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What relationship does visual culture have to the world we live in?

Adalet R. Garmiany
1 November 2011

Middle Eastern culture, which is Islamic and mainly very conservative, is in the process of redefining its interpretation of, and relationship to, visual culture. The role of contemporary art in the Middle East is different to that in many parts of world. Design, advertising, media, performance, photography, conceptual art, new media, film and computer technologies all have a critical role to play in addressing social, educational and political issues. However, the platform for expression is very narrow for artists and art critics in many countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Secondly, certain aspects of global contemporary visual culture expressed through the arts present very new concepts for Middle Eastern societies. Within such a cultural context, artists need to be abreast of what can and cannot be shown in public. Yet in spite of these difficulties and the necessity at times to circumvent these constraints, some interesting projects have taken place. It is even possible that with the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the situation may yet change.


As part of ArtRole’s Post War Festival in Iraq in 2009, a performance entitled Memory Game ended the opening day of the festival. Performers included Richard Wilson, Anne Bean, Miyako Narita, my mother and over 30 Kurdish artists, musicians and students. It was a sharing of memory with artists from the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan musicians, local people and those jailed during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Participants included about 50 people who I first met up to 20 year ago. The venue was the red jail at Saddam Hussein’s security and prison building in Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan-Iraq. 


Memory is the connection between past, present and future. It is important to identify ourselves in order to be realistic; memory for artists should be the sole foundation for building a success future. It is vitally important not just for artists but also students, the public and arts and culture professionals to be able to communicate directly and have access to information about the rest of the world.  For last decade, art and artists role have had a greater impact on life, especially in those areas where there is conflict and where, despite the vast advances in technology, the lack of information has created misunderstanding. Artists can share knowledge, vision, stories, culture and experience. 

Adalet R. Garmiany

is Chief Executive of ArtRole, a UK and Iraqi based contemporary arts organisation dedicated to building a cultural bridge between the Middle East and the UK. He is also an artist and curator, specialising in the development of international contemporary art and culture within the Middle East.

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