Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Middle East Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Resistance
Secondary Theme: The Political
Resistance themes have become popular with international art collectors and exhibitors when it comes to selecting or buying art produced in the Middle East. The potential of art to resist hegemonic contexts has thereby been overly romanticized, and there exists an implicit assumption that art that does not explicitly critique or is not accompanied by outright calls for justice is not as valuable as artworks that do boldly resist authoritarian governments, patriarchal structures, and other forms of domination. Criticality has thereby become a vital currency in the global art market, for better or worse. Ideas on the universality of art's capacity for resistance and critique, however, emanate from a canon of Western produced art theory that ignores different socio-political contexts. In recent history, there are two key conjunctures in which these assumptions have had important repercussions for arts practitioners in the Middle East region. First, following the September 11th, 2001 attacks, arts curators in Europe and North America attempted to exhibit Middle Eastern art as a way to represent the “humanity” of Arabs and Muslims (Winegar 2008). Many of these attempts celebrated Middle Eastern artists as deploying art to break free from the constraints of “Arab/Muslim culture,” thus reifying reductionist ideas of a liberated and progressive West in opposition to an oppressive and backwards East. Second, since the Arab uprisings of 2011 there has been increased attention to the role of arts and cultural production in political activism wherein artistic mediums with deep ties to Americana, such as graffiti and street art, are viewed as key sources of inspiration for a so-called Arab “awakening.” This panel, therefore, attempts to decolonize and dismantle these approaches, thereby building on the newer work of those art-anthropologists who already critically examine universalizing ideas on art or art-markets. New contributions in this vein seem especially relevant given anthropology has borrowed theories from and also stands (or should stand more regularly) in a dialogue with art historians. Secondly, however, the panel covers contributions that examine visual or performative art practices that cannot be easily labeled as either "resistance" or "complicity," thereby aiming for a more nuanced analysis of the potential of art that works, to speak with Homi Bhabha, as both "subjection" and "subterfuge" vis-à-vis a more clearly designated "resistance art."