[-empyre-] Welcome to February 2020 discussion: Why Are We Still Talking about the Middle East?
dmh2018 at nyu.edu
Sun Feb 2 18:16:20 AEDT 2020
Thanks, Renate for the generous introduction! Despite the different time zones, Ithaca seems nearby due to some many connections with amazing scholars and artists there.
Thanks, also to the Joumana al Jabri, Sama Alshaibi, Beth Derderian, Kay Dickinson, Sean Foley, Nat Muller, Afrah Shafiq, Surabhi Shamra, and Parisa Vaziri for joining me in leading this discussion. I’ve pasted their bios below.
I’m hoping that this month’s theme will generate an insightful discussion, particularly in thew wake of the “peace” plan recently proposed by the United States.
Looking forward to hearing your perspectives!
Dale Hudson | دايل هدسون
New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD)
Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF)
MONTH’S THEME: Why Are We Still Talking about the Middle East?
This month’s theme confronts the legacies of European colonialism and U.S. imperialism in the divisive segregation of cultures into geopolitical regions. We invite artists, curators, and scholars to consider whether the term remains useful, either as a term of convenience or as a term of contention.
The invention of a so-called Middle East mobilizes orientalist tropes that essentialize diverse cultures and histories while simultaneously categorizing them as too diverse to function as a unified civilization. The terms and its antecedents and counterparts (Orient, Libya, Near East) facilitate political, economic, and cultural domination and inhibit social and psychological decolonization after independence.
Britain partitioned India in 1947 and Palestine in 1948. The United States subsequently mobilized the term Middle East to undermine Arab nationalism and legitimize military interventions. Destructive myths of “Jews versus Arabs” and “Sunnis versus Shias” continue to circulate. From the War on Terror into the Arab Spring, U.S. assumptions about a Middle East (which includes Muslim South Asia) have prioritized unruly violence.
The term Middle East has been uncritically adopted within the region, often by neocolonial and neoliberal power holders. It has been tolerated by critical area studies at universities around the world. It has been diffused as an ME in less obviously problematic terms such as MENA (ME + North Africa), MENASA (ME + NA + South Asia), and MENASASEA (ME + NA + SA + Southeast Asia). Still, it might be timely to think in other terms and rethink the consequences of continuing to imagine a Middle East exists.
Are we complicit with violence when we use terms like the Middle East to designate cultures across North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia that have diverse and distinct cultures and histories yet also share common experiences and perspectives? They were connected historically by pilgrimages, caravan routes, and maritime trade, but they are linguistically and culturally diverse. Can arts practice, curation, and scholarship help to recognize difference without amplifying division?
Are academic disciplines like art history, film and media studies, digital and visual arts complicit in extending the politically exclusionary and intellectually limiting frameworks of nations and regions that often marginalize and minoritize different perspectives? Can we work towards more equitable and just ways of framing our interventions?
Joumana al Jabri’s work revolves around creative processes and outputs to address pressing social issues. She is a co-founder along with Ramzi Jaber and Ahmad Ghunaim of Visualizing Impact, winner of Prix Ars Electronica 2013, partnered with Polypod. Joumana co-curated TEDxRamallah 2011 with Ramzi, organized between Ramallah-Bethlehem, Beirut and Amman and livestreamed to over twenty cities globally. She is a co-founder along with Reem Charif and Mohamad Hafeda of Febrik a collaborative platform for participatory art and design research projects concerned with social practices in public spaces, with particular focus on Palestinian refugee camps.
Sama Alshaibi’s practice examines the mechanisms displacement and fragmentation in the aftermath of war and exile. Her photographs, videos and immersive installations features the body, often her own, as either a gendered site or a geographic device resisting oppressive political and social conditions. Alshaibi’s monograph Sama Alshaibi: Sand Rushes In (New York: Aperture, 2015) presents her Silsila series which probes the human dimensions of migration borders and environmental demise. Her work has been featured in several prominent biennials and exhibited in over 20 national and international solo exhibitions. Born in Basra to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother, Alshaibi is based in the United States where she is Professor of Photography, Video and Imaging at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Beth Derderian is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale University. She has a PhD in anthropology from Northwestern University, and a Master’s in Museum and Near Eastern Studies from NYU. Her research focuses on the politics of art and cultural production in the Gulf. She was awarded a Fulbright IIE and a doctoral research grant from the Al Qasimi Foundation to conduct her field research. She also makes podcasts for AnthroPod, and co-edits the Middle East Section News on Anthropology News.
