World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Image, Contemporary art and Ideology (375) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 5-7 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Josep Cerdà i Ferrè (Facultad de Bellas Artes, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)

Paper presenter: Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio (Research Fellow, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain), “Beyond Representation. Image and Imaginary in the Middle East”
Visual culture, communication coming from the icon, the symbol, the image, encompasses and embraces different fields of knowledge and one of them, perhaps the one that is most intimately related to the development of the image and visuality, is art. The language of art spreads and propagates in multiple territories, communicates through images and it is conscious of the power that images currently have and their responsibilities in creating imaginaries. The construction of certain imaginaries is often used as a political strategy with the intent to pursue political, economic and cultural interests and purposes. One of the most paradigmatic cases is the Middle East, a territory that in certain circumstances could be defined as 'besieged by western look’. The search for externality, the horrifying and the worrying, for the exotic and the extravagant prevail in western look. At the same time, there are looks of communication, defence and knowledge that are opposed to this perverse and fictitious construction process, to this ''show of the imaginary''. In the field of contemporary artistic practices emerge works and creations whose objectives are the analysis and the social and political criticism of their own environment and of the dynamics of the global world. Film, video, animation, photography, installation, comics and other practices related to the development of contemporary art manage to subvert the imposed codes and provide different views from the ones that are flowing through the conventional media. This exercise of deepening and analysis, meets an even greater stimulation, encouragement and incitement in the territory of the Middle East where the boundary between distorted information, objectivity, prejudice, authenticity, creating imaginary, representation and truth becomes particularly subtle. Through the work of several creators from the eastern region of the Mediterranean we will subsequently seek to set some examples in which image is intended to counteract the advance of the imaginary.

Paper presenter: Charlotte Bank (Independent Researcher), “Independent Experimental Film and Video Making in Syria: Between the Tradition of Socially Engaged Art and a Contemporary Artistic Movement”
Contemporary art from the Middle East has since the year 2000 gained an important place within the international artistic community and most Western cities have hosted their ‘comprehensive’ exhibition of contemporary art from the region. This has provided a platform for artists, especially experimental film and video makers from Lebanon and Palestine who have been particularly influential in shaping a new visual culture in the Arab world. However, one country has only rarely been represented in these events: Syria. Long time regarded as backward and anachronistic by notable international curators, the Syrian contemporary art scene is currently developing at a fast speed, with experimental film and video being one of the most innovative genres. Where the works of Lebanese and Palestinian artists to an overwhelming extend centre on subjects of war, civil war and occupation, the works of Syrian artists show a great variety in the subjects treated. They comment on social, historical and cultural issues, such as environmental problems, the individual’s position vis-à-vis society and women’s issues among others. Art has an important tradition in offering social and political critique in Syria, especially writers and film makers have been active in efforts to achieve change and have often collaborated on large scale projects. The playwright Saadallah Wannous and auteur film makers like Omar Amiralay, Mohammad Malas and Oussama Mohammad all have a record of socially and politically critical art production. For the young generation of artists in the country, their works provide important sources of inspiration. In using artistic creation to offer social critique, young Syrian artists and filmmakers inscribe themselves within the tradition of critical art as exemplified by Syrian auteur cinema while they follow the regional trend of experimental film and video making and thus succeed in positioning themselves on the international art scene. Based on research carried out in Syria since 2007, this paper presents the young Syrian film and video scene in the double context of the regional art scene and social critique and comment through art in Syria.

Paper presenter: Amin Palangi (PhD Candidate, Australian National University), "Pilgrimage of Light: Battle Sites as Sites of Iranian Cultural Identity"
The eight-year war between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988) was an unforgettable event in the recent Iranian history. Not only did it leave thousands of martyrs and many families still mourning for their loss, the legacy of those martyrs also led to the construction of a new a space of cultural and historical identity for many Iranians. Drawing upon the religious legacy of Imam Hussein at Ashura and the historical battle of Karbala, the battle sites of the Iran-Iraq war have come to be known as the Iranian Karbala. Within the recent years, just as many Shiites make a pilgrimage to Karbala, millions of Iranians, each year, through well-organized state-sponsored tours, are also making a pilgrimage to the major battle sites to honour the martyrs, reliving the lives of the soldier, taking with themselves minimum belongings, walking the hundreds of miles that they walked, sleeping in their barracks, and even experiencing live re-enactments of major battles. This paper will analyse the significance of this state-sponsored phenomenon as a new political site for the construction and maintenance of a particular Iranian national identity, especially at a time of national and civil unrest.

