Middle Eastern Portraiture, Photography, Art, Documentary and Fashion Today

Illustrated Lecture on Contemporary Visual Culture of the Middle East by Malu Halasa

8 Dec 2011

Another revolution in the Middle East has been taking place, one that is little recognised but as powerful as recent trends on the Arab street.

Middle-Eastern-Portraiture - Left to right: Raedah Saadeh, Mona Lisa, Jerusalem, courtesy of the artist and Rose Issa Projects; Omid Salehi, Mashhad Studio Pilgrim, Iran, courtesy of the artist; Reine Mahfouz, Nomadic Studio, Nahr el-Bared Camp – Mohajareen, northern Lebanon, courtesy of the artist.

For the most part of the last century, perceptions of the region were heavily influenced by news imagery that focused on the political elites, oil, sexuality (too much or too little), terrorism and war, or as American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Mazin B. Qumsiyeh succinctly put it: “bombers, belly dancers and billionaires”. This started to change by 2000 when independent art curators, both in the region and in London, began to champion local art scenes from Beirut to Tehran. Finally, the Internet and social networking sites were instrumental in wrestling control of how this area of the world had been framed by corporate, mainly Western media and started giving voice to the people living there. In Middle Eastern visual culture, a people’s revolution has been taking place through art, documentary, photography, portraiture and fashion.

This illustrated lecture will include photographs and video clips. The (free) booklet Alternative Histories, which introduces the work of sixteen Middle Eastern artists and photographers, will be launched alongside two important, recently published photo-books: Omid Salehi: A Photographer’s Journey through Iran and Arab Photography Now edited by Rose Issa and Michket Krifa.

Malu Halasa is an editor and writer covering the culture and politics of the Middle East. Her books include The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie and Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations. She is editor-at-large for Portal 9: Literature and Critical Writing about the City, a new architectural biannual from Beirut.