Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes

Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes

Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston

Slavs and Tatars, Zulf (blond), 2014. Oak wood, hair, 30 × 30 × 30 cm. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.
January 9, 2016
Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes

January 16–March 19, 2016

Blaffer Art Museum
Fine Arts Building
4173 Elgin Street
Houston, TX 77204-4018
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10am–5pm

Blaffer Art Museum is the exclusive North American venue for Mirrors for Princes, an evolving five-city exhibition of installations and sculpture by the art collective Slavs and Tatars. Founded in 2006, Slavs and Tatars describes itself as “a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China” known as Eurasia.

Mirrors for Princes takes its title from a medieval genre of advice literature for rulers that offered instructions, aphorisms, and reflections on how to rule a nation, from economics to etiquette, astrology to agriculture. The mirrors-for-princes genre, whose most famous examples include Machiavelli’s The Prince and Al-Ghazali’s Nasihat al muluk, operated as a poetic form of political critique in both Christian and Muslim lands during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance while carving out a space for statecraft at a time when most scholarship was devoted to religious affairs.

Using the genre as a conceptual framework, the works on view translate literary tropes and vernacular objects, such as religious furniture or cosmetic tools, into artworks that further Slavs and Tatars’ investigation of speech and sovereignty.

Lektor (2014), a six-channel audio installation, features excerpts from an 11th-century Turkic “mirror for prince” called Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Royal Glory) in as many languages (Uighur, Polish, German, Arabic, Gaelic and Spanish). Excerpts from the poem advising on the power and pitfalls of the tongue play on speakers whose forms echo that of a rahlé, a foldable, X-shaped bookstand used for holy texts.

Another gallery reveals a series of glowing, fetishistic sculptures evoking the Kutadgu Bilig‘s concern with grooming. Through a witty blend of academic tropes and pop vernacular, these works suggest parallels between the mirrors-for-princes genre and contemporary self-help books. Instead of describing the inner lives of narcissistic individuals, how can subjectivity be defined as a multitude of peoples, nations, conflicting desires, and intentionalities?

Where the literary proposals of the original mirrors for princes contemplate the divisions between self and other, male and female, sacred and profane, Slavs and Tatars’ turn to everyday ritual casts governance as self-governance, a universe of ambiguities, or in their own words: “the heart and art of politics.”

In addition to the exhibition, the collective offers four performance-lectures at locations throughout Houston. These events are organized by the University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts as part of the INTERSECTIONS initiative, which aims to increase knowledge about Muslim cultures through the arts while focusing on the complexity and diversity within Houston’s local Muslim population, with an emphasis on the University of Houston’s own student body and seeks to build bridges between visiting artists and UH students. The lectures question commonly held assumptions about history, politics, linguistics and identity.

Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes is made possible in part by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts through a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters’ Building Bridges: Campus Community Engagement Grants Program, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Additional support comes from the Cecil Amelia Blaffer von Furstenberg Endowment for Exhibitions and Program and the Houston Endowment, Inc., with additional funding from the Blaffer Art Museum Major Exhibitions Fund, the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, Texas Commission on the Arts, the Jo and Jim Furr Exhibition Endowment at Blaffer Art Museum, and The George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation. Educational outreach programs are made possible by Dorothy C. Sumner, the Kristin Saleri Art Foundation and Quantum Reservoir Impact.

Press contact: Devon Britt-Darby, T +1 713 743 9528 / [email protected]



Slavs and Tatars at Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston

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January 9, 2016

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