Throughout June and July 2019 The Showroom presented There Is No Alternative, a new commission by UK-born, Athens-based artist Navine G. Khan-Dossos.
There Is No Alternative was a performative, durational installation combining live painting, a research archive, and a series of workshops, talks, and events open to the public. The project, Khan-Dossos’ first in a UK public institution, featured her on-going research into the complex context of the UK government’s development of pre-crime and surveillance policies, questioning the politics of representation and the positioning of care that the strategies around those policies generate.
What do these visual strategies indicate or, indeed, fail to establish? How and by whom are those representational narratives formulated? Through which methods do they spread across the country? Whose voices are unheard and where are those silences when public policies are written? Amid the socio-political aftermaths almost two decades after the US declaration of the War on Terror, and the resurgence of right-wing nationalisms worldwide, There Is No Alternative explored the limits of a politics of fear, its visual representation, and our current systems of representational democracy.
Navine G. Khan-Dossos’ new work aimed to both inhabit and expose the fluctuating forces at play within the Prevent strategy, which oscillate between safeguarding, protection and surveillance. Working with philosophical principles of image and space-building from the tradition of aniconism within Islamic art - where it becomes possible to represent the un-representable through analogies with geometry - Navine G. Khan-Dossos’ work explores ideas of authenticity, appropriation, positionality and the possibilities of generating new visual language in the context of transgressive political and conceptual frameworks. She does so by combining the aniconic with multiple visual modes of communication, design, and strategies for the display of digital information.
There Is No Alternative aimed to open a space both for reflection and for collective debate in response to the increasing urgencies surrounding Prevent, the national counter-terrorism policy as it has been implemented in England, Wales and Scotland for the past sixteen years. Over the course of the exhibition, The Showroom became a site of production, organisation and exchange, taking the visual narratives surrounding Prevent as the point of departure through which to reconsider this contested policy and the role it plays in society today. Ultimately There Is No Alternative produced both the representation of this singular collective visual policy with wide-reaching implications and explored, through current case studies, the socio-political entanglement it produces.
A range of workshops, talks and screenings took place throughout There Is No Alternative, activating the wall paintings and contributing to the collective production of the space. This discursive programme was shaped in relation to a growing research archive gathered by Khan-Dossos in dialogue with The Showroom team and a network of new and long-term peers and collaborators, including those who are affected by and continue to develop critical responses to Prevent nationwide.
Contributing speakers included Hamja Ahsan, artist, writer, activist and curator; Azad Ali, Community Relations Director at CAGE, Dr Shazad Amin, Chief Executive of Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND); Dr Salman Butt, Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c; Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality, University of Birmingham; Jennifer Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb; Dr Jonathon Hurlow, Forensic Psychiatrist at Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NUS Foundation Trust; Dr Rob Faure Walker, convenor of the Prevent Digest; Mark Hurrell, Head of Graphic Design at the Government Digital Service and a designer working on how knowledge and information is constructed in the public domain; Dr Layla Hadj and Shezana Hafiz, CAGE; Dr Andrea Phillips, BALTIC Professor and Director of BxNU Research Institute, Northumbria University & BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art; Dr Tarek Younis, Division of Psychiatry, University College London; Basia Spalek, Visiting Professor in Conflict Transformation at the University of Derby; artists Democracia and Kate Stonehill; Ismail Ali, founder and convenor of Project Alchemy; and Rizwan Hussain, Director of Jawaab, a creative campaigning organisation which aims to build a grassroots movement of minority voices against Islamophobia.
There Is No Alternative was supported through the Navine G. Khan-Dossos Supporters Circle.
Image credit: Navine G. Khan-Dossos, There Is No Alternative. Installation view, The Showroom, July 2019. Photo: Dan Weill Photography