The Memory Matrix is an ephemeral monument aimed at preserving cultural memory in the context of war destruction. The project employs new fabrication techniques and multidisciplinary collaborations that result in site-specific temporary installations in public spaces. The Matrix is composed of twenty thousand fluorescent Plexiglas elements, or “pixels,” that depict vanished monuments across the world (Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, United States, Philippines, and beyond). These pixels are created through workshops in which participants sketch, discuss, digitize, and laser cut destroyed architecture of significance to their community. The larger matrix of pixels reveals an anamorphic image of a recently destroyed monument, made visible through movement of light and wind. Beyond its archival character, the project aims to advance and promote peaceful coexistence by enhancing an understanding of the world’s cultural heritage. To date, the project has traveled to Boston, Amman, Ramallah, Dallas, and Manila, engaging more than seven hundred participants.
Production 2016-2017. Previous collaborations: Cairo Maker Faire I International Art Academy Palestine, Amman Design Week, Syrian refugees in Jordan, London Biennale – Manila Pollination, ArtSciLab at UT Dallas.
CULTURUNNERS is an artistic expedition in search of empathy between cultures. International artists and curators are embarking on road trips to explore, communicate and archive interconnected cultural histories between the Middle East and the United States. Coauthored and initiated by Azra Akšamija and Stephen Stapleton – artists who have spent a decade traveling from UK over Yemen to Saudi Arabia, and from the Balkans over Central Europe to United States – CULTURUNNERS takes shape through physical journeys and artistic creations. The transformation of the CULTURUNNERS’ RV into a mobile studio was produced by Azra Akšamija. In October 2014, the MIT Program in Art , Culture and Technology hosted a three-day storytelling symposium, creative workshop, and exhibition at the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT). In March 2015, Akšamija curated the CULTURUNNERS exhibit at the Armory Show in New York as a special project. These events were produced in collaboration with Edge of Arabia and Art Jameel. Participants included international artists, designers, filmmakers, scientists, curators, and scholars who came together to share technologies and applications for transcultural exchange. Their practices inspire novel approaches toward cultural links specific to the United States and the Middle East. Today, the CULTURUNNERS continues as an independent platform for cultural production, hosting artists' travels, exhibitions, talks and exchanges across the Unites States.
Yarn·dez·vous is a wearable quilt featuring textiles from the MENA region and the United States. Hexagons and star-shaped modules of the quilt can be transformed into individual letterman’s jackets and vice versa: the jackets unzip flat into geometric elements that form the larger quilt. The name of the project is a hybrid of the words yarn and rendezvous. Yarn refers both to a thread used for making fabrics and to storytelling, whereas rendezvous refers to the encounter that the jackets of this project allow. Project participants were asked to bring textiles from the location of their residence, which were then combined with textiles from Boston as the base material for the jackets and the quilt. The project is in the state of an ongoing transformation and customization into increasing the quilt modules to more variations of culturally signifying clothes—such as tunics, kaftans, abayas, dresses, and shirts—inspired from the East and the West.
Produced 2014-2015. Collaborators: Culturunners, Edge of Arabia & Art Jameel, Armory Show, Kunsthalle Mulhouse
Monument in Waiting
The Monument in Waiting is a carpet that depicts the collective testimony of the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina carried out by nationalist extremists during the war of 1992–95. The pattern of this handwoven kilim depicts stories about the systematic destruction of Islamic cultural heritage during the war, and it points at the transformation of the Bosniaks’ religious, ethnic, and national identities today as a result of the loss of cultural memory. The historical and archival research for this piece includes more than 250 mosques that were deliberately targeted by nationalist extremists. These data, as well as interviews with various individuals engaged in the current mosque building-and-rebuilding process, were visualized as kilim symbols. Locally found patterns and symbols were thereby converted into signifiers of political and military aggression that threatened collectivity, providing a multitude of perspectives. The carpet was woven by women who survived concentration camps, and the process of weaving represents a form of healing after trauma. Acknowledging that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has recognized the destruction of religious architecture as evidence of a targeted annihilation of Bosnian coexistence, this kilim is left unfinished so that more stories could be added toward a full recognition of the genocide with cultural means, in which case the piece would actualize its function as a monument.
Collaborators: Sarajevo Winter Festival, STILL-A Association for the Preservation of the Bosnian Kilim, Stroom The Hague, The Ismaili Center Toronto, Giorgio Cini Foundation Venice
The project Journeyman Years (Wanderjahre) speaks to cultural and political dimensions of labor migration focusing on the case of Turkish migrants in Germany. The construction helmet refers to the heavy labor of early Turkish migrant workers who were invited to Germany as gastarbeiters (guest workers) because of the acute labor shortage during the economic boom in the 1960s and 1970s. These migrant workers brought cultural traditions with them, as indicated by the sixteenth-century Iznik pottery decoration on the helmet. The choice of porcelain as the material for the helmet refers to changing cultural patterns over the course of history but also to the fragility of the expatriates’ migratory experience. Highlighting the migrant worker immigrants’ role as transmitters of cultural influences, knowledge, and skills, the project seeks to destabilize the misconstrued and essentialist perceptions of gastarbeiters’ identity, linking it to contemporary global politics of migrant labor and exploitation.
Collaborators:New Hamburg Gallery” in Hamburg Veddel by Adnan Softić, Deutsches SchauSpielHaus, Ceramic painting: Nurgün Yavuz. Production help: Mahir M. Yavuz. Ceramic Craftsman: Selim Yazıcı. Assistant Designer: Ayşegül Aras.
Unity - Textile Muqarnas
“Unity” is a textile structure based on Islamic muqarnas (stalactite-like decorative three-dimensional elements found in Islamic monuments). The structure was designed for the neo-Gothic archway, the entrance to the exhibition “Interior View South-East: Investigations of Islamic Spaces” at the Architecture Forum Upper-Austria in Linz, Austria. The modular structure of the muqarnas has transformed and sewn together into a complex whole — unity of forms –that aims to signalize the need for a new aesthetic of “Islam in the West” characterized by a formal experimentation and enrichment though cultural interactions.
Collaborators: Designed by Azra Akšamija and Joel Lamere, Unity, 2012 and produced with a group of MIT undergraduate and graduate students and alumni: Juanita Ballesteros, Angela Chu, Daniela Covarrubias, Tara Ebsworth, Emily Tow, and Jegan Vincent de Paul. Other collaborators include Indira Adilović, Azra, Munira und Ibrahim Akšamija, Ewald Elmecker, Katharina Anna Loidl, with the generous support by the Council for the Arts at MIT.