03 December, 2006

Christie's and the Rush to "Discover" the Arab World :: counterpunch

Quote:
The May 2006 opening of Christie's Dubai marked a new era for modern and contemporary Arab art. Establishing record prices for several pioneering artists, the inaugural auction affirmed the growing popularity of art from the region. With sales reaching well over $8.4 million, many observers of the field predict the auction could generate a greater place for Arab art in the international market. Some have even gone as far to claim that the record prices will serve to further legitimize Arab artists in the global art scene. Since market values do often dictate the momentum of the international art world, there may be some truth in these remarks. Given the social history of art however, the introduction of the major international auction house to the Arab world should be measured with caution.

The expansion of the Christie's conglomerate to include the Middle East is a prime example of globalization, a logical step in the latest campaign to assert American and European political and economic dominance.
. . .
The current construction of expansive arts facilities in cities such as Doha, Dubai, Sharjah and Muscat will lure generations of young Arab artists into art scenes unlike those that exist elsewhere in the Arab world today, the greatest emphasis will be on market value, the potential death of future revolutionary art movements.
. . .
Notwithstanding the space Arab art has been given in major American and European museums and institutions, an examination of curatorial statements and exhibition catalog essays provides clues into some of the ideological frameworks from which this rush to "discover" Arab art originates. With statements such as:

We [Europeans] do not understand that you can go directly from a tent to a skyscraper, from a camel to a six-cylinder. And yet for artists of the Arab world this process is a matter of course, and this concept is important in the way the cultural side effects illuminate it.
the Arab world is reduced to an "archaic" (a term used to describe the region earlier in the catalog by a different curator) land that is just emerging into modern times. These blatantly racist projections of Arabs not only maintain notions of Western superiority and Middle Eastern inferiority, they work to reduce the importance of the art exhibited and silence the creative voices of those represented. In the end the presenting of Arab art only serves to reinforce the exact stereotypes that have been used to justify the exploitation of the region for political and economic gains by several Western governments.
I don't know. Is it blatantly racist? Or is the author looking to be offended? The pace of change in the UAE at least has been virtually "from a tent to a skyscraper, from a camel to a six-cylinder." Both are heritages of which to be proud. To take that pace of change into account helps to understand the strains placed on society and culture and institutions and to appreciate how much they have adapted. And to say that not long ago most people lived in tents and had camels is to make a statement not about race but about the hostile physical environment. The discovery of oil, of course, has made that environment more tolerable.

1 comment:

debbie menon said...

yes,yes it is racist. thanjk you

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