Black Dog Publishing, London, UK, 2009
ISBN: 978 1 906155 56 8
Reviewed By: Maroun Kassab for LebRecord.com
About a month ago, I was contacted by Black Dog Publishing to write a review about their recent publication “Contemporary Art in the Middle East”. I was interested in seeing how the book dealt with the subject of art within a geographical area that is culturally diverse, and artistically disconnected. I also wanted to find out how this information was gathered in a world where communication has become chronically dependent on the internet.
When I received the copy of the book, I was impressed by the binding and the quality of both the feel and the look. It is a beautifully edited book, with a hard cover and subtle colors that gave the it a traditional chic character. The chronology of the book makes it easy to navigate, with a map at the beginning to guide the reader who might not be too familiar with geographical boundaries of the Middle East, to identify the locale for each artist and artwork.
But, I would say that the main objective for me was not the look and feel as much as the content. As I read through the opening essay by Nat Muller, I found out that problem concerning the encompassing factor that somehow unifies the whole art production in the Middle East under one roof was already into question during the compilation of the book. yet, the article provides a reasonable argument concerning the unification of art production within this specific region. The other element that Nat touches upon is the thematic content of the book. This second difficulty addresses the “traditional” western pre-conception of Middle Eastern art. Politics, war and gender are what seem to dominate the western understanding of art production in Middle East.
The book features articles by Nat Muller as already mentioned, Lindsey Moore, TJ Demos and Suzanne Cotter. It also features excerpts from Edward Said and Zachary Lockman that provide a quick view of Orientalism, in addition to interviews with some of the editors and curators from the region. The articles vary from the general to the specific and they contain much useful information, especially to introduce the reader to the mixture of art production originating from this part of the world.
Lindsey Moore’s article deals with gender and the position of women in art in the Middle East. TJ Demos’ article touches upon the Palestinian issue and specifically the Diaspora, through the work of the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir. Suzanne Cotter’s article addresses the work of the Lebanese artists Walid Raad from Atlas Group and Akram Zaatari.
The main meat of the book illustrates works of art on full pages, with an introductory snippets about the artist and the artwork. Oddly, some of the artworks and the artists illustrated in the book have no mention of the country of origin, leaving it for the reader to do some “further research”.
“Contemporary Art in the Middle East” is a nice addition to any library, and it does what it says it sets to do, with minor reservations from my side. The first is that the book somewhat falls into the trap that it warns about in the beginning. It again reinforces the topics that paint the region with a very specific brush, and these are the topics of gender, politics, war, diaspora and so on. The problem though is that the amount of literature, and the proliferated information that arise from this part of the world, give little chance for the researcher to find otherwise.
The other reservation is that the book does not show enough fine art production in oils or other traditional fine art mediums from Middle Eastern countries, except for the work of Golnaz Fathi from Turkey, Neda Dana Haeri from Iran and a couple others. But in defense of this feature, the editor makes it clear in the beginning that the book attempts to “move through” various mediums of contemporary expression.
The structure of the book is constructed in a manner that looks at the works of some of the artists from the region. It also leaves much out. Yet, this is what is to be expected from looking at a region the size of the Middle East..
Other than this, I highly recommend adding this book to your library, because it features the usual suspects of art arising from the region and serves as a great departure point to delve more into the diverse art production from the Middle East.
You can buy the book online at Amazon.com
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