The Longevity of Rupture: 1967 in Art and its Histories
June 1-2, 2012
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?
Thus, for the upcoming conference “The Longevity of Rupture: 1967 in Art and its Histories,” AMCA is calling for either papers or panels that take the presumed centrality of 1967 in Arab art history back up as a subject of inquiry. We especially encourage papers dealing with specific studies of artworks, artists, manifestos, collectives, and discourses. Panels might propose to consider what is at stake in framing contemporary art history in the region around a moment of defeat, whether it is possible to speak of an aesthetics of trauma that is present in post 1967 art, and in what ways artworks themselves might register such total epistemological change, or not. Or, panels might mobilize the problems glimpsed in the historiography around 1967 to engage periods or problems that are not immediately adjacent to the political and aesthetic conditions of that loss. We hope to draw on a range of disciplines and types of expertise. Paper topics and approaches need not be limited to that of art history and criticism as traditionally understood. Ultimately, we are seeking to raise methodological questions about the writing of art history in the region, and to begin the intellectual work of addressing them in ways that engage the historical record in conjunction with the economic, social, and emotional legacies of 1967.
AMCA is currently accepting individual paper proposals as well as panel proposals. Panel proposals should provide a brief overview of the panel stakes as well as a list of tentatively confirmed paper presenters and titles and suggested discussants. Graduate students are particularly encouraged to submit proposals. All proposals to be submitted by December 15, 2011 to: firstname.lastname@example.org. A response will be given in January 2012.