Paper presenter: María Diéguez Melo (Researcher, University of Salamanca, Spain), “Christian Presence in the State of Israel: Domus Galilaeae”
The Christian presence in the territory of Israel has flourished in recent years thanks to the Domus Galilaeae, a work of great interest to both the Catholic Church and the State of Israel. One of the greatest desires of Pope Paul VI was to build a center in Israel where seminarians could complete their formation before being ordained. At the beginning of the 80?s, the Custodian in the Holy Land offered the Neo-Catechumenal Way the possibility to build a center of education and retreat. The complex is situated above the Sanctuary of Beatitudes, on top of the Mount of Beatitudes. The original design was made by Kiko Argüello, a Spanish painter, together with Carmen Hernandez, initiators of the Neo-Catechumenal Way. Kiko, helped by a group of international architects, designed a complex with very modern lines, which at the same time blends harmoniously with the natural surroundings. The project of Domus Galilaeae is an attempt to rediscover architectural and iconographic shapes that may help to reintroduce beauty into the life of the Church. The construction began in January 1999 and ended in 2009 with the creation of the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the middle of a court. The complex includes an auditorium, a library, reading rooms and a church for eucharistic celebrations. The center Domus Galilaeae is a place where Christians will be able to have a direct contact with the living tradition of Israel, following the footsteps of St. Justin, St. Origen, and St. Jerome as well as many other Church Fathers who returned to their Hebrew roots to understand the meaning of prayer, feasts, and Hebrew liturgies, which were the daily food of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The meaning of Domus Galilaeae has been underlined several times by Kiko and Carmen. ‘Reading the Gospel in the light of tradition and Hebrew liturgies helps to understand the mystery of this people, who do not prove the existence of God but, as living witnesses, proclaim His presence throughout history’, Carmen Hernadez said. The history and architectural characteristics of Domus Galilaeae will be explained in this paper, analyzing its aesthetic and theological elements as well as its relation with the Hebrew people, regular visitors to the complex.

Paper presenter: Fares Alsuwaidi (Doctoral Student, Harvard University, USA), “The Contemporary Emirati Cartoon and the Animation of Identity”
This paper endeavors to explore and complicate ideas regarding identity and popular culture in the United Arab Emirates through a critical reading of contemporary cultural production in the form of the Emirati cartoon series Freej, Sha’biyyat al-Cartoon, and Khoosa Boosa. In particular, it argues that, despite the displacement of the concept and potential of agency into a depoliticized and more commercial register among the generation of Emiratis who have come of age since the discovery of oil, the three cartoon series manage, each in its unique way in, to confront the challenges of and attendant slippages in Emirati identity. The analysis and exposition will proceed in a twofold manner. The first will place the three cartoon series within the larger context of their production. Within the context of production, the circumstances and processes that brought each of these series to light, beyond an anecdotal dimension, are telling for what they demonstrate regarding the versions of Emirati identity that find their way into the final product. Additionally, and despite a pervasive focus on the impact of globalization and the proliferation of new media, the presentation will demonstrate how these three series are also the beneficiaries of a popular artistic and cultural tradition that, although ‘modern’, predates the internet and satellite communications: the advent of radio and television in the Gulf in the mid-twentieth century saw the development and dissemination of a variety of new artistic genres that shows the evolution of the overwhelming performativity of culture in the region. The second part of the exposition will consider the form and content of the cartoons in more detail, including the differing formats and mechanics of their diffusion. A typological dimension of the analysis will examine the representational choices of the three series along a matrix of different(ial) factors including race, ethnicity, gender, age, and economic means (class being a slippery category in this context). The dynamism of the typology unfolds in the narrative dimensions of the three cartoons, as the characters perform ‘to varying degrees of success’ their roles as Emiratis living in a time of great upheaval. In the interstices of these narratives and their staging, deeper ideological factors will come to light that will expose the unsettled nature of agency and the ambiguous contours of identity in a society increasingly anxious to define and construct its particularity.

Paper presenter: Nadia Habib (Contract Faculty, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada), “Salah Inani’s Egypt’s Hundred Years of Enlightenment: Enframing Modernity ‘An Archive of Desire’”
Through a discussion of contemporary Egyptian artist Salah Inani’s painting, entitled Egypt’s Hundred Years of Enlightenment, this paper offers a speculative, theoretical and historical meditation on the necessary work of mourning and the experience of collective melancholia when the process of mourning is not worked through. In his painting, Inani gestures toward how modernity has been staged in Egypt and, to some extent, comments on the theatrics of an invented tradition. While some have argued that this painting is replete with ironic gestures, it is also sold under the stamp of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture to prop up an institutional narrative wherein progress is made evident, valorizing this representational strategy as proof of Egyptian modernity’s accomplishment. This painting then, can be said to function as both critique and proof of Egypt’s vestiges of modernity. Here modernity represents itself, structures itself in the ‘in between’ of these two registers between critique and representational truth out of which it produces a common tradition. In this tradition, however, there is already a kernel of how modernity archives desire, how it stages itself and becomes real through an interaction between desire and institutional theatrics ‘ in other words, the process of mythmaking or dreams. The moment of the painting then becomes not the birth of the dream of modernity made real, but instead, it organizes a space wherein we can witness the past of the dream as a dream. Here, I am using dream in both the quotidian and Freudian senses to suggest how dreams are framed to produce associations that defy history and to foreground the impression of a dream, in Freud’s words, as ‘wish fulfilment’. I meditate on how the present moment in Egypt’s history exits as a moment of inert melancholia premised on a nostalgia for nostalgia. This nostalgia for nostalgia signals to a past, made evident through this painting, among other archaeological artefacts, that is being put at the service of another past, the imagined past of modern nation building processes. I further discuss, how this nostalgia for nostalgia has replaced the necessary work of collective mourning, how it makes historical memory selective, and how there is an empty space now in the longing of the populace, that is being filled, out of collective despair, with other myths.