Anneka Lenssen

Job title: 
Associate Professor
Global Modern Art

Anneka Lenssen specializes in modern painting and contemporary visual practices, with a focus on the cultural politics of the Middle East. Her research examines problems of artistic representation in relation to the globalizing imaginaries of empire, nationalism, communism, decolonization, and Third World humanism. 

She is the author of Beautiful Agitation: Modern Painting and Politics in Syria (UC Press, 2020), which won the 2021 Syrian Studies Association Best Book Prize and was shortlisted for the MSA Book Prize. She is also co-editor, with colleagues Nada Shabout and Sarah Rogers, of a volume of art writing from the Arab world in translation: Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018. Her article “Abstraction of the Many? Finding Plenitude in Arab Painting,” for Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab world, 1950s-1980s (2020), won the Prince Pierre of Monaco Foundation Prize for a Critical Essay on Contemporary Art.

Current projects include two books: 1) A monograph, tentatively titled Modern Art in the Breach: Baghdad, 1941-1945, examining the peculiar friendships enacted through the late colonial reoccupation of the Arab countries during the Second World War. Working across Iraqi, Polish, British, and Egyptian archival documents and works of art, the book explores how a short-lived consortium of Iraqi artists, foreign soldiers, and colonial agents collaborated (briefly) on reworking the trajectory of modern art, endeavoring to keep alive a universalized version of “pure painting” on behalf of occupied Paris while challenging models of progressive art history. 2) A co-edited volume, Chronicle of the 1980s: Representational Pressures, Departures, and Beginnings in the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey. Comprised of more than sixty essays by more than forty scholars, each focused on a specific object or event, the book aims to detail how the departures and beginnings undertaken by Arab, Iranian and Turkish artists—situated in the region’s military mobilizations, economic “openings” (and closures), religious reconfigurations, and diasporic trajectories, among other events—are central to understanding both the emergence of contemporary art practices and the stakes of the category “contemporary art” itself. Lenssen’s essay contributions examine the art commissions for the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah; the early exhibition record of Houria Niatia’s No To Torture painting installation; a portrait of Sana’ Muhaydli by Egyptian artist Inji Efflatoun and mediated cultures of resistance; and Syrian artist Moustafa Fathi’s 1989 exhibition Syrie: Signes d'étoffe. In parallel, she is writing an article about Rabbia Sukkarieh’s performances in Beirut’s Kaskas Park during the Lebanese civil war and their broadcast over Lebanese state television in 1988.

Lenssen has been engaged in several recent curatorial collaborations meant to give a public dimension to aspects of her research. Over the academic year 2022-23, she worked with a team of students enrolled in her 192Cu curatorial seminar to organize Letters | الحروف How Artists Reimagined Language in the Age of Decolonization for the Brown Gallery of Doe Library, In 2023, she was a consulting scholar for the exhibition A Greater Beauty: The Drawings of Kahlil Gibran at The Drawing Center in New York, Presently, Lenssen is working with colleague Stefania Pandolfo and the members of Abounaddara, an anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers, to produce an exhibition that will open at the Berkeley Art Museum in October 2024. 

She is a recipient of the Toban Family Faculty Fellowship. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Getty Research Institute; the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley; and the Hellman Family Foundation; among numerous other granting agencies.

She is currently on the Editorial Board of Representations and ARTMargins, and a faculty affiliate of the Arts Research Center and of the department of Middle East Languages and Cultures. She is also an Investigator with the Arab Art Archive project at Al Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art at NYU Abu Dhabi. Before coming to Berkeley, Lenssen taught at The American University in Cairo, where she directed the Visual Cultures Program (2013-2014). 

Select Publications

“Baghdad Kept on Working: Painting and Propaganda during the British Occupation of Iraq, 1941-1945,” Getty Research Journal no. 19, forthcoming Spring 2024.

“Kahlil Gibran: Things Saved, Things Given,” for A Greater Beauty: The Drawings of Kahlil Gibran, Exh. Catalog (New York: The Drawing Center, 2023), 114–133, 

“Response: A Questionnaire on Global Methods,” October no. 180 (Spring 2022), 73-77. 

