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, 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.

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

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