News

Supporting Bold and Daring Cultural Visionaries

Dear Friends and Partners—

As 2019 concludes, we are delighted to share with you a few projects and grants that reflect our feeling and ethos that, more than ever, #culturematters.

This year, we invested in daring and innovative artists, researchers, scholars, and teams creating cultural responses to today’s challenges.

Highlights include:

Providing contemporary African artists with world-class residencies

We were delighted that African artist Younes Baba-Ali (b. 1986) was the 2019 Tauck Ritzau Artist in Residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Program, the third annual resident to be selected for this residency. Baba-Ali’s wry, subversive art often unfolds in public streets. He is well known and appreciated in the African art community—he won a prestigious Léopold Sédar Senghor prize during the 2012 edition of Dak’Art, a biennial in Senegal—but less outside of the continent. He recently told us that during his residency he discovered in Manhattan’s Chinatown an underground economy, literally, of cans and bottles, and that because of this experience he is contemplating a new work that considers street survival.

Younes Baba-Ali, 2019 Tauck Ritzau Artist in Residence

Research that promotes mutual understanding and peace

Dr. Séverine Autesserre is an award-winning researcher, author on war and peace, and an expert in peacebuilding, international aid, and African civil wars, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A professor of political science, she is the recipient of the Leth Family Fund for International Research, an endowed fund that allows a diverse cross section of Barnard College’s exceptional New York City faculty to deeply engage in research. We are very pleased to have supported her ability to research grassroots war and peace, which as she said to us “is not something that I can do by staying in my office in New York.”

Ensuring community-based refugee resettlement

Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, is creating a national coalition of organizations that support refugees and the vitality brought by their cultural heritage, and we feel passionate about helping to cultivate energy and new sponsors in Connecticut. We are honored to have contributed underwriting to fund a growth strategy; production of an important video and web page; and turnout of more than 150 people forthe organization’s “Welcome to the New World” event with 2018 Pulitzer Prize recipient for Editorial Cartooning Jake Halpern, whose graphic narrative of the same name follows the lives of a Syrian refugee family after their arrival in the U.S.

2018 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning Jake Halpern, left, at “Welcome to the New World.”

Protection for threatened archaeological sites

Archaeological sites in the Middle East are under threat from war, climate change, and economic development, and one way to study and understand these sites is through photography. In 2018, we supported the University of Oxford’s research group Manar al-Athar to expand the number of images available on its website of archaeological sites in Syria. In 2019, the second installment of our support allowed the Manar al-Athar team to edit and upload more photographs of Petra, needed by organizations such as the Petra National Trust. As Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, deputy director, said to us on the value of our gift, “private philanthropy is nimble and quick—de​te​ri​o​ration of these sites is happening and is real.”

Funerary Pylon Tomb (c. 1st century, A.D.) in Petra, Jordan.

Additional News

Robin has supported the launch of a new global social enterprise approach at America’s largest non-profit in the travel industry, Tourism Cares, in order to expand their work in underserved and post-disaster countries. In 2019, Puerto Rico was added to a list of seven countries, and bringing cultures together to support social enterprises will continue with Tourism Cares, Colombia in 2020.

Supporting new modes of art making; investing in breakthrough thinking and scholarship; and creating more inclusive, welcoming societies defined our grantmaking in 2019 and reflect our belief in the potential of culture.

We are looking forward to a very active and productive 2020, and we thank you for your ideas and friendship.

In partnership,

Robin Tauck and Colleen Ritzau Leth

African artist Younes Baba-Ali is 2019 Tauck Ritzau artist-in-residence

Brooklyn, New York—Africa enjoys a thriving, vibrant contemporary art scene, but there is  limited funding on the continent to provide local artists with residencies to make fresh, new work and create relationships that will advance their careers. Now in its third year, the Tauck Ritzau Residency is working to address this issue. The residency invites young, promising African artists to the International Studio & Curatorial Program in New York City, a light filled former factory converted to gallery and studio space for up to 35 artists from around the world at any one time and is now considered one of the leading residency programs in the world. Artists receive a private, furnished studio space; one-on-one meetings with distinguished local and international art professionals; and the opportunity to present and discuss their work with new audiences.

Nigerian artist Modupeola Fadugba (b. 1985), whose paintings and works on paper explore issues of identity representation and access, was the 2018 recipient. Kiluanji Kia Henda (b. 1978), a self-taught Angolan artist and recipient of a 2019 sculptural commission to go on view during the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London this fall, was the residency’s inaugural resident in 2017.

