Slavs and Tatars: The Contest of the Fruits

September 10, 2021 – December 12, 2021
Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College

370 Lancaster Ave.
Haverford, PA

Image of Slavs and Tatars: The Contest of the Fruits
Image courtesy of the event organizer.

Image courtesy of the event organizer.

In collaboration with Haverford College’s Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, Berlin-based artist collective Slavs and Tatars will present its first animated film, The Contest of the Fruits, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the possibilities of boundary crossings and cultivate understanding, tolerance, and identity in a pluralistic world. The global film premiere is part of an extended project including an artist residency, an exhibition at Haverford’s Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, and an accompanying book published jointly with MIT Press.

Based on a 19th Century allegorical poem written and performed in Uyghur, The Contest of the Fruits will feature a two-channel seven-minute video installation with English and Chinese translations/supertitles in which 13 individual fruits—from the mulberry to the pomegranate, the quince to the jujube—engage in, perhaps, the first animated Turkic rap battle among fruits. Each fruit is composed from a calligraphic treatment using the letters spelling the fruit’s name in the Uyghur alphabet, in a nod to Hurufism, the 14th Century science of letters, and the paramount importance of language both for national or ethnic self-representation. Uyghur is the only Turkic language still officially using the Arabic script and as one of the first sedentary Turkic peoples, Uyghurs have a long history of written literature and an important millennial manuscript tradition.

As Slavs and Tatars state: “We have long been interested in the margins of empires, the limits of ideologies and the edges of belief systems. Perhaps nowhere more than the Uyghur region (Aka Xinjiang, literally ‘The New Frontier’) does one find such a compelling if contested crossroads of languages, identity, and faith. The Contest of the Fruits is a continuation of our work in the region, and we are very excited for it to be the framework for our first animated film.”

As Muslim satire and comedy, The Contest of the Fruits reveals the power of humor to expose what often lies unexpressed and unchallenged. It is a transformative Muslim text, a satirical take on the munazara or Islamic texts, and its humor allows the visitor to treat sensitive, remote or politicized subject matter in a critically absorbing and celebratory manner. The original verses of The Contest of the Fruits are performed by a Uyghur rapper from the diaspora, Nashtarr, while Lutto Lento, a Polish DJ and musician, has mixed the track, employing elements of maqam—in particular the Uyghur take on traditional Arabic music—as well as pop and trap. Although periodically banned in China, hip-hop enjoys an immense popularity there, and among the most visible and successful figures in the Chinese rap scene are ethnic Uyghurs, rapping in Mandarin. As such the genre of rap and hip-hop offers a doubly pertinent lens through which to investigate the complexities of Uyghur cultural resistance and self-determination, against a systematic state policy of oppression.

“The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery has been a critical university site for interdisciplinary programming and artistic production, but this is the first time we can create and showcase new work by an international artist collective to fruitfully expand our academic and artistic horizons,” notes recent Hurford Center Director and ongoing project partner Ken Koltun-Fromm.

The project also features an array of in-person and online programming throughout the fall, including lecture-performances by Slavs and Tatars, conversations on Uyghur music and film, a satellite exhibition with Philadelphia project partner Twelve Gates Arts, and more.

The Contest of the Fruits is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and will debut at Haverford College’s Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities on September 10, 2021, in collaboration with Twelve Gates Arts, and the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philadelphia).

Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, VCAM, and Campus Exhibitions, at or T (610) 896 1287.

Event program

Transliterative Tease lecture-performance: September 14, 6:30–8pm, Slavs and Tatars
Center for Architecture and Design, 1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

The Contest in Context: From Chaghatay to Rhythm and Rhyme: September 30, 4:30–6pm
With Nashtarr and Gülnar Eziz; moderated by Eric Schluessel and Pia Chakraverti-Wuerthwein
Online event

Bacteria Bar opening: October 15, 5:30–7:30pm
Pop-up exhibition by Slavs and Tatars at Twelve Gates Arts
Twelve Gates Arts, 106 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Red-Black Thread lecture-performance: October 27, 4:30–6pm
Slavs and Tatars, With Zain Abdullah, Associate Professor of Religion & Society and Islamic Studies, Temple University
Online event

The Contest of the Fruits book launch: November 5, 5:30–7:30pm
Launch event with Slavs and Tatars for the Haverford College and MIT Press publication
Twelve Gates Arts, 106 N 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

The Contest in Context: Storytelling, Self-Ethnography, and Solidarity: Uyghur Film in Focus: December 9, 4:30–6pm
Discussion with directors Suli Kurban & Memetjan Semet. Moderators: Darren Byler & Pia Chakraverti-Wuerthwein
Online event