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Platform for discussion 001

What do we need to know about the MENA region today?


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1 June 2011
Shahira Issa

It is in protest.

1 June 2011
Yazan Khalili

01: An old woman gets into a taxi and asks the driver to take her somewhere. The driver hits the accelerator and takes off. As they arrive at a traffic light, the driver hits the gas and speeds across the red light. The old lady panics and screams; 'Why did...

When we began our research into the current art landscape of the Middle East, we noticed various reasons why the bonds between regional art communities are weakened. Prevailing art discourses are largely externally driven; the way in which art is circulated, marketed and publicised doesn't respond in any significant way to the conditions and needs of the artists in the region; curatorial selection criteria favour individualized production easily resulting in a competitive climate; young artists prefer an education abroad, rather than in other Arab countries; and mobility between ...

1 June 2011
Zahia Smail Salhi

For so many decades the region of MENA has been synonymous with religious extremism, oppression of women, dictatorial regimes and, at varying levels, high rates of illiteracy and backwardness.

In the last decade of the twentieth century the region has seen various political tumults including Islamic terrorism and its war against civilians in Algeria, civil war in Sudan, the continued Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the resulting intifadas, the Gulf wars followed by the occupation of Iraq …

1 June 2011
Yasmina Reggad

People only ever have the degree of freedom that their audacity wins from fear.

Les peuples n'ont jamais que le degré de liberté que leur audace conquiert sur la peur.


1 June 2011
Tony Chakar

The question 'What do we need to know about the MENA region today?' triggered a series of questions from my part. My contribution will be these questions; the aim is to start a game of Q&Q (instead of a Q&A) with no rules and no time limits.

Who is this 'we' mentioned in the question? Why does this 'we' feel compelled to know anything? And what kind of knowledge does it feel compelled to accumulate? What is the MENA region? When did this acronym come about? Why the Middle East and North Africa? How come they are singled out and brought together? How much do the countries of this region have in common? Would it be more interesting to ask about their differences ...

1 June 2011
Tina Sherwell

One of the important developments required in the region is the expansion of a critical discourse on local artistic practices. It is crucial to gain an in-depth understanding of the various generations of art practitioners, through detailed studies of their work in relation to the relevant contexts and debates. Research grants and publication opportunities would benefit this field, in which work is currently being done but which requires greater support structures ...

1 June 2011
Stephen Wright

The project stems from an observation and an attendant question: there is clearly a thriving, politically motivated, post-conceptual art in the MENA area (Walid Raad, Walid Sadek, Decolonizing Palestine, Khalil Rabah, Djamel Kokene, Yto Barrada, Lasserre and Yacoub and so on) which, given its relationship to the territory of art and that of other forms of knowledge production, operates through what might best be described as 'extraterritorial reciprocity'. This begs the following, unanswered and even unposed question: Was there a conceptual art in the MENA? ...

1 June 2011
Simon Sheikh

There are two things we need to know. Firstly, we need to know what we know, that is, how much or how little? Secondly, we need to know who 'we' are in this context. Obviously, there is a different 'we' at stake, whether inside or outside the region, as well as many differences within the region. So, from the outside we need to know which forms of 'we' are working in the region, and how they see themselves, their histories and possible futures: what are their horizons of expectation? ...

1 June 2011
Saskia Sassen

Cities have long been sites for conflict, from war and the oppressions of dictators to racisms and religious hatreds. And yet, where national states have historically responded by militarizing conflict, cities have tended to triage conflict through commerce and civic activity. Often the overcoming of urban conflicts became the source for an expanded civic-ness: this happened in Cairo in February 2011. But in Benghazi it took a very different form: full possession of the territory of the city. And in Gaza it is yet another trajectory: one which shows us the limits of superior military force – no matter how powerful an army Israel has, it cannot unleash its full force onto Gaza ...

