It is with both a sense of humbleness and excitement that we invite you to read through the fourth publication in the New World Academy Reader series, which accompanies the 2014 edition of the New World Academy (NWA), titled The Art of Creating a State.

NWA is a project by artist Jonas Staal, who, in collaboration with BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, established it in 2013 as an itinerant, ongoing platform of learning and exchange between representatives of various political organizations, artists, and students. Its goal is not only to examine the role and potential of art within a variety of political struggles across the world today, but more crucially, to foster critical alliances and collaborations between the fields of art and progressive politics so as to explore the possibility of a mutualizing of their respective spaces, functions, and competences. The project of NWA is born out of a concern that is shared by, and remains central to, a number of BAK’s research projects—namely, the concern about the present-day ills within dominant forms of political and aesthetic representation at a time when the old line between aesthetics and politics becomes blurred under the pressures of manifold collective resistance to hegemonic articulations of the world.

The first three sessions of NWATowards a People’s Culture; Collective Struggle of Refugees: Lost. In Between. Together.; and Leaderless Politics—were brought to life with the cultural workers of the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines, the collective of refugees We Are Here, and the open-source advocates of international Pirate Parties. NWA #4: The Art of Creating a State is organized in collaboration with political and military organization Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad National Liberation Movement of Azawad,[1] and in particular, in dialogue with Moussa Ag Assarid, writer and the movement’s representative. Following an uprising in 2012, the MNLA has declared the independent, multiethnic state of Azawad in what is the northern part of present-day Mali. A result of complicated, lengthy, conflict-ridden struggle with and against the legacy of Western colonialism in Africa, Azawad remains an unrecognized entity embedded in a complex, unending politically volatile situation. A “stateless state,” as it were, it is upheld not through its administrative or military apparatus, but, in Staal’s words, “through language, poetry, music, and literature, as well as through visual signs and imagery. It is art that carries the history of a people, and with it, the promise of a new world.” It is around these ideas that intensive workshops evolve, facilitating exchange between Azawadian thinkers, artists, political representatives, and students from, among other educational partners, ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, Arnhem; Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem; Minerva Academy, Groningen; the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam; and Utrecht University, Utrecht. These assemblies are further embedded in a number of public programs, including lectures, discussions, presentations, and an exhibition, all of which aim at renegotiating with the public not so much the concrete example of the art and politics of the state of Azawad as our own capacity to envision—and enact—the world otherwise.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all contributors to this project: the participating artists, students, writers, representatives of Azawad, my colleagues at BAK, and our financial partners for their enormous efforts to make the realization of this project possible. Last but not least, I would like to thank the artist Jonas Staal, whose proposition of NWA #4 as well as the project that precedes it, New World Embassy: Azawad (temporarily instituting an embassy at BAK to negotiate cultural and diplomatic exchange and seek acknowledgement), are his contributions in his capacity as BAK Research Fellow in the context of BAK’s long-term research trajectory Future Vocabularies and its inaugural entry on the notion of “survival.” Shifting art’s logic away from spectatorship and paternalist artistic offer to audience participation, as well as from mere critique to proposition, neither of these undertakings are like “typical” art projects that so often hide in the symbolic safety of an art institution and thus away from the world they take as their subject. They are complex and challenging, and they do not shy away from political and artistic controversy, presenting something of a challenge even to an institution like BAK, which envisions itself as a place of interlocution. This vision is underlined by the need to find ways of offering a space for negotiating conflicting world-views, even if this involves a confrontation with the stories that we, in the West, prefer to tuck away into the seemingly faraway, unsightly folds of global developments, which all too often are filled with armed conflicts and multifaceted insurgencies. Despite the acute intricacies that surround attempts like these, it nevertheless seems incredibly important to me to undertake such projects in the space of what we call art, if only to recognize that we, too, are part of the conflict zone that is the world today.


[1] At the time of their declaration of independence in 2012, the name of the organization was still Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad, which translates into English as “National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.” Following the declaration of independence, however, the organization changed its name to Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad, which is best translated into English as “National Liberation Movement of Azawad,” and which we maintain throughout the reader when referring to the MNLA. Eds.

Foreword to the fourth publication in the New World Academy Reader series, which accompanies the 2014 edition of the New World Academy (NWA), titled The Art of Creating a State.

  • Part of New World Academy een nieuwe akademie opgericht door Jonas Staal in samenwerking met BAK