“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
What can be taught in 3 days? Definitely not the entire history of art with all its currents, neither all the philosophical, theological or anthropological volumes that have been written by the humanity in the attempt to understand who we are. But one thing that can be taught in 3 days is to question. To question the terms, the notions, the norms. To question the information and the source of information. To question the formulas, the stereotypes, the conventions. In other words, to exercise critical thinking. And this is exactly what we have been trying to do with AtWork for 4 years: to provide an alternative way of knowledge acquisition. To provide the students with the “toolbox”, which would allow them to process and elaborate information in a different, critical manner. Because the person who is able to think critically is someone who is one step closer to freedom, and as Simon Njami put it “someone who is free is more likely to transform their society”.
With AtWork we set out with an ambitious goal: to contribute to building a new generation of thinkers. The journey is long and each chapter of the way is informing and enriching the new one. We started in Dakar in 2012 and after Abidjan (2014) and Kampala (2015), we have just completed Cairo in December 2015. AtWork Cairo titled Something Else, after the Cairo Biennale Off that was taking place at the same time, was yet another unique experience. In the current socio-political context of Egypt, where the freedom of expression is being silenced on a daily basis, where censorship rules and where the society wants you to conform, AtWork provided a space where, even if only for the duration of the workshop, the students could be someone else and talk about something else. “Giving me unlimited freedom was AtWork’s strength”, commented Reem Hamed, one of the workshop participants, who is echoed by Heba Amin, the art professor who facilitated the workshop: “Therein lies the power of projects like AtWork which pinpoint the crux of the problem; they quite simply provide a reflective space for critical thinking and experimentation, one that is crucial for those societies which are increasingly being silenced.”
The results of this process are 16 art pieces: Moleskine notebooks personalized by each participant as their reflection on Something Else and their attempts to free their minds. The notebooks will be showcased at Darb1718 artistic center in Cairo during the exhibition co-curated by the students themselves, opening on March 6th.
And as the Cairo Chapter is reaching its final stage we are heading towards a new AtWork chapter, this time in Italy and in partnership with Fondazione Fotografia Modena. Another 3 days, March 4-6th, that will set the minds of 25 photography and curator master’s students in motion under the provocative guidance of Simon Njami. The theme this time is “Heterochrony”, or breaking the real time continuum, introducing the multiple space- time dimension. AtWork Modena Chapter 05 will allow the students to look at their artistic practice with a different point of view, detaching it from a particular place or time and putting it into a much larger cultural and critical context. To complete the experience and continue the discussion Simon Njami will also curate the exhibition, which will open on the last day of the workshop, March 6th, at Fondazione Fotografia Modena and will feature the winner of the International Prize for Photography 2016.
New chapters, new discussions, new inspirations. AtWork progresses and continues its march through the globe, equipping its ever-growing community of thinkers with the most powerful and dangerous weapon: knowledge. Stay with us, stay informed, this is just the beginning.