Visuality in a Minor Key
Recent works by anna sherbany demonstrate a growing confidence in her visual practice, taking the viewer upon a journey from the still to the moving image to form an installation. Her work has been marked by a constant interrogation of the meaning of working as a contemporary artist within the conflicting demands of image production, discursive investigation and aesthetic exploration. She uses the discursive content to explore acoustic realms, photographic and moving images and spatial dynamics to convey her ideas. The philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in ‘Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature’ (1986), refer to 'minor literature': that is a deterritorialisation of existing modes of language, the connection of the individual to the political immediacy and the collective assemblage of enunciation.
sherbany is located at the margins of many discourses, as an Iraqi Jewliving in a Britain within a European Jewish diaspora, a minority within contemporary Britain locating her at the margins of many discourses.These varying displacements and multiple diasporic experiences have formed part of the raw materials of her practice and have beentransformed into visual acts of deterritorialisation of dominant languages. Her work references and challenges these multiple perspectives and like Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a minor literature, this deterroritalisation of dominant modes of visuality is not a mode of practice concerned with personal quest for cultural or political identity. Rather sherbanyarticulates the interconnections between the social, aesthetic and the discursive.
Nicholas Mirzoeff in ‘Diaspora and Visual Culture: Representing Blacks and Jews (2000), argues that diasporic visual cultures produce new modes of inter-textuality. This mode of intertexuality within the realm of visual culture does not simply relate to interlocking texts, but rather the mobilization of interdependent modes of visuality.
From a particular starting point, a diasporic image can create multiple visual and intellectual associations both within and beyond the intent of the producer of that image. [Mirzoeff:2000;7]
Mirzoeff is referencing post-structuralist work that positions the viewer as one that completes or interprets the meaning of the text/image through extra textual information. Mirzoeff, in positioning diasporic work within this context, references notions of history and collective memory. However, Deleuze and Guattari are suggesting something more complex and intriguing in their analysis of Kafka's work, an analysis that allows us to examine the work of diasporic artists in a more complex way.
Deleuze and Guattari's work suggest a more dynamic relationship to the processes of production and an engagement with aesthetic languages. They suggest that a minor literature emerges when a minority is a minority within a minority. Within minor literature, a dominant language is appropriated by the minority for 'strange and minor uses'. Black American English for instance is appropriated by young people of all races
to perform as a key part of urban youth identity.
In making the Oriental Jewish
woman visible, sherbany incorporates the visual, the acoustic and discursive;
thereby infusing the languages of visuality with new meanings and resonances.
From the perspective of an Oriental Jewish woman Sherbany interrogates the dominant visual languages of the West. Her work pushes the debate beyond issues of representation by linking this absence to wider diasporic experiences and deterritorialisation. Through her works she interrogates her role as an artist and the relationships she has formed with her subjects within a visual context; the status of the photograph as a document of reality and the relationship between fantasy, fiction and memory. In mobilizing these approaches within her work, she has developed a practice that explores the connection between viewer, image and photographer, creating a series of viewing relationships and modes of identification for her audience about her subjects not as 'other' or exotic but on the basis of shared humanity that is marked by historical and cultural exploitations and displacements.
sherbany's visual practice is 'tactical' in the definition used by Michel de Certeau in his text ‘’The Practice of Everyday Life’ (1984): ' tactic insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance.' In his text de Certeau's points out how everyday practices such as talking, eating, walking within the city can be located as an engagement and resistance to forms of power. In this sense sherbany's visual practice can be located as provisional and fragmentary. The mobilization of the ‘tactical’ allows the viewer to explore her work and its use of space and light within everyday practice. We learn how these practices emerge as important markers of the communities that the artist is in dialogue with. Characteristics so often denied to these communities within their portrayal in the globalised media. In rendering these qualities visible through her practice, sherbany allows us a brief glimpse into the interior life of her subjects through everyday and familial gestures. In doing so, she signals the ways in which everyday moments emerge as small acts that reassert the humanity of her subjects in hostile and challenging circumstances.
Deleuze, G and Guattari F., Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature’ University of Minnesota Press. London 1986.
Mirzoeff, N (ed), Diaspora and Visual Culture: Representing Jews and Black, Routledge, London and New York, 2000
De Certeau, Michel, ‘ The Practice of Everyday Life’, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984.