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Non Participation: Acts of Definition and Redefinition

What does it mean to name and define not only a body of work, but a political or philosophical position, an artistic practice, or relationship to a wider social context? These are questions propelling The Museum of Non Participation, a long-running project and Walker exhibition by artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Through the very […]

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What does it mean to name and define not only a body of work, but a political or philosophical position, an artistic practice, or relationship to a wider social context? These are questions propelling The Museum of Non Participation, a long-running project and Walker exhibition by artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Through the very act of naming and identifying their project under the concept of “nonparticipation,” the artists activate a collective process of inquiry around this inherently malleable and expansive term.

For Mirza and Butler, “nonparticipation” speaks to urgent social conditions and pervasive everyday realities. As they describe it, “one aspect of nonparticipation is to acknowledge that it is a life condition, both consciously and unconsciously exercised in each of our lives. Internationally it exists in the excess of one’s own society, which is often gained at the expense of another’s nameless plight elsewhere. Locally it is recognizable when, for example, people encounter an issue that they believe is valid or necessary—say, homelessness, the right to protest, the Iraq War, but in that simultaneous moment they ignore it or reject it.”

As nonparticipation surfaces in our daily lives, Mirza and Butler assert that rather than being a position of negation or denial, it is a position from which to speak.

In conjunction with The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. In coming weeks, we’ll publish texts written by these international and local collaborators: Nabil Ahmed, Rachel Anderson, Chris Conry, Jeanne Dorado, Keli Garrett, Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, Rahila Gupta, and Fatos Ustek. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

For them, nonparticipation is understood variously in relationship to large-scale global migration and climate change, post-conflict situations, endemics of violence, daily habits, agency and identification as a citizen, social welfare, and resistance and revolution.

We extend an invitation to you to take on nonparticipation in your own terms.