Overview: Representation: Visual Arts (encyclopedia entry)

August 26, 2017 | Autor: Iftikhar Dadi | Categoría: Contemporary Art
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Representations: Visual Arts Overview E arl y mod e r n r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s Representation of gender as a significant element in Islamic visual art is primarily a product of modernity during the last two centuries, before which gender depictions in painting remain largely stylized. During the early modern period (fifteenth– eighteenth centuries), individualism and realism gradually transformed Persian, Ottoman, and Mughal painting. A set of miniature portraits from late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Delhi and Lucknow depict courtesans and women in zenana interiors, conventions that were also taken up by photography in the later nineteenth century. In Qajar portraiture in Iran, in order to suppress widespread homosocial desire under European influenced normative heterosexuality, the exposed breast became visible to clearly demarcate the erotic object as female, as argued by Najmabadi (2005). O ri e n t a l i s t E u r o p e a n re p re s e n t a t i o n s Depictions of gender roles in nineteenth-century European paintings were deeply informed by Orientalist presuppositions. In the works of French artists such as Delacroix, Ingres, and Gérôme, excessive and decadent sexuality became strongly correlated with arabesque motifs. This was especially pronounced in Gérôme’s paintings, where smooth brushwork and meticulous attention to architectural facades and dress create a compelling illusion of the ahistoricity and otherness of the Orient at the very moment when Middle Eastern society was rapidly transforming as a result of European colonialism and local modernization efforts. This nineteenth-century Orientalism influenced other Western artists and subsequent representational practices in other media. European photographers also constructed images of the Oriental woman as sexually available for the camera’s gaze. Colonial postcards of Algerian women from the early twentieth century collected by Alloula (1986) never show Algerian women as fully nude, but pose them in premodern harem interiors with “traditional” jewelry and head covering even while their breasts are fully exposed, sustaining the fantasy of a timeless Orient characterized by a play of sexual prohibition and availability. Cherry (2000)

has shown how even British feminists from the nineteenth century indulged in “cultural and gendered cross-dressing” in Algeria, yet continued to render the Algerian landscape and its people from a European imperialist vantage point. Modernist artists in the twentieth century, such as Matisse, abandoned realism, but continued to work with the odalisque, now depicted in flattened patterns of color – a formalist escape into a feminized, aestheticized Orient. Orientalist depictions of the Muslim remain powerfully present in current Western visual representations. Natio nalis m and mo d ernity During the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century in Iran, Egypt, and Turkey, the nation was routinely allegorized in nationalist print media political cartoons as a woman whose honor was under threat from imperialist depredations. The modernizing public sphere was marked by publications of photographs in print media of women’s fashions, activities in educational and other institutions, and in public displays of unveiling. In Ma™mùd Mukhtùr’s monumental neo-Pharaonic sculpture Egypt Awakening (1919–28), installed at the entrance of Cairo University, the figure of a woman unveiling represents both national freedom and women’s liberation. In architecture, the transition from traditional gender-segregated urban housing to modernist bungalows and apartments has profoundly affected gender relations, a topic which requires further comparative study. Recent publications of photographic archives in the Middle East by the Arab Image Foundation, Damandan (2004), and others, promise to open up new understandings of early and mid-twentieth-century gendered modernity of everyday life. C o ntempo rary artis tic repres entatio ns Recent art by women influenced by Islamic culture has powerfully investigated gender and the body, in painting, photography, video, and installation formats. Indonesian artist Arahmaiani’s controversial painting Linga/Yoni (1994) depicts the Hindu male and female genital symbols alongside Arabic calligraphy to point out the absence of gender balance in Muslim society. She has also created installations and performances that critique

Iftikhar Dadi, Article 5.074, The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Brill, 2007

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representations: visual arts

