This virtual roundtable features artist Amar Kanwar, scholars and practitioners, and Associate Director and Curator of Ishara Art Foundation Sabih Ahmed. Panelists will explore how the COVID-19 crisis makes visible our unseen interconnections — between our landscapes, our knowledge, work, and economy.

The conversation ties into the larger questions of Kanwar’s current exhibition at The NYUAD Art Gallery, The Sovereign Forest, which shows the connections between farmlands, a forest, and the health of a nation, specifically in the case of Odisha, India. Government decisions there had a cascading effect on institutions, companies, small businesses, individuals, and ecosystems. This ripple-effect of decisions and consequences exposes how interconnected our communities are, on all levels. 

The conversation is moderated by our Executive Director, Maya Allison, with panelists: Amar Kanwar (artist), NYU Abu Dhabi faculty Alberto Gandolfi (Mathematics), Joanna Settle (Theatre), Jonathan Shannon (Program Head, Arab Crossroads), Dr. Ayaz Virji (Director, Health and Wellness Center, NYU Abu Dhabi), and Sabih Ahmed (Associate Director, Ishara Art Foundation).⁠

About the Speakers:

Amar Kanwar

Kanwar has distinguished himself through films and multi-media works, which explore the politics of power, violence, and justice. Recent solo exhibitions have been at Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris (2019), Tate Modern, London (2018), Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden (2017), Goethe Institut Mumbai and NTU CCA Singapore (2016), Assam State Museum, India (2015). In 2013 and 2014 at the Art Institute of Chicago; Yorkshire Sculpture Park; TBA 21, Vienna and at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2012).

Kanwar has also participated in documenta 11, 12, 13, and 14 in Kassel, Germany (2002, 2007, 2012, 2017). Other solo exhibitions have been at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2007), National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo (2006) and the Renaissance Society, Chicago (2004). Kanwar has been the recipient of awards such as the Prince Claus Award (2017); Annenberg / Creative Time Prize for Art and Social Change (2014); Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, USA (2006); Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005); Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, USA (1999), Golden Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival, India (1998).

Alberto Gandolfi

Alberto Gandolfi is currently Professor of Practice in Mathematics at NYU Abu Dhabi. He was recently Professor of Probability and Mathematical Statistics at the University of Firenze, Italy. He has taught and conducted research in several universities and research centers including the Courant Institute, NYU, University of California at Berkeley and the Newton Institute in Cambridge. His research interests focus mainly on the application of probability to models in statistical mechanics, including percolation, Ising model, Gibbs distributions, Spin Glasses; other research topics include models for epidemics, bioinformatics, and statistics of unobserved species.

Gandolfi has directed several research projects, the PhD program in mathematics of the University of Firenze, and a Master in Applied Mathematics. He is also the organizer of the La Pietra meetings in Mathematics, which take place regularly at NYU Firenze.

Research interests are statistical mechanics, models for epidemics, bioinformatics, statistics of unobserved species.

Ayaz Virji

Ayaz Virji, MD is the Medical Director of the Health Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. He oversees all aspects of the Health Center operations including student health, employee and family services, counseling services, and health-related outreach programs.

Virji received his MD from Georgetown University and completed residency training at Duke University Medical Center. He is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.

He has over 17 years of practice experience in the United States including leadership roles in several large healthcare systems. He has multiple scientific and layman publications on primary care, nutrition, and disease prevention. Virji moved to Abu Dhabi with his family from Dawson, Minnesota in 2019 to join the NYU Abu Dhabi team.

