Rasheed Araeen

Rasheed Araeen, HH I (1959), from the series “Dancing Bodies” (1959–62), pastel, ink on paper, approx. 35 × 26 cm, Collection Sharjah Art Foundation, photo: Akram Spaul

On that day, fourteen years ago, I met Rasheed for the first time. The door opened, I heard a soft chuckle, and a bright-eyed man with a wild halo of graying hair pulled me out of the rain. Up some stairs, he sat me at a table in a room redolent of cooking chicken. He brought two heaping plates from the kitchen, and the questions began. No trivialities, right to the substance, art and politics.

Later, I understood. Rasheed, born in Karachi in 1935, was much appreciated as founding editor and moving spirit of Third Text, that feisty journal of critical writing and decolonizing culture. To find, support, and spur on emerging voices was simply one of the things he routinely did; as obvious and endearing as cooking a meal for a stranger. As a collaboration, Third Text became a globally important forum. But for a hundred issues, it remained inseparable from the artistic practice of its founder. That evolving practice, I learned, includes a body of sculptural work that was a major contribution to Minimalism in Britain. It also includes texts (Preliminary Notes for a BLACK MANIFESTO, 1975–76, among others) and performances (like Paki Bastard, 1977) that called out the smug, patronizing racism that permeated—and still does—London and its art world.

Third Text, founded in 1987, was built on the experience of Black Phoenix, the antiracist, anti-imperialist journal Rasheed coedited with Mahmood Jamal. Third Text became a home for me and many others, a place warmed and animated by Rasheed’s generosity and rigorous passion. Then, in 2012, the shock: the journal was hijacked by its own board of trustees. Third Text continues, illegitimately—we don’t forget that. Or that Rasheed has more to teach us: now the lessons are about resilience.

Mourning the loss productively, he continues to aim his practice radically, toward forms of social art reaching for transformative collaboration. The “eco-aesthetic” projects proposed in the essays of Art Beyond Art (2010) challenge us to rethink our relations to land, sea, and place, the contact zones of nature-culture.

Rasheed has described his practice as a journey, with interruptions, swerves, obstacles, overcomings. For me, it enacts and renews a discussion that never ends. Last April, I got an email. He’d be in Athens, was preparing something for documenta 14. A week later, we’re sitting together in Monastiraki, sharing a meal with Marina Fokidis. The substance, as ever: art and politics.

—Gene Ray

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook
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