Creative Solidarity in the Global 1980s: Arab Art Networks
Anneka Lenssen, Assistant Professor of History of Art
We tend to think of the "global contemporary" as coalescing sometime near 1989, facilitated by free market flows after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or constructed, perhaps, in exhibitions such as Magiciens de la Terre. An alternative genealogy begins in the 1970s with efforts to institute a Third World cultural order through transversal circuits of communication rather than vertical dependencies. In this talk, Lenssen highlights a particularly productive circuit of Third World filiation in artist solidarity projects from the Middle East and North Africa. The talk focuses on three interrelated cases: the founding of the Arab Union of Plastic Artists in 1971, culminating in the Baghdad Biennial of 1974; the inauguration of the Asilah festival in Morocco in 1978 as both folkloric village and site for radical South-South collaboration; and the creation of the Egyptian art collective Mehwar in 1981 in response to the "Coca-Cola and Chiclets” of market liberalization. All were conducted against dramatic structural changes to local economies. And in them, artists’ collective efforts no longer had to do with the goal of entering modernity at will, but rather with inscribing new sites of creative action in an otherwise coercive international art world. Together, these cases offer the contemporary art historian an opportunity to explore the notion of solidarity anew, and to scrutinize the stakes of artistic work in non-capitalist conditions. The talk is drawn from a longer research project that - spurred by new museum projects in the Gulf states - explores the Arab liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s as a prehistory to the global art world of the present.
Anneka Lenssen is assistant professor of global modern art here in the History of Art Department. She writes on modern and contemporary art, with a particular specialization in the cultural politics of the Middle East. Current projects include a co-edited volume of writings on art from the Arab world (International Program of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 2017) and a book-length study of avant-garde formations of painting in Syria under new regimes of political representation, 1940s-1960s.