Sylvielin's Blog

Art and Politics Revisited. Interview with Robert Kluijver

Posted in about Art, Interviews with Curators/Museum Directors by sylvielin on October 4, 2010

‘…art has freedom while politics has power.  Vice-versa artists wield little power while politicians enjoy scant freedom.’   —-Robert Kluijver (extracted from the interview)

Robert Kluijver, the person behind the creation of the first Afghan Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in 2005, has been an organizer of cultural programs between East and West.

Having lived in Afghanistan for a long period of time and engaged in local political and cultural activities, in 2007 he brought two exploded car wrecks from Baghdad to Europe. One of the vehicles was then donated to the British artist Jeremy Deller for his project ‘It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq’ which traveled across the U.S. That wreck is now in the Imperial War Museum of London.

In the four parts of the interview, Kluijver discussed the origin and the itinerary of the wrecks from Baghdad to Europe as well as his views on politics and art.   (Photo of RobertK in Baghdad, 2010 by Hatif Farhan. Courtesy : RobertK)

〔Extract from the original text〕

I. The Wrecks from Baghdad

Q  I got to know your practice through Jeremy Deller’s project It Is What It Is. Conversations about Iraq(2). For the project, he dragged a car wreck brought back from Baghdad all across the United States and presented it in the New Museum of New York. The car wreck actually came from the event War on Error(2007) you organized in Amsterdam where two car wrecks were showed as the centrepiece of the exhibition. How did you manage to bring the car wrecks from Baghdad to Europe ? What is your curatorial concept of War on Error ?

A In the beginning it was a logistical project rather than a curatorial project for me. I was in charge of finding and bringing the wrecks from Baghdad to Amsterdam. I cooperated with the BAZAAR, a collective of Dutch humanitarian organizations. They wanted to make a one-day political event about the situation of Iraq. They conceived the idea of bringing a wreck from Iraq to central Amsterdam because the presence of a bombed wreck would say so much and it would create a whole commotion and reflection by the public.

They asked me because of my background in the Middle East. But I only really became interested in the project when an attack happened at the book market of Baghdad – just to see the burning pages of books floating in the air, and then hear that the most famous and the oldest Literary café of Baghdad was blown up in the event. It was then I really felt motivated and thought we should do something about this. Also, by then the project became a cultural project since it was really an assault on the culture of Iraq. It was not sectarian since the book market is not dominated by one group, and actually all the people of Baghdad’s cultural community go there regardless of their religion or ethnic origin.   More About Robert Kluijver 

Robert Kluijver, a Dutch national born in Cyprus, graduated from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques/Sciences Po in Paris. He lived in Afghanistan for six and half years: first under the Taliban, then as political affairs officer for the United Nations. From 2003 to 2006, he set up and directed the Afghan Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), the first cultural organisation in Kabul, as a centre for the production and display of local contemporary culture.

He was behind the creation of the first Afghan Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in 2005 (the artists received a prize from the government of Taiwan). In 2007 he brought two exploded car wrecks from Baghdad to Europe. One of the vehicles was then donated to the British artist Jeremy Deller for his project ‘It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq’ which traveled across the U.S. That wreck is now in the Imperial War Museum of London.

Kluijver now is a freelance curator specializing in the emerging Middle Eastern art scene. He mainly organizes exhibitions of political art in the Netherlands, but he also teaches international relations at Sciences Po in Paris and travels extensively through the Middle East for his research.

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