Fellow 2019/2020

Urok Shirhan

Visual artist Urok Shirhan’s work explores the politics of image, sound, and speech in relation to (national) identity. Working mainly with video, performance, and writing, her projects are often entangled with found materials and autobiographic narratives. Her latest body of research considers questions of the voice as well as the tongue in relation to language, phonetics, displacement, and assimilation. Shirhan has an MA from Goldsmiths University of London, London, a BFA from Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, and has held numerous residencies. Recent presentations have been at MoMA PS1, New York (forthcoming); TENT, Rotterdam, Rotterdam, 2019; AUB Art Galleries, Beirut, 2017–2018; Drodesera Festival, Trento, 2017; Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, 2017; Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Moscow, 2016; Frascati Theatre, Amsterdam, 2016; among others. Shirhan lives and works in Rotterdam and London.

Fellowship Research Trajectory

One of the main interests in Urok Shirhan’s practice is power, and the ways in which power is performed through sound, language, and images. Her research often emerges from questions informed by her biography and family history of political migrations. As an Iraqi-born, once asylum-seeker turned “new” Dutch citizen, issues surrounding displacement, identity and belonging are of particular interest. The contemporary era is one of increasing anti-immigrant sentiment and renewed fascist rhetoric. This research, Performing the Nation, is invested in understanding these mechanisms and the ways in which they are—however subtly—expressed in day-to-day interactions, images, and sounds. Shirhan looks at the different ways in which people individually as well as in communities perform the “nation,” and the ways in which the nation performs itself through and onto people. Shirhan takes as her main premises the displacement of image and sound, body and voice to disrupt the “familiar” or “habitual,” and engages with materials through sound, voice, and body directly as affective forms of knowing inseparable from thought and discourse. She asks, among other things: What does a homeland sound like? What does the embodiment of a nation do? How does sound in general, and the voice in particular, embody notions of national identity and statehood? How does one perform postnationality? What does rootlessness sound like? What are some former and current instances of political solidarity through song and sound?