June 1-2, 2012
Held in collaboration with the Department of Fine Arts and Art History at the American University of Beirut, the conference was sponsored in collaboration with the Department of Fine Arts and Art History at the American University of Beirut, supported by a generous donation from Rana Sadik and Samer Younis, and the Provost and Dean of FAS at AUB. Special thanks to Saleh Barakat.
Presenters Saleem al-Bahloly, Bassam el Baroni, Saleh Barakat, James Casey, Clare Davies, Angela Harutyunyan, Patrick Kane, Anneka Lenssen, Alexandra Dika Seggerman, and Tammer El-Sheikh responded to our call for papers.
CFP: Historical writing about modern and contemporary art has tended to frame its narratives around key political events, using these moments to demonstrate a rupture of some sort in the institution of “art” and approaches to its production and ambition. For example, we understand that the atrocity of the bombing of the civilian town of Guernica in 1937, shocked Picasso into a new understanding of painting’s power to represent human suffering; after World War II, artists sought to express existential angst in tune with the apparent death of civilizational certainties; after the student and labor protests of 1968, artists rejected the formalist legacy of modernism and sought transgressive, performative modes of creativity and/or political critique. And so on. The narratives that have been mobilized to write a history of Arab art are no exception. The 1967 Naksa, the swift defeat of the Arab armies at the hands of the Israeli Army, and with it the creation of massive refugee groups and the rapid unraveling of the project of Arab nationalism, has been marked by art historians as perhaps the most significant moment in recent history, one that changed aesthetic sensibilities and thus forever reshaped contemporary artistic production in the region.
As part of its ongoing critical engagement with the writing of an art history of the Arab world, AMCA proposes to convene a conference to reexamine this, perhaps the most defining event in our subject’s historiography. To date, the narrative of breakage and radical inversions associated with 1967 remains prevalent (if not entirely dominant). At the same time, it has gone oddly unexamined. By some tellings, the shocking loss of life and territory as well rendered artists’ indulgence in a modernist aesthetics of abstraction entirely illegitimate. It became imperative to mobilize art within a larger oppositional cause, to re-focus the energies of defeated populations so as to rise again against Western imperialism. By other tellings, the defeat prompted artists to finally break with the party lines offered by their patron-governments, opening up to experimental aesthetics and avant-garde attitudes. Other narratives emerge from between these poles, talking about the loss of centralized patronage and the shifting terrain of the artistic livelihood in the post-Arabist decade of the 1970s. No single model seems quite to capture or explicate the claims made for “1967” as a key political event. We hope to return to these and other narratives and begin to track not only the immediate effects of the 1967 war, but also its longer-term transformational effects, as manifested in the many art worlds and art movements that intersected in the Arab world of the 1960s, and after. To put it bluntly: if we know that everything changed, how do we know it? Can we document it? See it? Track it? Diagnose it? Deny it?
Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab gave the keynote response on both days. Discussants included Dina Ramadan, Sarah Rogers, Nada Shabout, and Salwa Mikdadi.