Open Letter to Black Umbrella Board of Trustees, Taylor & Francis Group & Arts Council England

POSTED ON: August 13, 2012 IN Speeches & Statements, Word View

Third Text Advisory Council Members, Third Text Associates & Third Text Contributors and Supporters, 13 August 2012

It is with growing alarm and concern that we, members of the Third Text Advisory Council and close supporters ofThird Text, have watched the Board of Trustees take unilateral actions that are hurtful to Founding Editor Rasheed Araeen and damaging to the shared artistic, intellectual and political vision of this journal.

We write this letter to say that we will not allow the continuing disrespect of Rasheed or the undermining of the shared principles that form the core of Third Text’s ethos and politics. We will take collective steps to defend the vision of the journal and make it clear to its global readership that this vision is being seriously compromised.

Third Text has been published since 1987 by Black Umbrella, an organization founded in 1984 to fight the routine institutional exclusion of non-Western artists in the London artworld. Since 2002, Taylor & Francis have published Third Text on behalf of Black Umbrella, with funding from Arts Council England.

It is crucial to remember that Black Umbrella and Third Text were founded in a long political struggle against discrimination and exclusion, a struggle in which Rasheed Araeen played an integral role. Third Text stands for a globalized art and culture of liberation and justice. That is why we care about it and will defend it. Moreover, if today Third Text represents a truly global conception of art and critical practice unequalled by any other journal published, and has earned a truly global readership, this achievement reflects Rasheed’s tireless work and commitment over decades. We, the writers, Advisors, and supporters of Third Text, understand this and underscore here our deep respect for Rasheed’s founding vision and leadership.

In this light, the actions of the Trustees since July 2011 aiming to oust Rasheed constitute a fundamental alteration of the vision and character of Third Text. This conservative agenda is visually confirmed in the face that scowls from the latest issue of the journal, replacing the world map that has graced its cover since its founding.

We are not concerned with the small details and disputes of this crisis. We are concerned with the large actions that have done damage and threaten the vision we share. The essential chronology is as follows:

In July 2011, the Trustees took the extraordinary unilateral action of dismissing Rasheed Araeen as Executive Director of Black Umbrella, in effect locking him out of the day-to-day running of the journal. They did this without consulting with the Third Text Editorial Board or Advisory Council and without any attempt to publicly explain or justify such a drastic action.

Nearly a year later, in June 2012, Rasheed wrote and circulated a letter notifying us of the Trustees’ action and the subsequent failure of all attempts to resolve the disputes. For most of us, this was the first we heard of the crisis within the journal.

Mario Pissarra, the managing director of Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI) and Lize van Robbroeck, editor in chief of Third Text Africa, responded with an open letter calling on the Trustees to explain their actions and urging writers and Advisors in the meantime to refrain from submitting or recommending further articles to the journal.

The Trustees responded to Pissarra and van Robbroeck’s letter on 2 August 2012. While professing allegiance to Rasheed’s vision, they nevertheless presumed to be its true interpreters and caretakers and proceeded to condemn Rasheed in bureaucratic and legal language.

Four days later, five of the nine members of the Third Text Editorial Board rejected these explanations by resigning in protest. In their letter of 6 August, they called for an independent investigation and review of the management and editorial structure of the journal, including the role of the Trustees.

This is the context of the present letter and collective action. In our view, what has taken place is unacceptable. Clearly, there were major divergences and sharp disputes regarding funding strategies in the current financial crisis and official turn to austerity. But no such differences justify the removal, without consultation or justification, of the man who more than any other defined the vision we share and established the standards of the journal we know and love.

Far more than the Trustees – who hold their positions because Rasheed was generous enough to so honor them – we, the writers, readers and Advisory Council members of Third Text, are the practice and life of this journal. Without us, its pages will lose much of the diversity and commitment that have contributed over the years to its intellectual vitality. We know this and will not stand by and passively watch the transformation of an exceptional and necessary journal into one more depoliticized concession to market forces. If Third Text is to be made to betray its vision, then it will be without us – and the parting of ways will then be real.

