Dhaka Art Summit


RESIDENCY: Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty - The Meaning of Mediation


by Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty

mediation: to intervene between two conflicting parties to promote reconciliation, settlement, or compromise. 

This word ‘mediation’, especially when applied to the act of viewing art, was a new concept to me before I travelled to the city of Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala, earlier in 2017.  I had been invited to attend an ‘Art Mediation’ workshop co-organised by Prohelvetia New Delhi and faculty members at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts during the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.  A twelve-day intensive workshop, this was a crash-course in understanding the field of art mediation, and how I, after being trained as an Art Mediator, could involve myself in the viewer/artwork relationship to bear influence, through the process of art mediation, on the audience’s exhibition experience. 


To really understand the meaning of the noun, ‘mediation’, and its purpose within this intensive workshop I was about to undertake, I needed to also understand the adjective, ‘mediate’, as well as the verb ‘intervene’.  But what really made the purpose of attending this workshop clearer was discussing the challenge ahead with my fellow Art Mediators in training, sharing our current knowledge and thoughts about how the workshop ahead could change the way we ourselves look at art.    

As our intensive week of Art Mediation training commenced, I was taken away from the conventional ways of sharing knowledge and introduced to the theories and processes of art mediation.  Through a series of art mediation tools, we were taught how to coax people to engage with the art objects they experience while visiting an exhibition, and in turn, how to help them update the way they think about art and to consider the artist’s process. Our task, as newly trained Art Mediators, would be to create a meaningful relationship between the visitor and the art object, while considering their perspective and respecting their own personal process of sensing art and the artist.

Personally, from my position as an art practitioner, every art object’s narrative id dependent on the involvement of the artist, who, through their own personal production process, unlocks the inner codes from within their conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind, tapping into the huge reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories which impact the final art objects narrative and meaning.  impact of their own personal journey.  Sadly, this process, unique to every artist, is often lost when translated into a meaningless wall text that never seems to successfully represent the time and care taken to unlock the artists’ production process.  Instead, it often kills the art, which I found when looking around Aspinwall, particularly Raul Zurita’s The Sea Of Pain (2016), despite him being a poet.

While conducting my visitor study, I found that most people gave very little attention to the wall text and many never engaged with it at all. Why? This was the question I chose to use while engaging selected visitors through interview, targeting those who either glanced briefly at the wall text and those who gave only a few moments of their time to read it before turning in a different direction.


Why did you not take the time to read the whole text?

Answers Included:

1.  I don’t care about the text, I am here for the art. 

2.  Ah… it’s otherworldly.

3.  It is hard enough to understand the art.

It became apparent that most visitors gave very little of their attention to the text on the wall which left me wondering if it would also be possible to mediate the exhibition text and if we could, what would it look like?  Although something that would be difficult to achieve, it could be made possible through the tools and techniques we had spent the last 12-days exploring.  All art is a gathering of complex thoughts, converted into a new composition of its own complexity, which, once the artist says it is completed, we then call art. Art mediation is just a simple way of decoding that process and explaining the complex thoughts that led to the art objects production, while allowing the visitor the autonomy to develop their own theories.