consumerist, gendered globalization. Rummana Husain’s installations and performances before her death in 1999 dealt with the complex intersections of gender and Muslim history in an India where secularism was increasingly under attack from Hindu fundamentalism. In an extended photo-essay, Dayanita Singh has sensitively explored the social and spiritual biography of a Muslim eunuch in Delhi, India. In Pakistan, Naiza Khan in her Henna Hands series (2001–2) stenciled silhouettes of nude female figures on public walls of Karachi with henna paste. These ephemeral public works comment upon the gendering of public space, by deploying a normally intimate ritual of female body decoration outside. Trained as a miniature painter, Lahore-based Aisha Khalid has made works that explore veiling and its relation to domesticity. The minimalist space and repetition of arabesque pattern, which also recall colonial floor tiles, create an enclosure from which no escape is possible – the woman merges into the decorative background itself, interchangeable with objects of furniture and drapery. Drawing upon the iconography of the Iranian Revolution, Shirin Neshat (Iran/United States) has created a threatening yet seductive photographic series, Women of Allah (1993–7), showing armed women covered in chadors and overlaid with ornamental patterns and calligraphy of poetry by Persian women. Her video works since 1998 allegorically explore issues of women’s place in public life in Muslim societies. Marjane Satrapi (Iran/France) has illustrated a series of graphic novels, Persepolis, which utilize her personal coming-of-age story in post-revolutionary Iran and Europe, to comment on larger social issues. By opening up her familial space in her photographs and videos, Jannane al-Ani (Iraq/ United Kingdom) deconstructs Orientalist visualizations of the seductive otherness of the harem. Loosely based on Delacroix’s Orientalist painting Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1834), Houria Niati’s (Algeria/United Kingdom) expressionist painting No to Torture (1982–3) foregrounds the relationship between aesthetics and colonialism in French control of the gendered and colonized Algerian body. Migration, exile, and their gendered inflections are recurrent themes in contemporary art. The cartoonist Boudjellal (Algeria/France) deploys the veiled female figure to index the separation of Algerian men in France from their families and villages. Mona Hatoum (Palestine/United Kingdom) has powerfully evoked the pain of exile in her video, performance, and installation works. In her video Measures of Distance (1988), Hatoum’s voice reads letters from her mother in Lebanon, while the video

image shows the naked maternal body behind the text of the letters themselves, the handwritten Arabic script akin to a barbed wire fence. In her series Sexy Semite (2000–2), Emily Jacir (Palestine/United States) placed personal advertisements in the New York publication, the Village Voice, seeking Jewish partners, conceptually highlighting the absurd use of Israel’s “Law of Return” as being the only way by which a Palestinian might possibly return to Palestine. Zineb Sedira (Algeria/United Kingdom) and Susan Hefuna (Egypt/Germany) explore delineations of interior and exterior space in traditional North African architecture by photography and installation-based recreations of arabesque patterns and screens (mashrabiyya). In their works, the separation of space by gender intersects with the geographic condition of exile and diaspora. Biblio graph y M. Alloula, The colonial harem, Minneapolis 1986. Arab Image Foundation, . D. Bailey and G. Tawadros (eds.), Veil. Veiling, representation and contemporary art, Boston 2001. B. Baron, Egypt as a woman. Nationalism, gender, and politics, Berkeley 2005. D. Cherry, Beyond the frame. Feminism and visual culture. Britain 1850–1900, London 2000. P. Damandan, Portrait photographs from Isfahan. Faces in transition, London 2004. A. Douglas and F. Malti-Douglas, Arab comic strips. Politics of an emerging mass culture, Bloomington, Ind. 1993. F. M. Göçek, Political cartoons in the Middle East, Princeton, N.J. 1998. S. Hashmi, Unveiling the visible. Lives and works of women artists of Pakistan, Islamabad 2002. Haus de Kulturen der Welt, DisORIENTation. Contemporary Arab artists from the Middle East, Berlin 2003. R. Issa, R. Pakbaz, and D. Shayegan, Iranian contemporary art, London 2001. F. Lloyd. Contemporary Arab women’s art. Dialogues of the present, London 1999. A. Najmabadi, Women with mustaches and men without beards. Gender and sexual anxieties of Iranian modernity, Berkeley 2005. S. Nashashibi (ed.), Forces of change. Artists of the Arab world, Washington, D.C. 1994. L. Nochlin, The imaginary Orient, in L. Nochlin, The politics of vision. Essays on nineteenth-century art and society, New York 1989. Nooderlicht Foundation, Nazar. Photographs from the Arab world, curated by W. Melis, New York 2004. N. Patnaik, A second paradise. Indian courtly life, 1590– 1947, New York 1985. A. Rath, Taboo and transgression in contemporary Indonesian art, Ithaca, N.Y. 2005. T. Ben Zvi, Self portrait. Palestinian women’s art [in Hebrew, Arabic, and English], Tel Aviv 2001. D. Singh, Myself Mona Ahmed, Zurich 2001. Iftikhar Dadi

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