 “Points of Connection: Aleppo,” in: Surrealism Beyond Borders (Exh. Catalog, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), eds. Stephanie d’Alessandro and Matthew Gale, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2021, 106-109. 

“On Language and Modern Art: A Reflection,” with Nada Shabout and Sarah Rogers, Review of Middle East Studies 54, no.1 (2020): 71–79.

“The Filmmaker as Artisan: An Interview with the Members of Abounaddara,” Third Text 34, no.1 (2020): 159–171. Special Issue “Amateurism,” eds. Julia Bryan-Wilson and Benjamin Piekut.

“Abstraction of the Many? Finding Plenitude in Arab Painting,” in: Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s (Exh. Catalog, Grey Art Gallery, NYU), eds. Lynn Gumpert and Suheyla Takesh, Munich: Hirmer Publishers, 2020, 116–129.

“Material Support: On Arab Artist Unions and Solidarity,” in: Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity and Museums in Exile (Exh. Catalog, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw), eds. Khristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, Warsaw, Poland: Museum of Modern Art, 2018, 140–162.

“The Two-Fold Global Turn,” ARTMargins 7, no. 2 (February 2018): 83-99.

“Adham Ismail’s Arabesque: The Making of a Radical Arab Painting in Syria,” Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World 34 (2017): 223-258.

“Articulating the Contemporary,” with Sarah A. Rogers, in: A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture, eds. Finbarr Barry Flood and Gülru Necipoğlu, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, 1,314-1,338.

“Inji Efflatoun: White Light,” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 42 (Autumn/Winter 2016): 84-95.

Expanded and revised version: “Inji Efflatoun: Luz Blanca / Inji Efflatoun: White Light,”Boletín De Arte 41 (2020), 33-44.

“Delay, Displacement, Pixelation,” Representations 136 (Fall 2016), 153-157. Special Issue “Time Zones: Durational Art and its Contexts,” eds. Julia Bryan-Wilson and Shannon Jackson.

“Exchangeable Realism,” in: Postwar: Art between the Pacific and Atlantic, 1945-1965 (Exh. Catalog, Haus der Kunst, Munich), eds. Okwui Enwezor, Katy Siegel, and Ulrich Wilmes, Munich, Germany, Prestel Verlag, 2016, 430-434.

“The Plasticity of the Syrian Avant-Garde, 1964-1970,” ARTMargins 2, no. 2 (June 2013): 43–70.

“The Wormholes of Ecology,” in: Still Life: Art, Ecology, and the Politics of Change (Sharjah Biennial 8 Catalog), eds. Joseph Wolin and Ismail Al Rifai, Sharjah, UAE: Sharjah Biennial, 2009, 37–44.

“‘Muslims to take over Institute for Contemporary Art’: The 1976 World of Islam Festival,” MESA Bulletin 42, no. 1 & 2 (Summer/Winter 2008): 40–47.

Online Content

Forum contribution: "Judging by its Cover, Part 1," for the Visualities Forum, Modernism/modernity, Print Plus platform (13 March 2024).

Essay: "Mahmoud Hammad, Arabic Writing no. 11," in Smarthistory (28 August 2023).

Reflection: “New Texts Out Now: Beautiful Agitation,” on (October 19, 2021).

Review: “Traces of Traces: Image Histories in Lebanon,” on art journal open (18 December 2019).

Essay: “‘We Painted the Crystal, We Thought About the Crystal,’– The Crystalist Manifesto (Khartoum, 1976) in Context,” for Post: Notes on Modern and Contemporary Art Around the Globe (18 April 2018).

Field Report: “Surviving Fascism? ‘Art and Liberty’ in Egypt, 1938-1948,” for Modernism/modernity, Print Plus platform (8 February 2017).

Review: The Arab Nude: The Artist as Awakener, American University in Beirut, for (23 July 2016).

Essay: “The Medium,” for Observatory, Beirut (gallery), Cairo, Egypt (19 June 2014).


Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014
B.A., Kenyon College, 2001


Office Hours: Spring 2024

In person & drop-in: Thursdays, 2:30-4:30.


Anneka Lenssen; Sarah Rogers; Nada Shabout
Book, 2018
book cover
book cover