Last year I bought a collection of old Interview magazines. The first time I cracked open the set, I learned that on June 30, 1973, Andy Warhol sat down for a chat with Roman Polanski. Warhol ate a salad and Polanski ordered a beer and a burger. In the span of eight hundred minutes, the two covered paparazzi culture, communism, sex, hygiene, bugs, dying, everything. I learned everything and nothing at once through that encounter. And that got me thinking about interview encounters in general.
Interviews have a long history, of course. In my own lifetime, there’s been the impious Oriana Fallaci questioning Khomeini on the heels of the Iranian revolution, or the famous Bashir interviews with Michael Jackson. Go back further, and there were Tom Wolfe’s meetings with Timothy Leary, Leni Riefenstahl talking to Hitler. Each in its own way has been iconic, somehow fixing itself in the public mind and inevitably bringing new things to light.
In this issue, we revisit the interview. Our selection wasn’t that complicated: these are simply people we wanted to hear out. Among the featured are artists who are up to interesting projects (Khalil Rabah’s virtual museum); others find themselves literally on the cusp of history (Dr. Saad Bashir Eskander, the head of the Iraqi National Archive) or, say, transition (Sami-Azar, the former director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art). Some were selected for pure star quality (Mohammed Fares, the first Syrian in space; Homi K Bhabha). We also have builders and visionaries, such as Bangladeshi activist-photographer Shahidul Alam and architect Rem Koolhaas. Occasionally, we tapped into conversations already in progress, as in the case of the long-running friendship between Cairene artist Anna Boghighuian and Los Angeles gallerist Robert Shapazian.
So there you have it. Interviews as a medium have been subject to feminist critique, postmodern critique, and who knows what else. Their curation, orchestration, and execution can reveal an enormous amount about their subjects, but also illuminate the context in which they were held. Their circulation and interpretation tell us about the world we live in. Naturally, our selection reveals something about us and how we see the world — this is inevitable. It is biased, it is arbitrary, it is particular and even peculiar. But then, what selection isn’t?