MESA 2010 (San Diego, CA) AMCA-Sponsored Panel:
Articulating Politics, Mobilizing Art: The Left and the Visual Arts
Friday, 11/19/2010 02:00pm
Organized by Dina A. Ramadan & Sarah A. Rogers
Chair/Discussant: Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, Northestern University
Dina A. Ramadan, Bard College —Writing for Art and Freedom: Reading Aesthetics and Ideology in Al-Tatawwur
Z. Pamela Karimi, UMASS-Dartmouth —The Visual Culture of the Left in Cold War Iran
Donald LaCoss, U of Wisconsin LaCrosse—The Arab Surrealist Movement in Exile, 1973-1980
Sarah A. Rogers, Columbia University Middle East Research Center, Amman — Palestinian Art & Leftist Politics in Beirut
Omnia ElShakry, UC Davis — The Specter of the Political and the Promise of Politics: Contemporary Artistic Production and the Middle East
This panel will consider the informative relationship between aesthetic and political languages in artistic production and its surrounding discourses in the modern Middle East. Of particular interest is the interaction between various “leftist” political movements in the region (and here the interpretation of such groups is certainly expansive) and the visual arts. Histories of the left in the region have largely neglected artistic practices, focusing instead on what are more conventionally seen as socio-political and economic concerns and movements. Any attention to the artistic production has been limited to seeing artworks as merely reflective of political situations or agendas. Similarly within the emerging field of Middle Eastern art history, an engagement with the political, particularly with leftist discourses, conventionally privileges an ideological reading at the expense of aesthetics. In this way, form is often separated from content, and aesthetics are emptied of their potentially diverse political manifestations. Instead, this panel aims to understand the ways in which political and aesthetic languages inform, and are made to speak to, one another. In doing so, we aim to raise questions as to how political agendas are articulated artistically and similarly how artistic movements are mobilized politically. Where do tensions arise, where do boundaries blur, when does it become (im)possible to talk about clear distinctions, and why?
In order to address these questions, papers examine a series of case studies that cross disciplines, national boundaries, and time periods. Topics include: the Egyptian Trotskyist artists’ group al-Fann wa-l-Hurriyah; the Arab Surrealist movement in exile (1973-1980); Beirut-based Palestinian art and activism in the decades before the Lebanese civil war; Marxist art criticism in pre-1979 Iran and the role of contemporary art from the Middle East as a staging ground for politics at the Istanbul Biennial.