“Generation 00: Cultural Practices before the Middle East Uprisings” colloquium with Abdellah Karroum

What role did artists and artistic production have in the political upheaval of the Arab Spring and related social and political movements?  The Block Museum will expand this question over three days of conversation with Abdellah Karroum, director of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar.  As an organization Mathaf explores and celebrates art by Arab artists and offers an Arab perspective on international modern and contemporary art. Karroum also serves as the founder and artistic director of L’appartement 22, an experimental collaborative space for exhibitions and artists’ residencies in Rabat, Morocco.

At Northwestern Karroum will lead a series of conversations examining artistic production during the decade preceding the uprisings in Tunisia and the Arab world.  Free public events will expand on the idea of a “generation 00” of artists working as citizens who produced works opposing and critically reading the political and social situations of the early 21st Century. Karroum’s research focuses on the years between 1999 and 2011, highlighting a long decade of disruptive artistic initiatives that preceded the so-called “revolutions” and political actions of the Arab Spring.   Karroum suggests this “Generation 00, including artists Amal Kenawy (Egypt) and Manal Al Dowayan (Saudi Arabia), Ismail Bahri (Tunisia), and Mustapha Akrim (Morocco), intertwined politics with curatorial and editorial projects, offering new paths for change and citizen-led action.

“Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a very important turn where we are both witnessing and participating in the reformulation of the role of cultural practices in the world, especially in relation to the museum and its tentacles.” the director and curator told Art 21 Magazine. “More recently, I’ve met with a generation of artists at work who are inventing a new vocabulary.”

Karroum’s visit is presented in partnership between the Block Museum of Art, the Department of Art History and the Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA) with the support of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.  Karroum’s visit is part of the Block Museum’s “Visual Vanguard” series which presents conversations with innovative arts leaders working internationally who are transforming the way we experience and think about art today.

“Abdellah Karroum has not only exceptional taste in artistic production by creators working in many different media, but a transnational vision of global trends in the arts and how they intersect with geopolitics,” said Brian Edwards, Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and director of Northwestern’s MENA Program.

Generation 00: Cultural Practices before the Middle East Uprisings

Saturday, February 25, 10AM – 3PM
Alumni Center, 1800 Sheridan Road, Evanston

The colloquium Generation 00: Cultural Practices before the Middle East Uprisings will offer a series of talks examining artistic production during the decade preceding the uprisings of the Arab spring. This multidisciplinary day of conversation will expand on Karroum’s work on “generation 00.” The colloquium, moderated by S. Hollis Clayson, Professor of Art History and Bergen Professor in the Humanities, will begin with a presentation by Abdellah Karroum, introduced by Brian Edwards, Crown Professor in Middle Eastern Studies, and continue with an spectrum of talks by an interdisciplinary group of Northwestern scholars.  Program includes:

Hannah Feldman, “‘There was and there were not’: What was Beirut? The Years between the Wars (1990-2006)”

This talk responds to the provocation levied in Jayce Salloum’s film, This is Not Beirut (There was and there were not), 1992 (1994), which consolidates 200 hours of the artist’s footage of Beirut in 1990s to consider the centrality—and precarity—of Beirut as a symbol of the country’s emergence from seventeen years of civil and other wars. It explores and historicizes a roster of local art practices and provisional events meant to claim or constitute various forms of public belonging in the years before Catherine David’s famous “discovery” of contemporary art in Beirut, and the corresponding institutionalization of the “Beirut School” as a product for international consumption and lionization that reached its zenith with the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Shayna Mei Silverstein, “Cultural Production in the Capital: Creativity, Neoliberalism, and the 2008 Damascus Arab Capital of Culture Festival”

Artistic life in Syria’s capital city thrived throughout 2008, in part due to the expansive programming of the year-long, UNESCO-sponsored Damascus Arab Capital of Culture Festival (DACC). Through the DACC platform, curatorial committees organized creative workshops, program series, and installations throughout the city that ranged from the nostalgic – screening Syria’s first silent film “Taht Samawat Dimashq” with live musical accompaniment and celebrating the popular Café Rawda with a 1950s-style newshour – to week-long music festivals featuring major artists, both Arab and international. Emerging artists and audiences benefited from unprecedented exposure and infrastructural gains. Yet despite appearances of a cultural renaissance, this surge in creative output arguably sustained both the state’s historic monopoly on cultural production and its neoliberal agenda known as “social market reform.” In this presentation, I will discuss the DACC festival’s impact on Generation 00, including historic breakthroughs and the spawning of numerous creative projects among youth. I will then problematize the festival in relation to specific cultural exclusions and social marginalizations, paying particular attention to the class divide between art and popular culture in contemporary Syria.

Hamid Naficy, “Iranian Postrevolution Cinema: From Iconoclasm to Global Cinema”

The transition from Pahlavi-era cinema to Islamic Republic-era cinema was slow but tumultuous, fiery, and destructive, and it offered an indelible contemporary example of the classic violence waged in all religions between idolaters and iconoclasts. Nearly a third of all the movie houses nationwide were destroyed during the revolution, and soon thereafter a campaign ensued to transform the despised prerevolutionary “cinema of idolatry” into a prized “Islamicate cinema.”  Side by side with this cinema a new dynamic film culture emerged, peopled by veteran prerevolution “new wave” auteur directors and by newly minted postrevolution “art house” directors, including women directors, which placed Iran among the foremost producers of thoughtful cinema.  This lecture maps out this process and offers illustrations.

Jessica Winegar, “Art for Nation, Art for God: The Rise of Religious Contemporary Art Practices in Cairo”

This presentation will examine the rise, in the early 2000s, of explicitly pious art practices that have been widely ignored or dismissed by the international art scene. It includes discussion of how artists have involved the state’s religious authorities in their art production, and how they have sought to use art in social works projects with disadvantaged youth.

Emma Chubb, “Generation Migration: Notes from Morocco, 1999-2011”

As a new king took power in Morocco at the turn of the 21st century, a new generation of artists was busy radically reimagining the relationship between art, state, and society. In distinction from the previous generation of artists who pursued decolonization largely through abstract painting, alternative pedagogies, and outdoor exhibitions, Generation 00 embraced new forms and new media and worked outside of official channels and patronage networks. This paper examines how these artists used the places, experiences, and detritus of everyday life to make evident the centrality of migrants and minorities to Morocco’s national imaginary and postcolonial history well before the state publically acknowledged multiculturalism in 2011.

Brian Edwards, “Lit Generation 00: Cairo Comics, Cyberpunk, and Casablanca Noir”

Edwards discusses the work of Cairo- and Casablanca-based writers and cultural producers who emerged in the 2000s. The work of this young seemed drawn from a global cultural palette and influenced by or engaging with digital culture, formally and linguistically experimental while exploring domestic or local social and political themes, apparently anticipating aspects of the political uprising of 2011.

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