Joanna Settle

Joanna Settle is a theater and opera director based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. A native New Yorker, she is the recipient of an NEA/TCG Director’s grant and has received commissions from Joe’s Pub, Berkeley Rep., The Kimmel Center, The Public Theater, NYUAD Arts Center and Opera Philadelphia. Her work has been seen at PS122, MCA Chicago, MASSMoCA, The Public Theater, The Guthrie Theater, Arena Stage, The Wilma, The Kimmel Center, Opera Philadelphia, Joe’s Pub, Brooklyn’s American Can Factory and others. Recent productions include: Sky on Swings: a world premiere new opera about Alzheimer’s disease by Lembit Beecher and Hannah Moscovitch presented by Opera Philadelphia, world premiere of Noura by Heather Raffo presented by Shakespeare Theater of DC, NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center and Playwright’s Horizons NYC; and Lashed But Not Leashed: world premiere Cabaret from Martha Graham Cracker seen at The Kimmel Center, Joe’s Pub and The Guthrie Theater. Most recently, Settle co-created Al Raheel/Departure with Emirati writer Reem Almenhali, which was commissioned by NYUAD’s Arts Center and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, and premiered at the NYUAD Arts Center January 2020. She received her BFA from Hampshire College, MFA from The Juilliard School. She is a resident artist at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris and an Associate Arts Professor of Theater at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Shannon

Jonathan Shannon earned a BA in English Literature from Stanford University, with a year at Saint Catherine’s College, Oxford. He completed his PhD in cultural anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School under the mentorship of Vincent Crapanzano, Talal Asad, and Jane Schneider. His dissertation on music in Syria, funded by research grants from SSRC and Fulbright-Hays, won the 2001 Malcolm Kerr Award for Best Dissertation in the Social Sciences from the Middle East Studies Association.

Shannon’s research, scholarship, and teaching focus primarily on the Arab world and the Mediterranean, with special attention to the cultural politics of musical performance, collective memory, and transnational migration in the Middle East and North Africa and across the Mediterranean. His first book, Among the Jasmine Trees: Music and Modernity in Contemporary Syria (2006), analyzes how classical Arab music performance in pre-conflict Syria was a vehicle for crafting modern sensibilities marked by affect and sentiment. His second scholarly book, Performing al-Andalus: Music and Nostalgia across the Mediterranean (2015), explores the rhetorical force of the legacy of al-Andalus (medieval Iberia) and the role of musical performance in debates about cultural memory in three highly contested sites of nostalgic cultural production: Damascus, Fez, and Granada. Funded by a research awards from Fulbright and Guggenheim, the book is the first to tackle these broad questions in a comparative and circum-Mediterranean perspective. Shannon has also penned a novella, A Wintry Day in Damascus: Syrian Stories (2012), set on the eve of major social and political upheaval in the Syrian capital.

Shannon is currently conducting research on the role of music in the lived experiences of displaced Syrians in Turkey and across Europe. With grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the PSC-CUNY, he spent the last several summers in Istanbul, Athens, Milan, and Berlin exploring the lives of Syrian musicians in these important destinations for displaced Syrians. He has published some preliminary findings and is preparing a third scholarly monograph, tentatively entitled Sounding Home: Syrian Migrant Musicians from Syria to Scandinavia.

Sabih Ahmed

Sabih Ahmed is Associate Director and Curator at Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai. His curatorial work and research focus on modern and contemporary art of South Asia through diverse itineraries, languages, and inter-disciplinary formations. Prior to joining Ishara, Ahmed was a Senior Researcher and Projects Manager at Asia Art Archive from 2009 to 2019, where he played an instrumental role in establishing AAA in India (AAA in I) in New Delhi. Ahmed has led research projects focusing on the digitisation of seminal artist archives, digital bibliographies of art across multiple languages, and organised colloquia and seminars around archiving and educational resources that offer new critical perspectives into South Asia’s contribution to global art history.

Ahmed has worked on independent curatorial projects that include the 11th Shanghai Biennale (2016) in the capacity of a Curatorial Collegiate, curated by Raqs Media Collective; The Superhero Sighting Society (2019) exhibition and symposium in collaboration with artist Taus Makhacheva at KADIST and Centre Pompidou, Paris; and is among the ensemble of curatorial mentors for Five Million Incidents (2019-2020) organized by Goethe-Institut, Delhi & Kolkata, and conceived by Raqs Media Collective. Ahmed has served as a Visiting Faculty at the Ambedkar University Delhi from 2014-2019 teaching Art & Technology and Curatorial Investigations. His writings have been published by Mousse Publications, The Whitworth, and Oncurating. He is co-editor of a three-volume publication series of dossiers on artist writing translated from over twelve South Asian languages into English titled Writing Art (Asia Art Archive, forthcoming).