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Tarek Elhaik

Tarek Elhaik

Assistant Professor

PhD - University of California, Berkeley (2007)

Young Hall 226


My work is based on intensive participant-observation in contemporary art and curatorial worlds.  Animated by a deep sense of care towards assemblages and images, I think of my work as a simultaneous contribution to the anthropology of media, the anthropology of art, and the anthropology of the Image.  Until now I have been conducting fieldwork in Mexico City where I was particularly attentive to the formal inquiries, image-making processes, and writings of media artists, as well as to the concept-work of curators who care about them. I have engaged, specifically, those artists and curators whose inquiries have provocatively signaled an ongoing breakdown of cultural forms and historical figurations of anthropos in Mexico (eg. mestizaje, mexicanidad, cosmopolitan-nationalist modes of existence).  The outcome of this first fieldwork experience and experiment is a book length study titled The Incurable-Image:Curating Post-Mexican Film & Media Arts (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

My writings have appeared in books and journals, including FrameworkRevista de Antropologia Social, and Critical Arts. I have also curated and collaborated on several film programs and symposia. Rather than illustrations of fieldwork, these public programs index a form of “curatorial work” and “curatorial design” . I therefore deploy curation both as a form of fieldwork and as the medium of my participant-observation based concept-work.  I'm also part of a collaborative team of researchers, hosted by the Los Angeles Film Forum and funded by the Getty Foundation, currently editing and curating an anthology and several platforms on experimental cinema and media in Latin America. 

My new fieldwork mise-en-scene was initially generated through drifts and walks alongside a ruined "Tricontinental" assemblage. In this assemblage utopian figures, geographies, images, and media forms from the 1960s and 1970s—eg. the New Man, Non-Aligned conference in Belgrade, Che Guevara’s speeches in Algiers, the Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City—are being resurrected by contemporary artists, curators, and scholars. Multi-sited conversations with interlocutors active in this domain of practices led me to re-problematize these resurrections from the perspective of an anthropology of ethics: what are political modernisms and their attendant media forms and images good for? Do these have a function in the ethical life of the media artists who resuscitate them, today? Does the reanimation of militant images and modes of existence from the 1960s block other enduring forms and images (Nachleben, in the sense of Aby Warburg), and perhaps even thwart an emerging point of view?

These queries have led me to conduct further fieldwork in the visual and cinematic arts, as well as to new encounters with artists whose images, techne, colors, and difficulties are grounded in an anthropology and a geo-philosophy to come. Among these are Silvia Gruner, Raul Ruiz, Mounir Fatmi, and Michelangelo Antonioni.

I’m also setting up AIL: Anthropology of the Image Lab in Young Hall 226.  AIL will be a space for curatorial and pedagogical experiments, including workshops with anthropologists and interlocutors in adjacent disciplines committed to fostering fieldwork-led modes of curation and inquiries through images and visual media.

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Dept. of Anthropology

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