Oraib Toukan is an artist and scholar. She holds a PhD in Fine Arts from Oxford University, Ruskin School of Art. Until Fall 2015, she was head of the Arts Division and Media Studies program at Bard College at Al Quds University, Palestine and was visiting faculty at the International Academy of Fine Arts in Ramallah. Between 2015 and 2017, she taught at the Ruskin School of Art’s University of Oxford Graduate Teaching program. In Autumn 2018, she was Mercator fellow at the Cultures of Critique program at Leuphana University, Lüneburg. Toukan is author of Sundry Modernism: Materials for a Study of Palestinian Modernism (Sternberg Press, 2017), and the essay-film When Things Occur (2016). Recent exhibitions include the Asia Pacific Triennial, the Mori Art Museum, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Heidelberger Kunstverein, Qalandia International, The Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow, and the 11th Istanbul Biennale. Toukan’s current research addresses “cruel images” and the question of how to treat them as both object and subject through artistic practice. Her writings have appeared in a number of publications, collected works, and biennale readers. Since 2011, she has been analyzing and remaking works from a found collection of film reels that once belonged to now-dissolved Soviet cultural centers in Jordan in 1990-1991. In the academic year 2019/20, she was a EUME Fellow and stayed at EUME during the academic years 2020-2022, supported by a fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation. In the academic years 2022-24, she continues to be affiliated with EUME.
Decruelling Images: The Micro Visual Field of Violence
Cruel images epitomize degradation of sorts. In one way, images that represent politically degraded subjects that in turn get materially degraded via passage and mediation, and degrade the subject further by virtue of being seen, scrutinized, or passed over. Toukan’s postdoctorate departs from practice-based research on cruel images to explore propositions for decruelling images. Her methodology lies in handling and re-editing found archival materials in post-production, whereby knowledge is produced through an extreme closeness to the materiality of an image via the dialectics of montage. The objective is to publish an anthology of writings that propels various theoretical notions around “decruelling images” by using the essay-as-form and the artist book-as-method. To this end, she will ethnographically explore archival representations emanating from colonized contexts to reclaim the relevance of the Palestinian experience in particular, as a historic case long working with images of violence—one that could help locate current concerns with the proliferation of cruel images. Her research questions whether abstraction via extreme proximity to the materiality of violence, at the level of the pixel grain can transcend representations of violence all together, into a field of knowing, via seeing; when images feel like they can be touched, and in turn become touching. She asks, can a navigational turn toward images of suffering become the new un-cruelling, at the very least lead to some moments of consciousness and in turn in the ‘shifting of the frame’ (Butler 2010), in the next round of violence?