Born in Oujda, Morocco, Younes Baba-Ali (b. 1986) is the 2019 Tauck Ritzau resident. His fascinating, wry, and subversive art practice—encompassing technology, found objects, sound, video, and photography—reflects on topics such as diversity, migration, and consumption.

Younes Baba-Ali, 2019 Tauck Ritzau artist-in-residence, during a recent talk in Brooklyn.

The young artist lives and works between Brussels and Casablanca and has increasingly been the subject of solo shows at venues including the well regarded Maison d’Art Actuel des Chartreux. In 2014, he was awarded the area’s Art’Contest Boghossian Prize. He has been included in numerous group exhibitions and biennials in Europe and Africa. At a recent edition of Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the hybrid arts festival in Brussels dedicated to contemporary theatre, performance, and dance, and during the 2019 edition of Afrikikk during the indoor/outdoor Kikk arts festival in Namur, Wallonia, Belgium, he installed sculptures made of satellite dishes, pictured, that comment on issues of migration “and the need to stay connected with one’s country of origin.”

Younes Baba-Ali, Paraboles, 2019

The artist and his mother escaped Morocco when he was four years old. Raised in France, he studied at the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg and earned a Master of Fine Arts at Ecole Supérieure d’Art in Aix-en-Provence.  Baba-Ali says that as he grew older, after years of returning to visit his family, he rekindled his ties with his homeland and returned to Morocco to make art and be part of different joint artist collaborations. He now lives between Europe and Morocco, where he runs an art association and artist residency. His work is appreciated by critics and curators active in the African art community, and in 2012 he won the prestigious Léopold Sédar Senghor prize during the 10th edition of Dak’Art, the biennial of contemporary African Art in Dakar, Senegal.

His site-specific, multidisciplinary, and communal art often unfolds in the public streets sphere of North Africa, far removed from carefully curated white cubes or the Occidental art world.

Younes Baba-Ali, Paraboles, 2019

A recent work, Carroussa Sonore Short Circuits, is based on a traditional wooden cart, or caroussa, used in the city streets of Morocco for selling compact discs featuring Quran recitals. Baba-Ali instead used the cart to play sound art and various musical compositions, reimagining it as “a tool of awareness to listening.” Another work consisted of a megaphone broadcasting in Morse code the Muslim call to prayer five times a day; and yet another was comprised of black plastic bags hanging from the branches of an orange tree that raise questions about the ecological situation and social disparity in Morocco.

Baba-Ali says his residency in New York City was “fascinating,” especially as he puts it, “how people can afford a city that gives and takes a lot.” A sharp and curious observer, he says that he discovered in Manhattan’s Chinatown an underground storage economy, literally, of cans and bottles, where “everybody is looking for a small object.” His art works often begin with looking and exploration, and he says that because of his time at ISCP he is now in the early stages of contemplating a new work that will consider themes of micro-entrepreneurialism and street survival.

#culturematters #iscp

Photography courtesy of the artist and International Studio & Curatorial Program.

Ending violence from war by changing the way we view peace: An interview with Professor of Political Science Dr. Séverine Autesserre

This is the second in a series of interviews bringing attention to issues and innovators in global culture. We spearheaded the development of The Colleen Ritzau Leth ’08 Family Fund for International Research to provide ongoing support to Barnard College faculty conducting research that promotes mutual understanding between diverse societies and allows Barnard’s exceptional faculty to engage deeply in original studies on topics spanning international relations, peace building studies, economics, and human rights.

In 2018, The Leth Family Fund awarded the second consecutive grant to Professor of Political Science Dr. Séverine Autesserre, an award-winning researcher, author, and an expert in peacebuilding and African civil wars, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her latest findings will be published in a forthcoming text, On the Frontlines of Peace.

Q. Dr. Autesserre, you are an expert in war, peace, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and African politics. May I ask what sparked your interest in civil war and peacebuilding?

A
. Before becoming an academic, I wanted to be a journalist, as my parents worked for the French National Radio Station. However, I quickly discovered that I wanted to do something about war and suffering, and I became an activist. So I worked for humanitarian and development agencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua, and India. But ultimately, I needed the freedom to ask questions and challenge perceptions about peace and peacebuilding and not lose my job. My role as a professor at Barnard has allowed me to do just that.