There is one way to avoid that. The Trustees must fully and immediately reinstate Rasheed Araeen in his former positions as the Executive Director of Black Umbrella and working Founding Editor of Third Text. This would be the first step in assuring us that the vision of the journal has been protected. It would also open the door to a more dialogic and consultative process of negotiation and resolution.

Should the Trustees fail to reinstate Rasheed by 31 August 2012, we will take collective steps to prevent their action from acquiring any appearance of legitimacy. Those of us who are on the Advisory Council will resign our positions. Together with the others who are signing this letter, we will urge a global boycott of the journal among our peers and well-wishers of Third Text across the world.

Third Text Advisory Council Members:
Rustom Bharucha International Research Centre, Berlin, Germany
Guy Brett Honorary Professor, University of the Arts, London, UK
Geeta Kapur art critic and curator, New Delhi, India
Tabish Khair Aarhus University, Denmark
José-Carlos Mariátegui Editor, Third Text Latin America, Lima, Peru
Benita Parry University of Warwick, UK
Mario Pissarra, Africa South Art Initiative, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Gene Ray Berlin, Germany, and Geneva University of Art and Design, Switzerland
John Roberts University of Wolverhampton, UK
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Columbia University, New York, USA
Julian Stallabrass Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK
Victor Tupitsyn Professor Emeritus, Pace University, New York, USA
Slavoj Zizek Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, UK, and University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Third Text Associates:
Durriya Kazi Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Nighat Mir Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Everlyn Nicodemus Edinburgh UK, former Third Text Advisory Council member
Nafisa Rizvi Third Text Asia, Karachi, Pakistan
Lize van Robbroeck Editor in Chief, Third Text Africa 
Kristian Romare Edinburgh, UK, former Third Text Advisory Council member

Third Text Contributors and Supporters:
Tejpal S. Ajji University of California Los Angeles, USA 
Shahidul Alam Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Vivien Ashley London, UK
Etienne Balibar, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris, France, and University of California Irvine, USA
Hans Belting Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Sutapa Biswas Film and Video Umbrella, London, UK
Iain Boal Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Kamal Boullata artist and writer, Menton, France
Anthony Bond Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia 
Susan Buck-Morss Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA
Andrea Buddensieg Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany 
Liu Ding artist and curator, Beijing, China
Laura Fantone San Francisco Art Institute, USA
Jose Fernandes Dias Lisbon University, Portugal
Peter Fillingham artist, Chatham, Kent, UK
Stephen Foster John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, UK
Richard Gott London, UK
Gabo Guzzo artist, London, UK
Brian Holmes art critic, Chicago, USA
Darren Jorgensen University of Western Australia
Pierre Joris State University of New York Albany, USA
Fredja Klikovac Handel Street Projects, London, UK
Carol Yinghua Lu artist and curator, Beijing, China
Juliet Flower MacCannell Professor Emerita, University of California Irvine, USA
Courtney J. Martin Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Fiamma Montezemolo University of California Berkeley, USA
Lynda Morris Norwich University of the Arts, UK
Barbara Murray International Association of Art Critics, UK
Anna Papaeti University of Göttingen, Germany
Clive Phillpot writer and curator, London, UK
Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen Copenhagen University, Denmark
Francesca Recchia journalist and independent scholar, London, UK
Colin Richards University of Cape Town, South Africa
Alaknanda Samarth actor, London, UK
Hamid Severi curator, Tehran, Iran
Gregory Sholette Queens College, City University of New York, USA
Joni Spigler University of California Berkeley, USA
Pep Subirós Gao lletres, Barcelona, Spain
Margarita Tupitsyn curator and art critic, New York, USA
Donovan Ward Africa South Art Initiative, Cape Town, South Africa
Peter Weibel Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany
Lara Weibgen Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Chantal Wong Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong, China
Adrian Thomas Wilson University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Eddie Yuan San Francisco Art Institute, USA