1 June 2011
Samah Hijawi

Samah Hijawi Documents for a Narrative of Art History of Jordan, 2010-ongoing M ulti-media project Video excerpt, 1'40' Courtesy of the artist This ongoing research project is concerned with different aspects that have influenced the development of visual art practices in Jordan over the last 60 years....

1 June 2011
Rayya Badran

Sitting in the sweltering sun of Sharjah on a large rolled carpet on the open esplanade facing the museum, I express to an acquaintance, my uneasiness and inability to respond to the question. We need MENA (I had continually mistaken it for MENASA, unconsciously adding yet another region to the equation, another source of anxious unknowing). Having travelled in and around the aforementioned region more than I have, his response is intuitively political, to the point: 'Why don't they ask their troops?' Nothing prepared me for the array of answers I got from friends and acquaintances as I uttered the apprehensive question, perhaps as an attempt to relieve myself of this responsibility. The responsibility of accurate answerability ...

1 June 2011
Pryle Behrman

In an email dialogue between Beirut-based architect Tony Chakar and critic Stephen Wright (published in the catalogue for Out of Beirut at Modern Art Oxford in 2006), Chakar takes Wright to task for his habitual use of the label 'Middle East':

'The more I thought about it the more it didn't make any sense. What does it mean that I'm from the "Middle East"? ... In fact, the region itself doesn't exist. We might talk about it as much as you want but it's still not there... Do you think I might be able to understand what it means to live under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship or to be "liberated" by the Americans? Or would I be able to understand what it means to be living under the constant threat of being "transferred" from Ramallah to Jordan? ...

1 June 2011
Najwan Darwish

This question is like a trap: 'what do we need to know about the MENA region today?' It feels like a trap, or a puzzle, rather than like a question because it was asked with no explanations. The only indication I had was that the answer should not exceed 200 words and that this question ('trap') occurred in the context of a project aiming at developing thoughts, writings and publications on the visual culture of an area known as MENA – which is an acronym in Latin letters. Although I am supposed to be one of its inhabitants, this region does not exist for me. It only exists for those who use this term for it. I cannot translate this acronym from its Latin form into any language from this region. As soon as I write it down in Arabic ...

1 June 2011
Nadira Laggoune

One needs to be careful with the concept of regions as geographical entities. Such an understanding is only valuable if it takes into account the way these regions relate to their neighbours, as frontiers are still too often frontiers of misunderstanding.


The Middle East, like North Africa or the so-called 'Arab World', is a crucible for Mediterranean, Eastern and African influences. It's a place of crossroads where Arab, Berber and Islamic heritages mingle and interact through various migratory ...

1 June 2011
Mounir Fatmi
1 June 2011
Mehran Mohajer

For this project I have used a pinhole square-format camera to take urban pictures of a metropolis. From the start, this device produced a paradox. The long exposure times and the low quality of the images it takes do not fit with the documentary genre. Intentionally I have used the...

1 June 2011
Maymanah Farhat

When initially presented with the task of summing up the nearly two-dozen nations that are lumped together under this peculiar acronym, my immediate impulse was to emphasize that it is impossible to describe such a vast region in less than 200 words. Even the few commonalities that do exist among these modern states are not so easily compartmentalized. The era of colonialism, the Arabic language, the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – each narrative is significant and synonymous with the region, but what then of the legacy of the Umayyad Empire, Farsi, and lesser-known but equally important religious communities such as the Druze? Essentially, the list of possible details is endless. With the existence of continuous civilization for millennia, what basic information ...

1 June 2011
Lina Khatib

The Middle East today is witnessing a clash of visual narratives. Images of aging dictators clinging on to their youth, clash with those of fresh-faced protestors. Scenes of medieval methods of curbing freedom of expression – as seen in the thugs on camel and horseback in Tahrir Square in Cairo – clash with those of peaceful demonstrators fighting for their rights with their bare hands. The delusions of grandeur of regimes that refuse to face reality, and which are 'immortalized' in banners, billboards and statues all over the region, clash with the steadfastness of those risking their lives to start a new page in history, as they tear down, burn and destroy those symbols ...