Q. You have argued in the international news media that even as the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world has failed to stem the flood of violence in Congo, Idjwi—a local island on the border between the Congo and Rwanda where 83 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day—has somehow avoided the conflict, thanks to the everyday involvement of its residents. What did you discover?

A
. The island is peaceful because of its grassroots groups, social networks, strong beliefs, and agency on an individual level. When there is a conflict, instead of calling the police or the army or resorting to violence, people on Idjwi will attempt to contact a local religious network, or a youth or women’s group. Each citizen also helps maintain the stability of his or her village by keeping tabs on potential troublemakers and working with local leaders, such as priests, to prevent minor issues from escalating into violence.

Q.  Interestingly, you argue that traditions the international elite might quickly dismiss, such as local beliefs, actually play a significant role in fostering a culture of peace on the island.

A
. Yes. For instance, traditional promises, or blood pacts, between families who agree never to hurt each other go back centuries on the island. The people of Idjwi also benefit from beliefs in surrounding provinces who claim the island is home to powerful sorcerers who can cast protection upon you, or cause you harm if you try to invade or disturb the island. These beliefs help deter violence by both insiders and outsiders, just as different spiritual and religious systems help prevent violence in other countries.

Q. So how is studying an exception in the Congo like Idjwi “a first step in changing the way we view and build peace”?

A
. Many foreign entities think that local people are incompetent or corrupt, even violent, believing that only outsiders have what it takes to build peace. But it is not the army, state or police, or any outside peacekeeper, that keeps tensions from erupting into violence; it is the community members themselves. I do not believe that all is lost in Congo. Many people strive for peace and manage to make a difference. My research indicates that activists, diplomats, and development workers would do well to focus on tapping into and unleashing the talent and potential of the Congolese citizens.

Q. You have provided expert analysis and commentary in the international news that what builds peace may not be elections or agreements between world elites. “It may not even be democracy — at least not right away.” What did you mean by that?

A
. Most politicians assume that it takes an agreement between world elites to end armed conflicts. But in order to stop wars, an essential first step is to understand how people have actually succeeded in building peace. Many successful examples of peace-building have involved innovative grass-roots initiatives, led by local people, often using methods the international elite tends to dismiss. This may not require billions in aid or massive international interventions, but it may involve respecting local beliefs, including what Westerners may view as superstitions.

Q. The Leth Family Fund for International Research is a permanent endowed fund that allows a diverse cross section of Barnard’s exceptional New York City faculty to engage deeply in research. As the second recipient, why are funds like this important?

A. Researching grassroots dynamics of war and peace is not something that I can do by staying in my office in New York. What readers like most about my book manuscript is all of the stories I can tell them from my time in Afghanistan, Congo, Colombia, Somaliland, and other countries.—all of my on-the-ground material. But collecting this kind of material is expensive. I have to travel to remote, hard-to-reach places, and that costs a lot of money in terms of plane, car, and boat transportation, not to mention finding places to stay, and the like. So funds like this are crucial. Without grants like those provided by the Leth Family Fund, I just couldn’t do the kind of research that I do.

#culturematters

Image: Courtesy of Dr. Séverine Autesserre


Join IRIS in New York City

An intimate conversation with Jake Halpern & Michael Sloan

WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD

Thursday, April 25, 6:00pm
The Yale Club
50 Vanderbilt Ave, New York, NY 10017

Cocktails & hors d’oeuvres
Attire: Business Casual

Join a private discussion with journalist Jake Halpern and illustrator Michael Sloan, the Pulitzer Prize winning team and co-creators of “Welcome to the New World,” a graphic narrative series featured in the New York Times.

The series follows the lives of two Syrian refugee families after their arrival in the U.S. on election day, November 2016. 
Cartoon illustration
Also joining the discussion will be Issa and Aminah, the Syrian mother and father of one of the families depicted, and Chris George, IRIS’s Executive Director.Event attendees will participate in an interactive, behind the scenes discussion of the intensely creative and collaborative process of the Pulitzer Prize winning team of Halpern and Sloan.  

IRIS, in partnership with community co-sponsors (a group of community volunteers trained by IRIS), resettled the families depicted in Halpern & Sloan’s series.  Event proceeds will benefit IRIS — Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services

EVENT COMMITTEE

Nadja Cardona
Nyla Islam
Christy O’Keefe
Claire Qureshi
Eileen Scully
Drew Ruben