‘You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one!’
Much has happened since Edward Said wrote Orientalism (1978). Still, intellectual debate in the West often continues to reinforce a colonial regime of knowledge albeit in a new guise. Unfortunately, this biased way of approaching cultural production, and consequently creation of new cultural institutions, is also taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
To tell the truth, we contribute to a multifaceted phenomenon within the region. On one hand, new institutions such as the Louvre or Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, as well as Eurocentric homologated cultural practices, are sometimes pursued incorporating the mechanisms and the Weltanschauung of the Western capitalist art market to the point that we can say that they are somehow acting as orientalists of their own. This is particularly true when it comes to the political and social developments in some of these countries that replicate the failed neoliberal policies of the West – falling back on the notion of borders and identities; inching closer to authoritarianism; violent social repression and anti-secularism; implementing urban policies of indiscriminate gentrification; disrespecting the ecology; denying basic human rights to minorities and immigrants; and inhibiting democracy.
On the other side, because the West has neglected the MENA region in every respect for so long, the wish to communicate their own cultural sensibility and different approach to history has been nurturing their own independent thinkers, who are effectively enabling artists and curators around them. This allows the emergence of new cultural practices and a different critical approach to the art system, which is rooted in taking full responsibility for their own cultural singularity. I would say that the MENA region is shifting towards a new perspective on their cultural background, relocating in the global context and establishing a local standpoint from their situated place. In my opinion, this is an amazing cultural phenomenon but it will only be sustained if the establishment of a viable, and original, on-site art education is implemented. This is especially true if the encouragement and motivation of a local audience, not only made of a few wealthy insiders, is developed.
There is a necessity for a cultural reset – rethinking wouldn't be enough – and it should contemporarily and collaboratively happen in the West, in the East, in the South, and in the North. Socio-political activism in the MENA region has already been able to suggest a new kind of society – an effective antidote to capitalist political drift – creating a new empowered civil society, a new utopian communitas that should be a working example for all of us throughout the cultural world. Gezi Resistance foremost!
As an artist, my hope is in the consciousness-raising possibilities of art, in our ability to look at things from a different perspective and to awaken a reaction that might help improve the reading of the situation. It is the artist's privilege but also the civil society's privilege.