Anthropology as Curation/ Curation as Anthropology

Urban Practice as Art Forms

From November to December 2019, anthropologist and curator Vyjayanthi V. Rao is the Reinwardt Academy’s Artist in Residence (AIR). She studies interfaces between urban planning, design, art, violence and structures in contemporary cities. Rao's AIR programme consists of three projects that focus on the question: what can ethnographic research and curatorial practice learn from each other?

Vyjayanthi Rao divides her residency at the Reinwardt Academy into three parts. The first is an ethnographic research programme. Together with the Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty, she investigates the interaction between major social issues and individual artistic projects. The focus is on two neighbourhoods in development: the Marineterrein and Amsterdam-Zuidoost. In these neighbourhoods they visit a large number of artists and institutions, such as the CBK Zuidoost and Imagine IC.

The second part consists of three masterclasses on the relationship between art, design and urbanism. She looks at ways in which changes take place in the city and how city dwellers navigate through them. She specifically investigates how artists get inspiration from urban environments and how artistic interventions can transform places.

The third part of Rao’s stay is a collaboration with interested students and colleagues from the AHK. Together with them she designs and curates a project that brings together ethnography and issues about an urban future. Inspired by questions about socializing, inclusion and speculation in a changing urban context, we look at what can be learned from a cross-cultural dialogue.


Below are the events that you can attend. For the masterclasses registration is required. To register please send an email to, to which you can also send all your questions.

  • Masterclass I (lectures & workshop), 2 December, 18.00-19.30 hrs
    The first masterclass focuses on the social and cultural impact of urbanization in the 21st century. It explores the rise of urban settlements across the globe, their cultural differences, and the close relationship between speculative finance capital and cities in this period. Rao concludes with the idea that urbanization is a total social fact or, as the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss puts it, "an activity that has implications throughout society, in the economic, legal, political, and religious spheres."
  • Masterclass II (lectures & workshop), 9 December, 18.00-19.30 hrs
    The second masterclass examines the transformations across artistic practices in both the visual and performing arts over the late 20th and early 21st century. Rao shows how the simultaneous rise of research-based practices, participatory artworks and art as a tool for social justice have produced different kinds of archives and dynamic understandings of heritage. Special attention will be paid to the various disciplines and research methods from the social sciences and the humanities that are currently influencing research-based art – including archival research and ethnography.
  • Masterclass III (lectures & workshop), 16 December, 18.00-19.30 hrs
    The third masterclass brings together the ideas explored in the first two masterclasses. What are the interconnections between the rise of virtual, speculative networks in urban worlds and hegemonic understandings of creative practice? Rao will further show that an experimental, artistic focus on everyday life and experience as a site of creativity can refer to sources beyond the immediate present and thus beyond notions of ‘failure’ that tend to form the basis for creative innovation in urban practice. Finally, Rao will present work and practices that could be further explored in a follow-up residency, switching roles from analyst to curator.
  • Reflection on Marineterrein, 17 December, 16.15-17.00 hrs
    Join us at the Commandantswoning at the Marineterrein and listen to what Vyjayanthi Rao has to say about her research in this neighbourhood. Registration is not required, but it would be nice if you let us know that you are coming.
  • Weekly Q&A, 26 November and 3, 7 and 10 December, Lichthof Reinwardt Academy
    Every Tuesday afternoon at 3pm you are welcome to join the weekly Q&A in the Lichthof. While you eat your sandwich or drink your coffee, you hear about everything that is happening in the programme. On 26 November Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty joins the conversation to talk about the role of makers and alternative forms of (knowledge) transfer.

About Vyjayanthi V. Rao

Vyjayanthi V. Rao studies interfaces between urban planning, design, art, violence and structures in contemporary cities. Her research combines ethnographic fieldwork with mapping, filming and other forms of visual research.

Rao wrote numerous articles on these topics and collaborated on the books Speculation Now: Essays and Artworks (Duke University Press, 2015) and Occupy All Streets: Olympic Urbanism and Contested Futures in Rio de Janeiro (UR Books, 2016).

Rao is also a member of the editorial board and managing editor of the interdisciplinary journal Public Culture (Duke University Press). She is also co-director of Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research, a non-profit research practice in New York City. She teaches Urban Studies at the Spitzer School of Architecture, New York City College, and is a member of the artist collective Samooha, where architecture, activism and anthropology come together.