AMCA-Sponsored Panel at MESA 2017 | AMCA | Association for Modern + Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran + Turkey

AMCA-Sponsored Panel at MESA 2017


The Islamic and the Modern in the Twentieth Century Visual Middle East

Organizers: Saleem Al-Bahloly and Nada M. Shabout

Discussants: Nasser O. Rabbat, MIT and Elizabeth Rauh, University of Michigan

Sarah-Neel Smith, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA): A Mid-Westerner in the Middle East: Abby Weed Grey’s art collections of the 1960s

Nada M. Shabout, University of North Texas: Istilham: Jewad Selim’s negotiation of continuity in art

Saleem Al-Bahloly, Johns Hopkins University: Shakir Hassan Al Said’s theology of line, or the turn to Islamic philosophy after the Ba’ath Coup of 1963 

The intellectual and artistic life of the Middle East during the twentieth-century has been characterized by two currents: on the one hand, a rediscovery or renewal of the Islamic tradition, and on the other, the introduction of new means of expression in the field of the visual arts, architecture, design and cinema. Rarely, however, are these two currents thought together outside of the frame of a conflict.

The prevailing understanding had been that to be a modern artist, one had to look for resources outside of tradition. Thus, modern artists mostly shied away from the artistic traditions of Islam. The debate that ensued about tradition and modernity in much of the Middle East during the mid of the twentieth-century was centered around a call for authenticity. At stake in authenticity was not only a need for self-assertion in in a postcolonial context, but equally a search to establish art historical continuity. The debate was at best apologetic and at worse deprived artists of creative possibilities.

The relationship between the aesthetics of Islamic art and modernism in the Middle East, however, has been negotiated by artists and architects in more complex and nuanced ways. This panel explores the interaction between elements of the Islamic tradition and the development of new forms of art practice in the visual arts and architecture. Papers presented aim to understand the ways in which the Islamic tradition has offered formal and conceptual resources to modern artists and architects confronted with a crisis of representation provoked by the region’s political history.