From March 2003 until the end of 2016, this online magazine has presented articles, information, and visual material on current art whose essential point of origin or reference is in the Islamic world. Of course, this also includes the work of artists who live elsewhere, but who see their cultural home in countries and regions shaped by Islam. To prevent misunderstandings: this publication is not about "Islamic" art.
Until it was renamed "Nafas. Art Magazine" in February 2007, this online magazine was titled "Contemporary Art from the Islamic World". In full consciousness of its questionability, the editors took up a widely used term that suggests a generalizing view of the countries and regions that have a majority Muslim population. In this way, we wanted to speak to stereotypical ideas in order to counter them by confronting them with works by artists who do not fit the usual clichés. It has been repeatedly underscored – and in the course of the years also demonstrated with articles and works – that the point of this project is to foster not only a differentiated perception of artistic practices, but also of the complex reality of life in the "Islamic world". This is primarily done by presenting a large number of individual artistic positions behind which a broad range of personal, cultural, religious, social, and other contexts become visible. While the strategy of using the first title functioned quite well as far as the audience in the "West" is concerned, it sometimes caused uneasiness, specially among artists who did not want to be categorized by a label tied to a religion.
For this reason, the editors decided to give the online magazine a less limiting title. In fact, the process of renaming already began in 2006, when Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt curated the exhibition "Nafas" for the ifa Galleries in Berlin and Stuttgart, whose conceptual starting point was this magazine. What was said on this occasion about the meaning of the title and the reasons for its choice applies fully to the publication that has now taken this title (quote from the catalog introduction):
"If one asks people who speak Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Malay, or Indonesian what they understand by the wordnafas, one receives almost identical answers: breath, breathing. A variation with the same origin is the Turkish nefes. The word appears in many combinations and nuances, usually apparently with positive connotations. Nafas can be used in the sense of "second wind", i.e., being able to endure difficulties, or in the sense of a refreshing breeze that soothes torments. When someone carries out specific activities especially well, for example cooking excellently, it is said that he or she has nafas – talent, a particular way, a personal style in this area. Sometimes nafas is associated with the meaning "freedom", for example in Sufism, a mystical current of Islam. The root of the word is nafs, which means "self" or "soul" in Arabic and which is regarded as the dynamic power breathed into a person’s body at the beginning of life.
We chose Nafas as the title and metaphor for the concept and framework of this project because of such connotations and the presence of the word in so many different cultures of the Islamic world. Especially significant thereby was that the word is etymologically closely tied to the existence of the individual and that some of its derivations can be applied directly to creative activity."
The online magazine aims to contribute to a real dialog among cultures, understood as communication between individuals from different cultural realms who grant each other self-determined and also changing identities, and who do not deduce these, as rigid constructs, from the mere origin of the other. This presupposes fundamental willingness to engage in dialog and also a certain amount of knowledge.
The editors are especially interested in how artists critically reflect and respond with their specific means to societal relations and everyday living conditions, how aesthetic and socio-political dimensions interact, how they seek models of art and society that could do justice to their own demands, and what current experimental art practices they thereby use and develop. We present art institutions and organizations, artists’ initiatives and events that are involved in the international cultural dialog.
This project is based in directly cooperating with the actors in the segment of the art world that the magazine is about, as well as with specialists around the world. The editors thereby see themselves in a continuous learning process in which as many as possible should take part.
This online magazine is structurally and conceptually tied to the Internet project Universes in Universe – Worlds of Art. Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt have published this extensive information system for the visual arts of Africa, the Americas, and Asia in the context of international art processes and cultural exchange since the beginning of 1997. The name refers, among other things, to the often-invoked danger of the continuous homogenization of a "global culture" and rejects claims made by representatives of individual cultures to be the solely valid, universal model of art or modernity. "Universe" means "totality of all parts". In this sense, Universes in Universe is a reminder that each of these parts (with the individual as the smallest part) is in turn a specific universe of its own, comprising diverse cultural and individual elements, and that its characteristics must be accepted and respected, in the face of all networking and mutual influence.
We extend our gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the publication of the articles or provided pictorial or informational material, whether in an advisory, writing, or other capacity.
(From the German: Mitch Cohen)