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Conversations · Exhibition-Related

Plotting Movements: Laura Kurgan and Naeem Mohaiemen on the Politics of Space

Cover Image:

Graphic from Laura Kurgan’s installation strategy for Interface: Information Overlay, 1993 (digital composite). Exhibited in “Trade Routes,” 1993, New Museum. Courtesy the artist and the New Museum, New York

In the early ’90s, curators at the New Museum organized three related exhibitions that critically examined the rhetoric of colonial expansion and conquest. Developed under the working title “Occupied Territory,” these exhibitions— “In Transit,” “The Final Frontier,” and “Trade Routes” —invited artists to respond to questions surrounding globalization’s social, economic, cultural, and intellectual exchanges. To address these issues in a renewed context, Laura Kurgan and Naeem Mohaiemen will engage the original overarching conceptual framework for the three exhibitions through presentations that draw upon their current research and individual practices. They will both respond as if the “Occupied Territory” outline—sourced from an internal working document in the New Museum archives—were a structural prompt they had received for an exhibition series today.

Within the exhibition trilogy that “Occupied Territory” gave rise to, “In Transit” (January 15–April 3, 1993) focused on global movements via immigration, but also looked closer to home, addressing the (often involuntary) movement of people through urban spaces, with works that focused on reclamation, trespassing, or homelessness. “The Final Frontier” (May 7–August 15, 1993), originally slated to focus on space exploration and scientific studies of the cosmos, shifted during the planning stages to more polemically consider the impacts of technology on physical and spatial boundaries with particular attention placed on “the body as a contested site.” The last exhibition, “Trade Routes” (September 10–November 7, 1993), considered the consequences of the globalization of trade and finance, with particular emphasis on the role of art within this network.

Against this exhibition history, presentations by Kurgan and Mohaiemen will open up a conversation that will draw out and reassess ideas about the changing borders and boundaries of culture in relation to issues as wide-reaching as neoliberal capitalism and as particular as the situations facing individual cities. In 1993, Kurgan talked about trade routes as the movement of people, things, and money around the globe—each of which move at different speeds. Discussing her contribution to the original exhibition “Trade Routes,” a project that set a direction for recurring themes in her practice, she will touch upon the conceptual framework as it was laid out over twenty years ago. Kurgan’s work fluctuates between thematic mapping and data visualization in artistic, aesthetic, and political contexts. For “Plotting Movements,” Kurgan will show recent work involving the mapping of oil shipping globally, the mapping of political, economic, and environmental causes for global migration, and the migration to and from prison in many US cities, among other projects.

Mohaiemen will tell the story of Talpatti, an island that emerged in the Bay of Bengal after the Bhola cyclone of 1970, and was discovered by an American satellite in 1974. The island became the location for a contentious battle of “ownership” between India and Bangladesh. This territory dispute allowed the post-1975 regime in Bangladesh to take on a saber-rattling position against India, drawing a sharp contrast (“a line in the water”) with the earlier “friendship policy” that had originated from the Indian support of the Bengali guerrilla army during the 1971 war that split Pakistan and created Bangladesh.

Laura Kurgan is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, where she directs the Visual Studies curriculum, the Spatial Information Design Lab and is Codirector of the Advanced Data Visualization Project. She is the author of Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (Zone Books, 2013). Kurgan’s work explores things ranging from digital mapping technologies to the ethics and politics of mapping, building intelligence, and the art, science, and visualization of big and small data. Her work has appeared at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Whitney Altria, MACBA Barcelona, ZKM in Karlsruhe, and the Museum of Modern Art. She was the winner of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship in 2009.

Naeem Mohaiemen is a writer and visual artist working in Dhaka and New York. Since 2006, he has worked on “The Young Man Was,” a fragmentary history of the 1970s ultra-left in Bangladesh. One chapter, the film United Red Army (on the 1977 hijack of Japan Airlines), and the in-progress script for another film, Afsan’s Long Day (on the 1974 anticommunist manhunts), previewed at the New Museum. The project has been described as “engagements with a revolutionary past meaningful in the sudden eruption of a revolutionary present” (Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Bidoun). Mohaiemen’s essays have been published in Sun Never Sets: South Asian Migrants in an Age of US Global Power (NYU), Lines of Control: Partition as Productive Space (Cornell/Johnson Museum), Visual Culture Reader, 3rd ed. (Routledge), Sound Unbound (MIT Press), Granta (Pakistan Issue), Rethinking Marxism, etc. He is a PhD student in Anthropology at Columbia University.


“Occupied Territory: A New Museum Trilogy” is made possible, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Generous endowment support is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Skadden, Arps Education Programs Fund, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs at the New Museum.

This program is made possible, in part, through the support of the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Education and public programs are made possible by a generous grant from Goldman Sachs Gives at the recommendation of David B. Heller & Hermine Riegerl Heller.

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