For the past decades, culture, including visual art, has not been a priority for most governments in the region, and this has led to the status quo in fine arts we experience today. The isolation between the public and the arts is the result of the lack of serious programmes...

In Lebanon, we live surrounded by dead people looking at us. Since the beginning of the civil wars, posters have covered the walls of the city. They are images of men, martyrs who died tragically while fighting or on mission, or who were political figures and were murdered. For years,...

1 June 2011
Jinoos Taghizadeh

The Middle East is not a safe place. It is either the source of news, or the witness of strange incidents. Its streets and cities are under the threat of suicidal terrorists and of tribal religious wars. The Middle East is unpredictable: its aging dictators fall overnight, its borders have...

1 June 2011
Jananne Al-Ani
1 June 2011
Hrair Sarkissian
1 June 2011
Ghalya Saadawi

Two-Hundred and Thirty Three


What can I say
In order to be vigilant?
How do I organize pessimism
Into surviving fireflies?
What and where are these images,
Like germs germinating,
Gestating in the belly of some vowel
That lingers after all horizons are
Gone ... 

Sama Alshaibi Sweep, 2010 Courtesy of Selma Feriani Gallery, London and on air on ikono TV The question 'What do we need to know about the MENA region today?' poses an important and challenging demand on the respondents. With regards to the art, you can easily point at world heritage:...

Chamber of Public Secrets Here, There, Then, Elsewhere, 2011 Video, 21' Produced by CPS Chamber of Public Secrets

1 June 2011
Behrang Samadzadegan

I believe that recent events and revolutions in the Middle East prove that getting acquainted with the region is more complicated than has been conveyed on the global scene until now. Behind a curtain of traditions, Middle Eastern people are dealing with the passion of globalization.

My comments may only be relevant for my own society where it is impossible to segregate modernity and tradition ...

1 June 2011
Aslı Sungu

'If we try to solve society's problems without overcoming the confusion and aggression in our own state of mind, then our efforts will only contribute to the basic problems, instead of solving them.'

Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (1984)

1 June 2011
Annabelle Sreberny

Richard Sennett calls 'we' a weasel word. Which 'we' is hailed in this project? Let's say that this 'we' is in the West, and that it doesn't include politicians and policy-makers but ordinary people.

My answer to this question is certainly different than it would have been six months ago. Then, I might have said that 'we' do not understand the youthful populations of the MENA region well, that we don't understand what their expectations, sources of inspiration and creativity are, since their voices are rarely heard both within their own countries and on Western media ...

1 June 2011
Anna Somers Cocks

When did the major museums of the West start taking contemporary Middle Eastern art into consideration? After 2006, with the first successful sale of Middle Eastern contemporary art by Christie's in Dubai, and the announcement shortly afterwards that Abu Dhabi was going to invest billions in museum creation. Of course, the ground for this interest had been prepared by 9/11, which made the US in particular look more closely at this part of the world. But it has been the market that has put the petrol in this tank. Since 2006, the platforms, round tables, workshops, artists' residencies, prizes and Biennale pavilions have proliferated. So why does this art scene still feel so fragile, so obsessed with questions of identity ...

1 June 2011
Aida Eltorie

History repeats itself – this line used across the disciplines is a proven liturgy to contemporary compendiums. When you detail the visual narratives, the region becomes the medium designed to mark your place in history. Whether in the Stone Age or the Digital Age, information is your power, and revolution your tool ...

1 June 2011
Achim Borchardt-Hume

The political and cultural density of the Middle East is as diverse, rich and complex as that of Central Europe with which it shares a history of struggle about disputed borders, clashing ideologies and religious turmoil. The fact that the term by which the region is commonly identified is a British invention is just but one sign of how inseparably intertwined the histories of the Middle East and of the Western world are. More than ever, the region is becoming one of the turn tables within an increasingly global reality – with the free exchange of ideas often at risk of being caught up in conflicting political and economic interests ...

1 June 2011
Ahlam Shibli
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