Dr. Julia Tatiana Bailey is an art historian specializing in visual politics in the Cold War and art as propaganda, diplomacy and resistance. She recently completed a PhD focusing on official and unofficial Soviet-American cultural exchange and works as Assistant Curator of International Art at Tate Modern in London. Julia blogs on Cold War art at ESPIONART and can be found on Twitter at @espionart and @tattyjewels.
In this episode we discussed the importance of art in international relations and conflict – what we can learn from it and how it can be leveraged for influence. Much of the focus is on art as a tool during the Cold War but we also jump forward to the current environment which is being shaped by concerns about technology and surveillance – a topic of Julia’s recent guest post on Blogs of War.
In episode 32 of Covert Contact freelance writer Robert Rath joins me to discuss video games and the very real violence that surrounds us. Gaming, especially in the first person shooter genre, reflects our view of combat but it can shape our views on the subject as well. Video game inspired technology is also increasingly leveraged by the military for training systems – and weapons control systems as well. The lines between real and simulated combat are starting to blur. There are obvious parallels in the emergence of drones but rapidly evolving virtual reality capabilities and robotics are going to make gaming and warfare, not to mention reality itself, change in ways that are difficult to predict but sure to be profound. This is a fascinating topic and we just scratched the surface in this hour. But rest assured that we will be revisiting some of the subjects covered here for much deeper dives in future episodes of the show.
Regular Covert Contact listeners will recognize Francesca from episodes 9 and 17. This episode follows the same general format. We discussed the mood in Kabul, the emergence of ISIS and AQIS, and I asked her about the perception of both Iran and Russia (which has been particularly vocal about Afghanistan lately). We then move on to discuss her work supporting established and emerging artists in the country.
This was a particularly enlightening conversation for me because Francesca pushed back hard (appropriately I think) against my tendency to view work like hers in the context of international aid or counter-extremism efforts. There may be a place for art sponsored to support social or political agendas but Francesca’s work comes from a different place. She makes a very strong case for putting the art, and the artists, first. Afghanistan has a rich cultural heritage spanning thousands of years and talented artists working today. We should be able to appreciate the work without forcing it into the context of the current conflict.
In this episode I catch up with Francesca Recchia to get an update on life in Kabul, Afghanistan where, mostly thanks to the weather, life has been even more difficult than usual. But the conversation also shifts quickly to the subject of art, and artists, in the country. Francesca is working hard to develop cultural programs there and she explains how local artists view and approach their work in a conservative environment.
Episode nine focuses on the unusual work of Francesca Recchia. Francesca is an independent researcher and writer who has worked in many challenging places including Iraq, Pakistan, and Palestine. She is currently in Kabul and this episode features several daily updates that I asked her to record shortly after I started this project. Francesca’s work is the kind of activity that so often gets overlooked in the process of rebuilding a nation that has experienced significant conflict but cultural and intellectual pursuits are a direct reflection on the society in which they take place and, in the best of times, have enough influence to transform their environment. In creating a space where art and ideas can be pursued we are giving the best parts of humanity a foothold.