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Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Charlotte Bank
2 May 2012

One major obstacle for a diverse art scene in a country or region is the lack of artistic infrastructure with institutions that offer support for artistic research and the production of independent, non-market-related work. During the past decade, most countries in the MENA region have seen the establishment of independent, non-governmental institutions and a wide range of projects that have enabled local artists to pursue their artistic interests. Yet, much still remains to be done as some countries (such as Syria) still show a dramatic lack of such structures. And many institutions still depend largely on foreign funding from western partners who often follow agendas related to the foreign policy of their home countries. This again influences the thematic scope of the projects these institutions fund.


What we are then witnessing is a tendency among artists to adapt their artistic practices to the demands of funding institutions and thereby often serving foreign or western concepts of what 'Middle Eastern' art should be or what issues should be addressed. For artists who have to gain their living from their art, this is a very understandable strategy and it does not necessarily mean that artists need to neglect their own vision. Most artists do in fact navigate quite skilfully between these multiple interests and manage to balance their individual practices with the interests of funders, whether from outside or within their countries. But many projects are left unrealised since they do not fit into the institutional agendas.


Since many funders will continue to offer grants and funding according to their own policies, future efforts could work towards reaching a greater variety among funders and thereby assuring a greater range of thematic interests, and with this a greater diversity, within artistic practices.

Charlotte Bank

is a curator, researcher and writer and Director of Zakharif Projects, a platform for contemporary visual practices, focused on the Arab world in dialogue with other regions.

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