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How has a globalised cultural economy affected the production of contemporary visual culture in North Africa and the Middle East?

Rayya Badran
7 May 2013

Are we anxious?


A new book has surfaced on the shelves of Lebanese and possibly Arab bookstores. The title reads: Pure Nostalgia. As in Exclusive Nostalgia, as in free from this contaminated present. The emergence of this publication is perhaps symptomatic of something larger than a trivial nostalgia quenched by the collected photographs of old Pepsi cans and Lebanese beach resorts, but that confirms British music writer and theorist Simon Reynolds's arguments and stipulations that the state of popular culture and music production in the noughties is now incessantly re-appropriating its past. Pure Nostalgia epitomizes what Reynolds believes to be the summation of what contemporary culture (in the 'West') has been doomed to produce.


He asks: 'Is nostalgia stopping our culture's ability to surge forward, or are we nostalgic precisely because our culture has stopped moving forward and so we inevitably look back to more momentous and dynamic times?'


The future is, indeed, not what it was supposed to be and as Reynolds puts it we are 'feeling a pang for a future that never arrived'. But in the case of Lebanon, this posits an even more difficult question, not only in terms of the proliferated visual language in mainstream design, media, art or culture, but also on a more intricate and complicated political terrain. If we were to examine this from Lebanese artist and writer Walid Sadek's perspective on the protractedness of the civil war, then what of this desire to reclaim and therefore regenerate one's past and culture (but also that of others') when the past is not yet past? What does it mean, particularly in the case of Lebanon, though not exclusively, to employ irony to struggle against decay?

On the surface level of cultural production, is the employment of this visual language of nostalgia – its commoditized desires and kitsch envy – yet another residual effect of this phenomenon we used to call globalization?


To be continued

Rayya Badran

Rayya Badran is a writer and translator based in Beirut. She earned her MA in Aural and Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths College, London in 2008. Her writing primarily centres on art with a special interest in sonic practices and music. She has published articles and texts in local and international publications such as Bidoun, Ibraaz, Artforum, and Art Papers, and frequently collaborates with artists on an array of projects. She is currently an instructor at the American University of Beirut and at the Académie Libanaise de Beaux-Arts where she teaches sound studies.

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