A two day conference in London brings together several leading voices in Middle Eastern art criticism and history in an attempt to redefine and hopefully resolve some of the lingering issues facing art historians and critics working with the Middle Eastern. As the conference is this Friday, we’re making an exception and podcasting the interview with conference convener Dr. Hamid Keshmirshekan before broadcast for once.
Here’s the context for the discussion: the definition of and regional or local thinking within arts discourse about the Middle East today is ever changing, and the basis of it continues to be challenged from several angles. For example, merely to use the term Middle East implies that we are measuring the world from a certain point to which the geographical location we refer to is east and the point of reference central, thus revealing an inherent occidental supremacy in terms of categorisation within our language. This accepted terminology and other modes of speech and thought reveal subliminal and often harmful or inaccurate delineations at the root of wider thinking. This thinking contributes to the status quo of the region with respects to the rest of the world, as well as the region as respects the personal – how a people are seen will certainly impact how they view themselves both collectively and individually.
Imagine for a moment an artist stating “I come from a developing country ( developing the current PC term for third world).” Too much is implied and at stake here, we assume the artist’s country is lacking or progressing towards something which is not stated. To add to this the ‘first world’ is measured in limited terms and brushes over many endemic problems that no country should ever wish upon themselves. At the root of this of course is the very question of how we measure success and lack of. In any case global opinions of a region or a country in some way affects the art of the region both in terms of production and success – the media the ever unfaithful mirror by which a people see themselves is once again the perpetrator of divisions and mistruths.
Other false-memes within arts discourse are for example are the idea of an Arabic identity. Where to start this categorisation – with language? Certain Arabs speak another language entirely, for example US Arabs who have no Arabic or the Chaush in the Deccan, India. Can one categorise Arabs by religion? What about Christian Arabs living in the Middle East. And we forget then that Arab identity predates Islam. Or perhaps location? What about Iran, a people living in the Middle East who do not identify generally as Arabic or African or Indonesian Arabs. These and more in depth subjects will be stretched out for examination during the two day conference, Firday 5th and St 6th of July at the School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS).
Conference topics include: Problem of Archival Sources, Uneasy Lie the Arts that Wear the Crown: Disaggregating the “Critical” in Post-War Contemporary Lebanese Art, The Problem of Teaching Contemporary Art from the Middle East, The Crisis of Belonging: On the Politics of Art Practice in Contemporary Iran and Trauma, Memory, and History.
Speakers include Dr Nada Shabout (University of North Texas), Dr Sonja Mejcher-Atassi (American University of Beirut), Prof Abbas Daneshvari (California State University), Dr Dina Ramadan (Bard College), Dr Sonja Mejcher-Atassi (American University of Beirut), Dr Hanan Toukan (The Forum for Transregional Studies, Berlin), Sarah-Neel Smith (University of California, Los Angeles) and more.