Niloufar Emamifar, Safe, 2023 / Photo Frank Kleinbach
Niloufar Emamifar: Ex Gratia
May 6 – Sep 10, 2023
Künstlerhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany

For the artist’s debut exhibition in Germany, Niloufar Emamifar presents a newly produced body of work across both main gallery floors of the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart. Drawing from her study of architecture and consistent attention to the psychosocial dynamics of built space, Emamifar’s exhibition, EX GRATIA, emphasizes site-specific demands on structural capacity in responding to the needs of lived relations. This emphasis on material conditions – the insistence on operative structures – when considering interpersonal experience is a crucial aspect of Emamifar’s ongoing approach to exhibition-making. Her work carefully examines the causative relationships between site, situation, and subjectivity. For Emamifar, while living beings are not determined, they are extremely porous, thereby susceptible to the constructed systems they presently occupy and embody. The artist’s exhibition at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart is attuned to this vulnerability – the artist leans into the work of exposure within surrounding circumstances, while also recognizing how individuated experience is not ultimately separate from the oppressive structural realities shouldered by many. The conditions encountered by Emamifar in producing EX GRATIA necessitated efforts by the artist to develop lasting structures that could be applicable for future artists working at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart and at other art sector institutions in the German context.

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In working with potential governance arrangements and legal aid infrastructure, Emamifar’s exhibition grapples with the law as a largely inaccessible system, which has also been shaped by ongoing histories of immigration law, poverty law, labor law and other advocates for greater accessibility and the asserting of rights within a legal order that too often merely codifies what dominant economic authority has qualified as justice. And of course, the law is not a neutral framework of conduct. It is defined.

While committed to effectively redefining foundational and underlying structures, Emamifar is ambivalent about the role of artists as short-term workers who engage in capacity-building for the long-term prospect of an art institution. There is real danger for artists as project-based laborers when they intervene in governance structures of hosting institutions. Artists are left economically destitute, foreclosed upon, or discarded, when they operate beyond their expected role by attempting to intervene in institutional administration. This danger is precisely why Emamifar has brought in key collaborators – legal counsel – to take on a substantial behind-the-scenes and public-facing role in engaging with the structural conditions of the institution. Emamifar’s exhibition includes a built stage where representative legal counsel, Nora Ebeling, will give a public presentation on the practicable legal-economic guidances for the KHS to utilize when contracting visa-applicant, migrant, displaced, and refugee status artists. Emamifar’s decision to construct a platform for Ebeling’s public presentation of this proposed legal-economic infrastructure underscores vital interrelated questions for the artist: What are the risks of visibility and platforming – of representation – when seeking to actualize lived political realities? What does it mean for Emamifar to assign Ebeling with the public-facing work of exposure and education in confronting audiences with the structural imperatives for visa-applicant, migrant, displaced, and refugee status workers? To what extent will this legal-economic framework serve as both an internal and outward facing policy, offering everyday considerations that are specific to the KHS, as well as reproducible models of institutional conduct that challenge the inequitable, exclusionary, and discriminatory hiring practices so prevalent in the art sector at large?

The title of Emamifar’s exhibition, Ex gratia, refers to the term as used in a legal context for a payment that is made not out of legal obligation but because the circumstances justify it. It is a kind of standard practice recognized by the law that is irregular, a legally recognized consideration that is extra-legal. Ex gratia payments are morally justified but legally unsanctioned – that is, they are a means of recourse potentially more exacting than those mandated by law. Emamifar’s exhibition includes a fully executed agreement between the artist and KHS that governs the storage of materials owned by the artist within a safe deposit box located on the fourth floor of the KHS for as long as KHS rents the building at its current location. A key provision of this agreement is that Emamifar may grant an assignee access to any of the many safe deposit boxes the artist has made available. In the event that the artist grants an assignee access to a safe deposit box, all terms and conditions of the agreement apply to the assignee just as they do to the artist. This signed agreement is included in the exhibition pamphlet.

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