Kay Dickinson is Professor of Film Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. She is the author of Off Key: When Film and Music Won’t Work Together (Oxford University Press, 2008), Arab Cinema Travels: Transnational Syria, Palestine, Dubai and Beyond (bfi, 2016) and Arab Film and Video Manifestos: Forty-Five Years of the Moving Image Amid Revolution (Palgrave, 2018).
Sean Foley is a Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, who has published extensively on Middle East and Islamic history. He is the author of Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom (2019) and The Arab Gulf States: Beyond Oil and Islam (2010)—both of which were published by Lynne Rienner Publishers. He has also done extensive research in Saudi Arabia and has held Fulbright grants in Syria, Turkey, and Malaysia. For more on his work, see his website, www.seanfoley.org. Follow him on twitter @foleyse.
Nat Muller is an independent curator and writer based between Amsterdam and Birmingham. Her main interests are: image politics and contemporary art from the Middle East. Recent exhibitions include Spectral Imprints for the Abraaj Group Art Prize in Dubai (2012); Adel Abidin’s solo exhibition I love to love… at Forum Box in Helsinki (2013); This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time at Stedelijk Museum/American University of Beirut Gallery (2014/15); the A.M. Qattan 2016 Young Artist of the Year Award at Qalandiya International in Ramallah and The Mosaic Rooms in London; Neither on the Ground nor in the Sky at ifa Gallery Berlin (2019). In 2015 she was Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s Politics of Food Program (London). She has curated film programs for Rotterdam’s International Film Festival, Norwegian Short Film Festival, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, and Video D.U.M.B.O New York. Her writing has been widely published and she edited Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s monograph (Schilt Publishing, 2015), Nancy Atakan’s monograph Passing On (Kehrer Verlag, 2016), Walid Siti’s monograph (Kehrer Verlag, forthcoming 2020). Her AHRC-funded PhD project at Birmingham City University researches science fiction in contemporary visual practices from the Middle East. She curated the Danish Pavilion with Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour for the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. www.natmuller.com
Afrah Shafiq is a multi/new media artist based between Goa and Bangalore. Her art practice moves across various platforms and mediums, seeking a way to retain the tactile within the digital and the poetry within technology. Her work has been shown at the Lahore Biennial 2020, testsite Austin, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018/19, The Guild Art Gallery in Alibaug, Be.Fantastic in Bengaluru, What About Art in Mumbai, Digital Graffiti Festival in Florida, The Fusebox Festival in Texas and the Computer Space festival in Bulgaria. She has been invited on research and residency programs with Fluent Collaborative Austin, the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art, and the Institute of Advance Studies in Nantes, France. When she is not glued to her computer she also makes glass mosaic.
Surabhi Shamra has been an independent filmmaker making feature-length documentaries and short films since 2000. Her documentaries, fiction, and video installations engage with cities in transition using the lens of labor, music, and migration. Her films have been screened and awarded at international film festivals and include: Returning to the First Beat (2017); Bidesia in Bambai (2013); Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean (2007); Above the Din of Sewing Machines (2004); Aamakaar, The Turtle People (2002); and Jari Mari: Of Cloth and Other Stories (2001). She is an assistant professor at New York University Abu Dhabi.
Parisa Vaziri received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from U.C. Irvine in 2018. Her work engages legacies of Indian Ocean world slavery in the long durée through prisms of visual media. Her research overlaps interests in critical theory, black studies, Middle Eastern cultural production, postcolonial critiques of history, film theory, new media, philosophy, anthropology, and histories of displinary formation more generally. Her current project recovers articulations of blackness in Iranian visual culture, primarily through the media of experimental documentary and art cinema. She proposes film as a site of transmission that disrupts traditional periodization schemes and that elucidates problems of temporality and geography in orthdox narratives about the concept of race. Two of her forthcoming publications position the history of experimental ethnographic documentary as supplement and stimulant to the Iranian New Wave film movement, while exploring how filmic blackness allegorizes modernity's spatial and temporal disjunctions.
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