up with the fast paced constant artistic growth in cities such as New York. Sandro also happens to be the owner of Art Soiree, an organization aimed at bringing art and culture to the people of the city, with the final objective of transforming Washington DC into the arts capital of the nation. In the past three years, Art Soiree has hosted events, brought artists in contact with the city and its people, and introduced musical performances throughout Washington DC. On June 14, 2012, Art Soiree hosted the Art Metamorphosis Gala on the Washington Harbour, during which the largest work of art was created in the district, directly painted on the circular, wooden construction wall that surrounds the harbour’s currently developing fountain. The Art Metamorphosis Gala was the first of its kind in Georgetown. Not only did it encompass artists in the DC area, but it also called on musicians, DJs, restaurants, salons and hair stylists to fashion a vibe of expressive culture of different forms. Although the gala started at 6 PM, the artists arrived earlier that morning to begin their pieces in their designated workspaces on the wooden wall. Every artist picked out a specific piece to display, either a new piece or one they had done before with various additions to it, and actively completed it in front of the audience who attended the gala. The artists’ friends and family accompanied them for support and at some point even helped the artists paint! The dynamic between the artists and the appreciation expressed amongst the diverse audience created a sense of community. This nous of connectedness could only really be shared in such a setting, where the artists themselves are displaying their techniques, mingling first hand with their spectators, listening to their critiques and feedback, all the while producing their unique artwork for everyone to view. Although the free event was accessible to a crowd of 21 and over, the audience was a combination of a younger demographic, middle aged to senior citizen art lovers, and politicians such as the Mayor of Washington D.C., Vincent C. Gray. Needless to say, a cultural event such as this seemed to be admirable to all ages and individuals with numerous interests, as I was able to convince my entire family to attend! The venue chosen for this event couldn’t have been more appropriate. The underdeveloped buildings provided amazing acoustics for the piano player, allowed the DJ, who was also a violinist, to set up his booth on the harbour’s tower, and allowed for the sufficient space and scenery for such a cultural event. In my opinion, it allowed the various artistic forms to interpret their place in the society of Washington D.C. effectively, and did so in a creative and professional manner. The historic and touristic venue also resulted in a greater attraction to the harbour’s facilities, which have slightly lost their fame and some fortunes due to the flood that occurred on April 18th, 2011. The Washington Harbour was bustling with people, food, drinks, music, photographers, yachts, and passer byers as this event began to unfold. Once again, the harbour was occupied with life, as it had been the previous year. More importantly, active with a purposeful event that brought meaning to the words “art” and “culture” as differentiated and embodied by the communities of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), and artists from regions all around the world. The numerous artists performing at the event hailed from countries such as Pakistan, Lithuania, Nigeria, United States, and many more. As I took the time to meet the artists and ask them various questions about themselves and their work specifically, they managed to portray a sense of modesty; they were more than thrilled to be a part of such a public event that was open to all groups, not simply to gain exposure as one might think, but to bring about an appreciation for different forms of expression and identity. As Faisal Mirza (better known as Rastha) stated, who was a doctor slash artist participating in this event, artwork is not a mere sketch on a colorful canvas, but it is the way this community of creative individuals chooses to communicate when they find themselves at a loss for words. The Art Metamorphosis Gala (key word “Metamorphosis”) hints at the constant changing identity of the nations capital. Although this gala included the inventive metamorphosis of one section of Georgetown, the harbour, it further touches on the struggles faced by artists of many genres to significantly incorporate their work into the culture of Washington DC. More commonly known for its politics, Washington DC has the potential of being an even larger cultural agent that encompasses many, if not all forms of art. This transformation will create a positive shift in the social identity of Washington DC, which could also foster diversified cultural changes as well. According to Doris Sommer “Culture is a dimension of life that involves the inhabitants of the country, that which confers a sense of belonging, or a project, of community and nation, and that which spiritually binds them all with the rest of humanity”. In this sense, the “country” is Washington DC, and the “project” was the continuously painted wooden construction wall that cultivated this “community” of artists and their works; a project that ultimately binds Washington DC to the rest of humanity, placing it on the national and global map for its contributions to many genres. Art Metamorphosis Gala on the Washington Harbour Asta Liu Interview www.facebook.com/astasart Art Metamorphosis Gala on the
Washington Harbour Aniekan Udofia http://www.aniekanudofia.com/ Art Metamorphosis Gala on the
Washington Harbour Sandro Kereselidze & Victoria Stone http://theartsoiree.com/ The Art Metamorphosis Gala did just that, through the use of humble artists, and the goal of establishing this cultural medium of many genres. In today’s world, methods of expression whether art, music, dance, or media, result in the promotion of certain identities – identities that are ever-changing depending on the decade. According to Carla Kaplan, “Rejecting the notion of the self as a centered, transparent, or realized presence, a deconstructive notion of the subject argues that identification, the chief mechanism of identity formation, reveals identity’s lack or absence”. The revelation of the lack of artistic culture in Washington DC, in which Art Soiree attempted to enhance through the use of this gala as well as other events, served as the main tool that pushed for the reformation of the capital’s identity. If anyone is interested in experiencing first hand the creation of the largest panel of artwork in Georgetown, I encourage you to head down to the harbour, because until those construction walls are taken down, that art will remain in the exact same spot it was created! The videos, photos, and interviews I conducted at the gala are soon to come… As evident throughout the works in this portfolio, media as a whole can be engineered in a variety of forms, that can simultaneously be produced to tell any story. It is a manner in which individuals can create a piece of work, in their own personal way, to engage the public in their ideologies. The flexibility of media allows for the possibility of understanding people of distinct backgrounds, geographical regions, languages, and culture through a virtual and global approach. More importantly, it binds communities together and establishes a sense of connectedness amongst individuals around this world. As such, this portfolio in and of itself, serves as my personal work of media that I have attempted to use to clarify the obvious - that people today cannot be as well bounded to others without the use of media, and that our growth as a nation in some way will depend on our accessibility to the "other". The Measure of New Media Today http://smalsultan.wordpress.com/ http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/165635516.html
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