Radio AlHara

Towards a More Sustainable Curatorial Practice

26 September, 2023 | Rim Irscheid

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©Radio AlHara

We would like to take this opportunity to provide more information on the background of the article »Radio AlHara – Towards a More Sustainable Curatorial Practice.« The text was written in September, a few weeks before the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the subsequent events. Due to the long lead times of the magazine production, the field notes magazine issue November/December 2023 was already finalised and in print by the beginning of October. 

The article is politically neutral and focuses on Radio AlHara's curatorial practices. However, it has come to our attention that Radio AlHara, in addition to expressions of solidarity for civilians in Gaza and highlighting, has recently provided a platform for individuals who disseminate inappropriate content. We renounce this in no uncertain terms.

field notes serves as a platform, advocate and mediator for the members of a scene that is characterised by its internal diversity and plurality of opinions in Berlin and beyond. We want to make it clear that discrimination of any kind has no place on it. This explicitly includes anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish life. We condemn the terrorist attack by Hamas as well as all anti-Semitic positions, actions and agitations worldwide. At the same time, we reject any form of prejudice against expressions of solidarity for the civilian population of Gaza and peaceful protests, as well as racist resentment. We also clearly reject positions that equate the civilian population of Gaza with Hamas.

Our solidarity goes out to all the victims.

Katharina Ortmann 

Managing Director field notes


Towards a More Sustainable Curatorial Practice

More and more people in the performing arts have started working as curators, with researchers, musicians, even administrators of cultural institutions regularly curating performances and panel discussions. They design a performance space, write press texts, and shape their own narratives. 

However, what is behind this recent investment in curation? And how can sustainable curation counter the authorial positioning of the star curators, as David Balzer called them, who took over the art world? Researcher Rim Irscheid argues that a new international network of alternative institutions with strong ties to the Berlin scene for contemporary music is changing the world of curation.

Historically speaking, curators were in charge of distributing space and making decisions about representation and visibility. They are also, as Rose Deller put it, powerful mouthpieces of big institutions. They decide whom and how we see and hear in public institutions and the private sector. As tastemakers, curators thus have a responsibility. They shape narratives by selecting musicians, artists, objects, and performances that tell a story, reflect on a historical moment or cultural movement. But what does it mean to do that in a sustainable way?

In »The Next Documenta Should Be Curated by an Artist,« published in response to Documenta11, Marina Abramović and other artists defined the hallmarks of unsustainable curation: a lack of care, top-down processes of decision making, gatekeeping, and a lack of involvement of those whose work and lives are being »curated« for the European gaze. Sustainable curation on the other hand includes working together with artists and outsourcing who is designing the space, selecting the artists, mediums, formats, as well as diversifying who is consulted when making decisions. 

What I noticed in my research on experimental networks with a focus on electroacoustic music and free improvisation is that musicians seemed to gradually take over the responsibilities of curation. There is a general turn towards diversity-sensitive and artist-led curation or, in some cases, a trend to perform sustainability and care as part of the behind-the-scenes narrative of one’s festival, exhibition or event series curation.

This shift is especially noticeable in Berlin. At venues such as Morphine Raumarkaoda, or KM28, visitors can see the same musicians playing a set of experimental music on one day and hosting a panel discussion or a workshop on the next. Furthermore, these new approaches are decidedly international ones. Examples include the Morphine Raum with its connections all the way to the Lebanese Irtijal festival, organised by the same artists behind the Al Maslakh label based in both the German capital and Beirut, and collectives such as Radio AlHara.

Trust, Care, and Openness

Radio AlHara especially shows how the sharing of resources, and the forging of meaningful connections can challenge the old power structures, i.e. the authority of curators in white-dominated spaces, institutions, and funding bodies in Germany. The team consists of a group of friends with different skill sets and talents who share responsibilities and make decisions based on trust, care, and openness to results. They promote a collective structure independent of traditional cultural institutions.

The online community platform launched in March 2020 and broadcasts from Bethlehem, but it has also been involved in organising and broadcasting from Berlin, Amman, and other cities. AlHara streams in multiple languages and broadcasts live performances, interviews, experimental podcast formats, DJ sets, curated playlists, talk shows, and academic discussions across the Middle East and its diaspora worldwide.

Since it was founded, the platform has also organised multiple fundraisers, among them one for the 2020 Beirut Explosion and another in solidarity of those involved in the protests in Iran following the death of Jina Amini. More importantly, AlHara (literally, »neighbourhood«) lets its listeners become producers. This makes the station a crucial international player that forms the vanguard of a new movement of sustainable curation.

Transparency and Reflection

Artist-run institutions and communication platforms such as Radio AlHara underline the importance of encouraging musicians to try themselves out and curate their own narratives. »It’s all on them,« AlHara’s Saeed Abu-Jaber emphasises. This also makes broadcasting these stories more accessible. Abu-Jaber’s team is keen for musicians to talk about the pieces and their mix, explaining what the music they play means to them and how it shaped their artistic path. This provides especially emerging artists with enough space to present themselves and their ideas to the world.

Sound artist and journalist Stefan Christoff is one of the producers who contribute regularly to AlHara. He put together a series of artist interviews in which he speaks with musicians that shape the network of experimental musicians in his current home of Montréal and worldwide. Berlin-based photographer and musician Tony Elieh was one of the featured artists. He talked about the connections between Berlin and Beirut while introducing one of his works at the end of the episode.

Allowing space for artists to bring transparency to their practice and reflect on the environment in which they produce and consume sound is one of the ways Christoff and other AlHara producers shed light onto local scenes while creating connections between them internationally. Abu-Jaber and his partner Ibrahim Owais explain that the team strives to involve newcomers based on their fresh ideas and passion for collaborating and experimenting. 

Across the platform, one can indeed witness the sharing of skill sets, resources and networks that help the AlHara community develop like a living organism.

Trust, Vulnerability, and Friendship

Trust, vulnerability, and friendship are still widely underestimated in curatorial practice as both a risk factor and a possibility in the context of sustainable practices. Closely integrated communities can run the risk of deterring new actors to join. But if done right, putting trust into musicians and curators to try out different constellations and formats is a great way to build infrastructures and networks outside existing hierarchies, whether in Germany’s cultural landscape and elsewhere.

Cultural institutions can support sustainable curatorial practices such as these. They can offer formats and spaces that are directed by artists themselves, open with regards to their results. Institutions can offer their own resources to encourage musicians to shape their own representation. Encouraging artist-led, collaborative, and sustainable curatorial practices offers the opportunity to revert existing power hierarchies and can help build institutions and networks outside the constraints of German bureaucracy and tired »Multi-Kulti« narratives within the diversifying Berlin music scene.

Curation is power, and we currently can witness how this power is being (re-)distributed. We need to acknowledge that encouraging artists to build on their networks and to involve international contacts is not a nice-to-have but a must to build sustainable spaces for music-making that can sustain themselves in times of crisis.

About the Author

Rim Irscheid is a German-Jordanian curator and researcher based in South London. She studied Musicology in Heidelberg and Oxford. Her PhD thesis at King’s College London, which she submitted in September 2023, looks at experimental practices, curation, and cultural policy schemes for contemporary music across Germany and Lebanon. Irscheid organises the annual Planet Ears symposium in Mannheim, curating panels, lecture-performances, artist-run workshops, and installations. The festival takes place in September each year and has previously collaborated with curators from Irtijal festival (Lebanon), Al Balad Theatre (Jordan), Space21 (Iraqi Kurdistan) and Norient (Switzerland).

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