World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010



· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Department of Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Leeds (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Karin van Nieuwkerk and Kamal Salhi

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: In many parts of the Muslim world as well as among Muslims in Europe new forms of pious arts are being developed. Art and religion are creatively merged and a variety of genres ranging from the more traditional religious anasheed songs to Islamic hip hop, rap, soaps, stand up comedy and video clips have become popular. Whereas some artists prefer to work in the mainstream, others are working in separate religious niches. Yet in both cases these artistic production tend to question the categories of ‘art’ and ‘Islam’. Art is made to embody ‘Islamic’ values, whereas in the process of doing so ‘Islamic’ messages have been transformed as well. These pious productions are heavily contested within and outside pious circles, by religious actors, artists and publics as well as the state. Pious art has become an important means to debate contemporary notions of modern Islam as well as the aesthetics and ethics of art. The growing influence of piety among a larger segment of the publics in both the Middle East and Europe has given a boost towards the development of a religious market. Also discourses by religious scholars have seen a movement towards ‘post-Islamist’ inclusive visions on art and entertainment. This panel aims to study the different developments in artistic productions, religious discourses and pious markets in various countries. It particularly addresses the Islamic ethics that are embodied in these art productions and the aesthetics forms which have been created to convey religious ideas. The purpose of this panel is to trace:- The shifts in religious discourses on art and entertainment - The new artistic forms developed by artists aimed at combining religion and art- The shifting sensibilities of the public creating new avenues and markets for religious forms of art and entertainment- The reception of the pious art productions by various audiences - The ways in which Islamic ethics are translated into aesthetic forms.

Chair: Karin van Nieuwkerk, Department of Religious Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen

Discussant: Kamal Salhi, Reader in Francophone, Postcolonial and North African Studies

Paper presenter: Kirsten Scheid, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, ''Landscapes of Secular Piety: First-hand documents of an experiment in modern citizenry''
Arab art stemming from the artist’s religious affiliation and that stemming from a humanist, secular nationalism are often assumed to be at odds due to their conflicting essences. Indeed, the rise of an art market is often treated as a sign of secularization of the Arab world. Yet during the Nahda pious and humanist positions were not polarized. Lebanese artists believed in an art that would reconcile all three. They envisioned something we could call secular piety that would unite aesthetically activated viewers in nation and faith, transcending emerging sectarian boundaries. Modern Lebanese artists provide an important means for studying the relationship between, citizenship, market, and aesthetic imagination. Generally, the aesthetic is subordinated in social analyses to political and economic structures. What this assumption overlooks is the possibility that art forms actually participate in social debates and crystallize positions by offering alternate articulations. The paper will tackle changing notions of the meaning of religious belonging in nascent nation contexts by looking at the market for Arab-Lebanese nationalist landscape ‘views’ as the production of a modern, secular piety that could address an inherent, physical aesthetically modern citizen. Data for the paper will be collected from archival sources, including exhibition catalogues, sales records, and artists’ diaries, as well as oral histories and object analyses.

Paper presenter: Jessica Winegar, Northwestern University, “Secular and Religious Regimes of Value and The Making of a Contemporary Islamic Art”
This paper examines new attempts to create a category of ‘contemporary Islamic visual art’ in Egypt in the context of broader calls for ‘purposeful art’ within the Islamic Revival. It argues that secular and religious regimes of value both intertwine and diverge in such projects, especially in their relationship to state and private sector institutions, to historical and modernist notions of art, and to social class formation. Through an in-depth examination of the continuities and shifts in the execution of art works and of how the process of art-making is conceived, the paper shows the similarities and differences between this new category of art and those that came before it.

Paper presenter: Joseph Alagha, Radboud University Nijmegen, “‘Resistance Art’: Hizbullah’s Islamic Cultural Sphere and the Dance Debate”
Hizbullah argues that Islamic art is a cause, a passion, and a life. When a passionate activity is not related to revolution, then it is void of any worth and beauty. Revolutionary activity is part of Islamic art because it is purposeful; its purpose is to transform society and reform it. In here lies its aesthetic dimension. Islamic art is the art of resistance; it resists tyranny, oppression, and purposeless art: â’’art for the sake of art.â’’ Islamic art stresses creativity in relation to context and content; a transparent content that is the basis of influence and movement. By this it creates a realistic revolutionary art that does not seek perfection. Thus, the message of the purposeful and committed Islamic art of resistance with a mission is a different message; it is the message of ideologically motivated art. This paper discusses the concept of purposeful art of Hizbullah and the recent attempt in Egypt to include dance into the concept, examining the reasons why this endeavour has apparently failed in Egypt, while it was partially successful in Lebanon.

Paper presenter: Karin van Nieuwkerk, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, “Embodying piety through art: Islam and performing arts in Egypt”
Since the 1980s, Islamist preachers in Egypt have persuaded a number of artists, mainly women, to quit the scene. Singing, dancing, and acting were considered sinful activities from which artists had to repent. Several performers stepped down from art. Female artists veiled and covered their bodies. Since the middle of the 1990s, however, a wave of ‘new religiosity’ came to the fore. It can be characterized as a moderate consumerist middle-class combination of piety and modern lifestyles. In the ‘lite’ version of Islamism, or post-Islamism, art has become an important topic. It has become a salient way to distance the ‘modern’ Islamist thinking from the previous ‘hard-liners’ intolerant Islamism. According to the moderate wasatiyya discourse, Islam and arts are compatible if it is performed in a religiously correct, multazim, way. Several of the stepped-down performers decided to make a comeback and to produce pious art or art with a mission ‘fann al hadif’. These productions aim at supporting a pious lifestyle and providing an alternative to ‘lowbrow’ art. Female performers experimented with acting veiled roles. I will use the stories of some female artists and Islamic soaps in which veiled actresses act to discuss how female performers try to embody piety and morality in their artistic productions. The research is based on personal interviews with ‘repentant’ artists and artists who have returned to produce ‘art with a mission’ as well as consumers and critics of pious art in Egypt between 2005 and 2009.