Embedding Art in People’s Lives

By Sabine Fawzy

The Euro-Mediterranean Association for Cooperation and Development (EMA) presents an interview with Elizabeth Markevitch, founder and managing director of the TV-Channel “ikonoTV”.

EMA: Mrs. Markevitch, many TV-stations are rivalling for the attention of potential viewers. Why do we need “ikonoTV”?

Elizabeth Markevitch: Simply because there is no TV Channel dealing with arts. In spite of the attempts by museums and cultural institutions many people hesitate to visit a museum. This is because some people are still intimidated by museums. We from Ikono want to help people to integrate the fine arts into their lives and to feel good in doing so. Therefore we have originated a web-shop for “art on request”. We sell not a limited edition but deliberate the very opposite. We brought arts into TV – still the most popular medium for people of different cultural background and generations. We created an art-blog for the Arab world to contact young people...

EMA: Who is the intended audience?

Elizabeth Markevitch: We have no specific or isolated target group. As we show art of all epochs and of all media, we enclose all generations and all tastes by our program. The only point limiting our target group is of a technical nature. Those who are able to receive HD-TV are usually better situated. But we work hard to increase the diversity of our viewers.

EMA: In the Arab region “ikonoTV” started with “ikonoMENASA”. Especially the Gulf region realized large-scale projects to develop the cultural infrastructure. Was that – together with the prosperity in those countries - a cause to begin there?

Elizabeth Markevitch: The foundation of “ikonoTV” was never intended to be an answer to the economic situation and it was not based on economic criteria. It comes down to good art and it gives a platform to this art, regardless of what the price tag indicates. Many artists we present don’t have an agent or an exhibition room for their own benefit. So neither the oil market nor the art market has an influence on our activity. Our introduction to the market in the MENASA region could certainly be linked with the huge museum projects in the United Arab Emirates, but what are three museums in relation to the already existing artistic and cultural abundance, the enormous creativity of small areas, above all in Lebanon and Egypt, and of an audience of 160mn households? We want to reach these people and we want to embrace these topics.

There are enormous efforts to create huge areas for arts, whereas there is only a limited audience to come to see. In the domain of art numerous projects exist that need to be seen by a larger public. That is why we are strongly assisted by artists of the region. For us the most significant fact was to acknowledge that Mesopotamia is a, if not the cradle of man. We give back to our viewers much of this heritage and the awareness for it.

EMA: Do you exhibit contemporary Arab art?

Elizabeth Markevitch: On one of our platforms – our art channel the “ikonoMENASA“- we present 50 or 60% Arab art, of which two-thirds is contemporary art: Within the MENASA-region until now the rich and manifold artistic exercise is neither known nor established or accepted. We do not want to boost the exchange with the western world but within the countries in the region.

EMA: The Arab spring has politicized pictures. Their quick dissemination in the new media was hard to control. The influence of visual art is actually reflected by Arab artists at the Berlin art exhibition “Seeing is believing”. How far is your program influenced by the actual events in the Arab world?

Elizabeth Markevitch: As for topics, “ikonoMENASA” is limited by the satellite contractor Arabsat. We agreed not to show political controversial issues or anything that is contrary to Islam, nor nudeness. This means that while we spread news with political topics on our blog or on any other Internet platforms, we cannot broadcast such matters on “ikonoMENASA”. But you have to recognize that this has a positive side-action: we are family-friendly and sometimes the subtly symbolic channel is much more stimulating and more interesting for diffusing certain messages.

EMA: The Arab arts scene was spared attention for a long time. Ever since the last few years the international art scene has begun to take an interest in the Arab arts. How can “ikonoTV” serve as link between the Orient and Occident? Do you have plans to go on air in Europe?

Elizabeth Markevitch: This definitely applies to the contemporary arts. Already in the past works of the Orient were exhibited and collected in the Occident.But the awareness of the regional and stylistic variety was lacking. Everything was quite simply combined under “oriental art”. At the moment within the contemporary art scene we notice the efforts to alter and to personalize. Ikono is the perfect bridge to emphasise the manifold modes of expression within the Arab art world. In December 2011 we have launched “ikonoTV” in Germany and in the new program we will take over much of the Arab matter. We are happy about the opportunity to build a bridge between the Arab world and Europe. At the moment we are engaged in finding an appropriate contributory organisation for this ambitious program.

The interview was conducted by Sabine Fawzy (EMA) 

*[This article was translated from German to English and was originally published by the Euro-Mediterranean Association for Cooperation and Development (EMA)].

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