CURATOR ALIA FARID ON THE SPACE BETWEEN CLASSROOMS AND NEW TYPES OF LEARNING

Alia Farid. Photo: Aziz Motawa
ACT at MIT

Curator and ACT alumna Alia Farid (SMVisS ’08) curated the fifth annual Architecture and Design Series, which runs from January 20 – April 19, 2021, at New York City’s Swiss Institute. Farid’s exhibition, The Space Between Classrooms, departs from Swiss Modernist Alfred Roth’s prototype to challenge normative, top-down approaches to education, knowledge production, and skill exchange through works by artists, architects, historians, and activists from across the world. She was recently interviewed by Drew Zeiba for Pin-Up Magazine.

The works in this exhibition respond to the limitations of learning within the prescribed architectural and structural parameters of an archetypal school setting. Farid takes as a starting point the prototype for schools that Alfred Roth designed for Kuwait’s Ministry of Public Works during the late 1960s, a period of rapid modernization for the newly flourishing oil state. Roth, a celebrated Swiss modernist architect, developed prefabricated schools that were to be replicated in each district across the country. From his initial report on the existing provision of schools, which opens the exhibition, The Space Between Classrooms compares the uniformity of Roth’s architecture and the introduction of a modern education system in Kuwait with expanded art practices from Latin America, Southwest Asia and North Africa. These works draw on radical forms of pedagogy and communication as tools for unlearning, exploring how institutionally engineered values might govern imagination.

The exhibition opens with Roth’s specific architectural prototype and its influence on the Gulf state. Works by Abdullah Al Mutairi, Khalid al Gharaballi and Atelier Aziz Alqatami reconstruct elements and scenes from the Roth schools to examine the use and afterlife of these modernist buildings. Placing this architectural case study in dialogue with theories of alternative learning, the exhibition concurrently draws from an expanded notion of education and pedagogical practice as seen through the prism of ideas of philosopher Ivan Illich (1926-2002), most notably in his 1971 treatise Deschooling Society, a critical discourse on education as practiced in modern economies and a critique of mandatory schooling. In Illich’s view, formal education is a means of production, and as such, it is imbricated within a fundamentally circular and capitalist logic. Works in The Space Between Classrooms by Mohamed Bourouissa, Olga Casellas and Marco Abarca, Cecilia Vicuña, Jumana Manna and Haig Avazian, Oscar Murillo, Gala Porras-Kim, and Nuria Montiel explore the potential of art as an alternative mode of learning, situated at the intersection of education and self-exploration, to challenge existing power structures and consider systems of knowledge, language and meaning outside the walls of modern institutions. Concurrent and integral to the show is a public program series that brings together activists, artists, architects and historians including Marco di Nallo, Sophie Hochhäusl, Amal Khalaf, Sofía Olascoaga and Michy Marxuach to discuss and activate alternative modes of schooling.

Driven by inquiry, the works here demonstrate how understandings of knowledge or what constitutes valuable information cannot be prescribed or confined. With its title taken from a caption that Roth inscribed beneath a photo of a hallway in a school in Kuwait, The Space Between Classrooms explores the capacity that we each have to make meaning from the in-between or the outside. Set against our current moment, in which traditional sites of education have been radically reconfigured for many, it makes visible the potential in everyday spaces for moments of thought and learning.

Additional programming for The Space Between Classrooms will be held in collaboration with M7, Qatar Museums and The World Around Summit 2021.

Alia Farid (b.1985) lives and works in Kuwait and Puerto Rico. She has had recent solo exhibitions at Portikus, Frankfurt and Kunstinstituut Melly (formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art), Rotterdam. Recent and upcoming group shows include participation in the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, the 12th Gwangju Biennale, Sharjah Biennial 14, the 2nd Lahore Biennale, Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2001 at MoMA PS1, and Yokohama Triennale 2020. She has forthcoming solo exhibitions at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAMSTL), St. Louis in 2022 and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto in 2023.