Skip to main content Start of main content

Aftermaths?: dOCUMENTA (13) in Kabul

Sculpture made by one of the participants in a workshop led by Michael Rakowitz in Bamiyan as part of dOCUMENTA (13), 2012. Courtesy the artist and Aman Mojadidi
Francesca Recchia sees the incursion of dOCUMENTA (13) into Kabul as symptomatic of a wider fascination with the elsewhere in curatorial practice. In a world that fantasises about its global interconnectedness, questions of origin, location, proximity and distance are central to debates on contemporary art and curatorial practice. This article looks back at the decision to have dOCUMENTA (13) ‘travel’ in 2012 to Kabul on the grounds that the Afghan capital and the city of Kassel — where the exhibition is traditionally hosted — share a common (generic?) post-conflict heritage. Taking issue with the widespread commodification of ‘elsewhere’ in contemporary art, it interrogates the exhibition’s choice of language and its conceptual framework, examining the repercussions of spoken and unspoken expectations towards the symbolic significance of Afghanistan. It also addresses the risks of the Western developmental approach that often seep through contemporary art’s interactions with localities ‘beyond the frontier’ to ask if this is not a sort of excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta — the unrequested reassurance of abiding by the rules of good intentions and political correctness thus betraying a need to excuse the colonial underpinnings of Western institutions’ incursions into the Global South. Finally, the article ends with a note from Afghanistan, a reflection on the challenges of establishing equal grounds for the dialogue with the elsewhere.