Art, culture, presence and Spatial Justice

When considering art, culture and cultural development within the realm of contemporary society, grasping a basic understanding of this notion of spatial justice through the conceptual, experiential and imagining of spaces becomes an essential starting point. The premise of justice, in this instance, is being explored within the egalitarian ideals of access and presence or spatial access and occupation. (Mitchell 2007, 9) French philosopher Henri Lefebvre posed many essential ideas about space, but most interestingly he surmised that the organization of space is crucial to human societies, in particular, the way in which space is perceived, conceived and lived. (Lefebvre 1974, 40) With the anticipated “promise and perils” in shifting justice from the “social to the spatial” it can be suggested that it is within the realms of public space that spatial justice becomes essentially determined through the variations of presence, access and anonymity. This justice, as David Harvey passionately offers in The Right to the City, should move beyond the individual right to access urban resources and suggests something more significant: “the freedom to make or remake our cities” and that this is “one of the most precious yet most neglected of human rights.” (2008, 23) Through the exploration of space we begin to learn that much of our experiences may already be determined through our personal perceptions which are more often than not, inextricably linked, not only with our past, and in particular our childhood memories (de Certeau 1984, 10) but also with those present perceptions that are determined, not always necessarily by us, but rather for us or about us.

To make any attempt at understanding the concept of spatial justice without first finding within oneself a reasonable understanding of what space is or what space might be would be somewhat misleading. With his comprehensive theories on space, Lefebvre challenges the most common premise or ‘misnomer’ about space, that being the idea “that empty space is prior to whatever ends up filling it”. With that, Lefebvre suggests that space is a social product, and more precisely, he makes a distinction between the physical, social and mental space (Conrad 2006). Lefebvre than offers the subsequent suggestion of a differentiation made between the problematic of space and spatial practice; “the former can only be formulated on a theoretical plane, whereas the latter is empirically observable. It is not hard, however, for an ill informed approach, one that misunderstands the method and the concepts involved, to confuse the two. The ‘problematic’ the term is borrowed from philosophy of space is comprised of questions about mental and social space, about their interconnections, about their links with nature on the one hand and with ‘pure’ forms on the other. As for spatial practice, it is observed, described and analysed on a wide range of levels.” (Lefebvre 1991, 413) This distinction forms the basis from which we can start to perceive the concept of spatial justice, for it is within space and the presence of body that we experience justice and that justice can be seen to be experienced through this presence or occupation of space, and it becomes, as Lefebvre suggests “empirically observable.”

“A Boundary is not that at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing.” (Martin Heidegger)

More posts on Spatial Justice to follow…


About TheWordEmpress

Nur Shkembi is a Melbourne based curator, writer and scholar. Nur has produced and curated over 150 events, exhibitions and community engagement projects, including You Am I, the first nationwide annual exhibition of contemporary Australian Muslim artists. She has been part of the team establishing the Islamic Museum of Australia since 2010, and until recently served as the museum’s Art Director, Exhibitions Manager and foundation Curator. Much of her interest has been in the development of community awareness in relation to the arts with a focus on the presence of Australian Muslim artists in the dominant discourse. As a museum curator, Nur brought together artefacts, traditional art and contemporary art as a means for collective storytelling, subverting stereotypes and as a provision for the individual narrative. She has served on numerous boards and committees and is a member of the Museums, Cultural Heritage and Cultural Development Advisory committee and the VicArts Visual Arts Advisory panel and Chair of Theatre funding at Creative Victoria. Nur is an editorial assistant for the peer reviewed material conservation journal AICCM Bulletin and an Academic Teacher and Lecturer for the Masters of Curatorship course at the University of Melbourne. She is a published author, with her debut novel Rookie distributed nationwide for the Australian high school curriculum by Cengage. Her writing is also featured in the National Gallery of Victoria’s Gallery magazine and the international arts magazine ReOrient. Nur is also a member of Eleven; a collective of eleven contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators and writers led by internationally acclaimed artist Khaled Sabsabi. The collective includes the artists Abdul Abdullah (four times Archibald Prize finalist), Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Khadim Ali, Walkely Award winning artist Safdar Ahmed, Abdullah M.I. Syed, Idil Abdullahi, Rusaila Bazmalit, Hoda Afshar, Shireen Taweel, Zeina Iaali and the writer and producer, Eugenia Flynn, who is currently one of the nation’s top 10 ‘deadly’ bloggers. Eleven: Nur holds a Masters (First Class Honours) from the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA & MCM) and is currently a PhD candidate – Doctor of Philosophy – Art, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne and is undertaking interdisciplinary research in material conservation, curatorship and the work of contemporary Muslim artists within the current socio-political climate. Nur is also investigating object agency theory and the contemporary manuscript as an object that disrupts history; employing the de-colonial linking and epistemic disobedience of Walter Mignolo, post-colonialism and the theories of Foucault and Said.
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