February 9th 2011, 12:30-2pm
Over the past decade, modern art of the Arab world has received intense interest within not only the international marketplace but also the U.S. and European academies. Yet, scholarship remains trapped within the colonial paradigm. Most art histories of modern Arab art to date proceed by a chronological model that attributes the emergence of modern art in the Arab world to colonial influence. Introduced by Europeans during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, modern art—both its technologies and the social category of the artist—is considered a foreign import. The chronological-colonial narrative is, in many ways, a distorting one. It interprets modern Arab artistic engagement with western art as imitative or belated while neglecting the transnational – local, regional, and international- vectors of influence that converged to produce visual art and culture at a given place and time. Furthermore, this model often privileges national art histories, decolonization struggles, and identity politics at the expense of broader and more complex historical trends that extended across the region.
The chronological-colonial model is not unique to the study of modern Arab art, but rather extends to the field of modern art in geographies that share a colonial history such as Latin America, South East Asia, and Africa. In an effort to chart new methodological approaches to understanding the production of modern Arab art outside this conventional paradigm, this special session brings together scholars whose work examines modern art production throughout various post-colonial contexts. In doing so, this roundtable aims to chart the convergences and divergences between the region of the Middle East and other locations previously assumed peripheral to the study of Modernism. By attending to questions of history and historiography, we will consider the relationship between the chronological-colonial model and conventional art historical paradigms of influence, asking in what ways the post-colonial framework is a productive analytical unit for understanding the history of modern art, its proposed aesthetic values, and its diverse and precarious origins.