Tamar Ettun ART ’10, a graduate of the Yale School of Art Master of Fine Arts program with a focus on sculpture, curated an exhibition called “Handheld History,” which took place this Saturday at the Queens Museum of Art in New York. The show was composed of video submissions by 17 artists, including Ettun, whose work focused on Middle Eastern historical and political narratives. The event was followed by a discussion with art historian, Thomas Keenan. The Yale Daily News sat down with Ettun yesterday to talk about her work and the exhibition — its subject matter, its connotations, and the reception the show has received.
Q What is this exhibition about?
A The event aimed to examine the personal history of people and fitting them in the larger political context [of the Middle East]. Subjects range from feminism to human rights problems in the Middle East. I think the name “Handheld History” is important as it features personal perspectives and experiences of artists. [The event] was very successful actually. It lasted around three hours in a hall packed with over 100 guests. It is mainly a collection of Middle Eastern and Israeli artists. There was also a screening of “Negotitation” by Azin Feizabadi and Kaya Behkalam, which focuses on the sociological setting of Iran — it is an excerpt of a longer film.
Q When did you decide to have this event? How long did it take to plan?
A I and my friend from Iran, Katayoun Vaziri ART ’10, produced and curated this event and it took us four months. A total of 17 video artists with Middle Eastern or Jewish backgrounds were selected to show their work which was followed by a talk given by Thomas Keenan, who is the director of the Human Rights Project at Bard College. All the artists are right out of college and it gave them an opportunity to showcase their art.
Q Tell us about your specific film: What is it about and how does it fit into the greater context of things?
A My video, “Empty is Also”, is a 5-minute piece on the relationship between dance and sculpture. It’s a mediation on performance and ballet and its relationship with sculpture. It is an abstract approach which follows the deconstruction of larger ideological trails. It shows the deconstruction I associate with my country. I have a very strong connection with Israel but I also feel things are falling apart there.
Q Why did you choose a topic that has such heavy political connotations?
A The choice of Middle East as a subject was jointly made by me and the co-producer, Katayoun Vaziri. I grew up in Israel and later became friends with my peer, Vaziri. That lead to our interest in the political situation in Iran.
Q Why did you end up choosing the Middle East and its politics?
A I grew up in Israel and my friend [Vaziri] grew up in Iran. We both share a firm connection with our homelands and it is an opportunity for us to showcase the history in a personal way, which is more intimate. These videos allow you to see the landscape of the Arab world. It’s more about personal rather than intellectual history. The films exhibited were very physical and active. Most of them had violence in them but [the violence] was shown in a very intimate setting. Most of them were very simple stories. Most importantly, while concentrating on the Middle East, the videos show the search for identity, family values and feminism — things that anybody even in USA and Canada can also identify with.
Q Does this exhibition explore the strained relationships of these countries?
A No. We did not focus on the political tension between these countries. The event was an optimistic point of view on the current situation. As young artists, there is a flow of energy that is positive and hopeful about the future.