The Spectre of the People

The Spectre of the People

MOMus—Metropolitan Organisation of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki

Daniel Mayrit, from the series “One of Yours,” 2022.

September 23, 2023
The Spectre of the People
Main exhibition of the Thessaloniki Photobiennale 2023
October 20, 2023–February 11, 2024
Facebook / Instagram / #ThessPhB2023 / #PhotoBiennaleGR

As the spectre of populism stalks the Earth, artists have grappled with its myriad dimensions: how and if to represent “the people” (should they be thought to exist), and to represent democratic power, the nature of charismatic leaders, and popular protest and insurgency. The media of the lens, woven tightly around the history of mass politics since its inception, have been a natural field for this artistic exploration, which is variously documentary, performative, satrirical and conceptual. 

The main exhibition of the Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2023, The Spectre of the People, explores populism through photography and video: who are “the people”, can they be grasped visually, are they the source of hope or dread, how are they condensed in the figures of their would-be leaders, and how do they assemble and behave in political protest? Who stands—or is put—outside “the people”, in terms of rights, living conditions and representation? And how are the visual aspects of political performance employed in the political fallout, to right, left and otherwise, from the crisis of the neoliberal centre?

Among the many artists included, DISNOVATION.ORG map the noxiously divided political sphere, while Joan Fontcuberta and Pilar Rosado mock the sexual persona of populist leaders, and Boris Mikhailov makes visible a glitching mainstream political culture. Uta Kögelsberger, Paolo Pellegrin and Edgar Kanaykõ take as their subject those declared enemies by populist politicians, while Lauren Greenfield and Dougie Wallace depict those who exclude themselves from the category: the very rich. Daniel Mayrit performs as a populist leader of his own invention, and Sinna Nasseri documents strange episodes of political signalling across the Black Lives Matter divide. The Archive of Public Protests, Kimberly dela Cruz, Prarthna Singh and Ana Carolina Fernandes bring to light the protest cultures of those who resist authoritarian-populist rule.

Like the phenomenon of populism, born out of profound political crisis, the exhibition has a global ambit, contrasting works from artists working in nations including Brazil, Greece, Hungary, India, Italy, the Philippines, Poland, Ukraine, the UK and the US. This only makes the elusive concept of populism as it spans both the left-right divide, and that between mass participation and authoritarian rule, harder to tie down.

Curator: Julian Stallabrass
Catalogue texts: Yochai Benkler, Chantal Mouffe, Angela Nagle, Julian Stallabrass
Participating artists: Bani Abidi, Craig Ames, The Archive of Public Protests (A-P-P), Kimberly dela Cruz,, Ana Carolina Fernandes, Joan Fontcuberta and Pilar Rosado, Lauren Greenfield, Edgar Kanaykõ, Kostas Kapsianis, Uta Kögelsberger, Christian Lutz, MacDonaldStrand, Daniel Mayrit, Dimitris Michalakis, Boris Mikhailov, Rafal Milach, Sinna Nasseri, Paolo Pellegrin, Wolfgang Scheppe, Prarthna Singh, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Vangelis Vlahos, Dougie Wallace, Carey Young

The Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2023, organised by MOMus, curated by the MOMus-Thessaloniki Museum of Photography and supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, completes its thirty-sixth anniversary and is one of the oldest photography festivals in Europe. It is an important stage for the presentation of contemporary and historical Greek photography while being a vital crossroad with the international scene. This year’s festival runs from October 10, 2023 until February 11, 2024, with more than 100 photographers from 18 countries participating and presenting their work in a multi-thematic programme of 25 exhibitions, open public events and educational programmes hosted in 19 art venues in Thessaloniki and Athens, with the support of museums, cultural institutions, art venues and collaborators. 

Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2023 general coordination: Iro Katsaridou, Hercules Papaioannou


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MOMus—Metropolitan Organisation of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki
September 23, 2023

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