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, non-alignment, and Third World humanism. Her teaching interests include modern art and international mass culture, the visual culture of resistance movements, abstraction and aniconism, translational and comparative practices, and special topic courses on Islamic art.
Lenssen 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. She is currently writing a book about art pedagogies in the socialist Eastern shore of the Mediterranean, with a focus on schools in Egypt, Syria, and Algeria in the 1960s.
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. Over the period 2020-2022, she is a contributor to a collaborative Connecting Art Histories initiative between the Getty Foundation and the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey.
Also active as a critic, Lenssen contributes reviews to Artforum, Bidoun, Ibraaz, and Springerin, among other outlets, and essays to exhibition catalogs for Darat al-Funun in Amman, Haus der Kunst in Munich, and the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates, among other presenting institutions. 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.
She is currently on the Editorial Board of ARTMargins, serves as one of three Art Editors for Critical Times, and is a faculty affiliate of Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and of the department of Near Eastern Studies. Before coming to Berkeley, Lenssen taught at The American University in Cairo, where she directed the Visual Cultures Program (2013-2014). She earned her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.