Preview of my upcoming book, Popular Culture in North Africa and the Middle East.
Mixing East and West has become such a cliche that first mention of it is enough to shut down interest in any given context. EastWest-ism is still doing well in the art world, though. One of celebrated Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri’s works, an untitled oil and acrylic on canvas that is part of his Numeral series, was unnecessarily subjected to it in the catalogue for the Christie’s Dubai auction this week. Lines of numerals are set against a background of shades of green that suggest the texture of unearthed artefacts from the past. As Christie’s notes, the numbers have a graffiti-like, Pop Art appearance but on a canvas skilfully manipulated by Moshiri to give an antique effect. But that alone seems to have led the authors to conclude baldly: “This example subtly melds Eastern and Western concepts.” It seems that Moshiri’s binary of the past and the contemporary has been liberally redefined as “east (past), west (present)”. The notes for another in the Numeral series from 2011 suggested more usefully: “the almost military alignment of the stylized numbers is visually overwhelming and inevitably raises questions on their role: do we live in a world ruled by numbers? Is history simply a long string of successive dates?” Continue reading When East doesn’t meet West at an art auction
Ahd Kamel’s Sanctity was a real surprise at the Gulf Film Festival. Saudi cinema has taken off in recent years despite a multitude of obtacles – an informal ban on public cinema houses and state funding of cinema, and frequent interference from the religious police in attempts to promote cinema such as the Jeddah film festival that began in 2007. Individuals such as Saudi director Haifaa Mansour have, however, represented a beacon of hope for budding directors, with a series of works that have been well-received in international film forums, including last year’s Wadjda. Continue reading The Human Touch in Jeddah: A Saudi Film
The rise of Islamist groups in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as a result of the revolutionary movement in Arab countries this year has generated much angst about the fate of the arts, in Egypt in particular. The regimes in Egypt and Tunisia were fond of presenting themselves as protectors of the arts against conservative Islamic forces and now that both in are a state of transformation many in the entertainment industry are preparing for the worst. Egyptian directors and actors at the Dubai International Film Festival this month expressed those fears: not only the country was in a mess, they said in private, the future of cinema and television was bleak. Many are looking to get out of the country and the Gulf, not least Dubai, is an attractive exile. The specific fear is that actresses will be obliged to cover up and the subject matter of the arts will shift to more conservative and “Islamic” themes. The ethic of Egyptian state TV itself could change, with more veiled women appearing, and this would be part of a wider shift in society – those will-they/won’t-they reports of Salafis banning alcohol, enforcing the hejab, banning bikinis and introducing a version of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Continue reading Revolution, Art and the Islamists
This is a publicly available file of the hardback reference book I wrote several years back. The paperback was a different, shorter narrative. I’ll be working on an update to it in coming months, since it’s kind of necessary, given recent events… http://www.scribd.com/doc/17865809/Pop-Culture-Arab-World
Not much glam around here. Except maybe this (though I think she’s losing her touch)