Mosque Lamps and Electric Hearts: Modern Art in the Middle East, 1834-1954
Upper Division Lecture: D) Middle East/Africa; III) 1800-present. This lecture course explores the images, objects, and spaces of a century of efforts to make art and visual culture modern – often radically so – in the geopolitical territory called the ‘Middle East.’ We begin by investigating the history of technological transformation in the nineteenth century as it impacted visual culture and artistic practice in the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire under the Qajar dynasty, and France and its colonial acquisitions. We will also scrutinize competing conceptualizations of civilizational difference between East and West, as gave rise to comparative approaches in the study of aesthetics and ornament as well as to artistic strategies within movements such as expressionism, primitivism, and formal abstraction. Throughout, we consider debates about industrial modernization, the spirit and spiritualism, and material heritage that gave impetus to artistic and architectural production in (and about) the Middle East. We conclude by examining how these art historical themes of likeness and difference could also be mobilized politically in the national artistic movements that emerged in force in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, when artists working in capital cities such as Istanbul, Cairo, and Baghdad began to reclaim notions of Eastern alterity as a substrate for national solidarities.