Contemporary Art in the Middle East A two-day symposium at Tate Britain and Tate Modern

A two-day symposium bringing together artists, curators and writers to discuss recent developments in art from the region.

Organised in collaboration with the International Curators Forum (ICF), this two day symposium – which began at Tate Britain and moved to Tate Modern – brought together artists, curators and writers to discuss recent developments in art from the region, with key questions including: How do we define the Middle East? How do differing interpretations of recent art from the region and its diaspora influence the way it is understood both at home and abroad? How have ideas about tradition and modernity emerged in art practice? And what is the impact of new and emerging contemporary art spaces?

These formed the basis of four sessions, chaired by Derek Gregory (Professor of Geography, University of British Colombia, Vancouver) Mourid Barghouti (poet and author, I Saw Ramallah), Salah Hassan (professor, Art History, Cornell University) and Shumon Basar (curator, architect and author of Cities from Zero).

The fifth session was dedicated to presentations by curators and artists reflecting on recent exhibitions and curatorial practice.

The conference was quickly sold-out, approximately 300 people attended on each day and there was an extensive waiting list for spaces.  Anyone unable to attend was directed to the video recordings of each of the sessions that became available one week after the conference.

Session one: Defining the Middle East

How do we define theMiddle East? Can theMiddle Eastbe understood as a fixed physical entity or is it a dynamic and shifting definition, moulded by changing historical, social and political realities? What place does the diaspora play in defining contemporary Middle Eastern culture? This session investigates contemporary and historical definitions of theMiddle Eastand how these impact on the making and distribution of art.

Keynote speaker: Derek Gregory

Panel discussion with: Issa Touma (artist, curator and founder of Le Pont Art Organization and Gallery, Aleppo Syria), Zineb Sedira (artist), Rahraw Omarzad (editor, Gahnama-e-Hunar and founder, Centre for Contemporary Art, Afghanistan), Yto Barrada (artist and founder of Cinematheque Tangiers), Eyal Weizman (director, Centre for Research Architecture, GoldsmithsCollege) (tbc) and chaired by David Elliott (artistic director, Sydney Biennale). 

Session two: Writing and Translation

How does the interpretation and contextualisation of modern and contemporary art from the Middle East effect its understanding at home and abroad? What is lost in the process of translation and how can it be reclaimed to encourage deeper and more nuanced readings? This session explores writing on art and translation as well as broader issues of access and interpretation. 

Keynote speaker: Mourid Barghouti

Panel discussion with: Mourid Barghouti, Negar Azimi (senior editor, Bidoun), Pat Binder (artist, curator, publisher, Nafas Art Magazine), Gerhard Haupt (art-historian, curator and publisher, Nafas Art Magazine), Nada Shabout (Associate Professor Art History, University North Texas) and Anas Al-Shaikh (artist and curator), chaired by Salah Hassan (Professor, Cornell University and editor, nka)

Session three: Art Now: Recent exhibitions

There has been a proliferation of exhibitions of contemporary Middle Eastern art both in the region and abroad. This session will be dedicated to presentations by curators and artists reflecting on recent exhibitions and curatorial projects. Speakers include: Stuart Comer, Suzanne Cotter, Catherine David, November Paynter, Khalil Rabah and Andrew Renton. 

Session four: Tradition and Modernity

What were the specific conditions out of which modern and contemporary art emerged in the Middle East? How have ideas about tradition and modernity played out within this context? This session looks at how definitions of tradition and modernity have shifted over time and in different national contexts in the Middle East.

Keynote speaker: Salah Hassan

Panel discussion with: Salah Hassan, Khalil Rabah (artist and director, Riwaq Biennale, Ramallah), Dr Khalid Khreis (director,Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman), Dina Ramadan (PhD student, Columbia University), Abdul-Raheem Sharif (founder, The Flying House, Dubai) and Michael Rakowitz (artist). Chaired by Vasif Kortun (curator and director, Platform, Istanbul)

Session Five: The Politics of Space

What will be the impact of new and emerging spaces for seeing and exhibiting modern and contemporary art in different parts of the Middle East? This session looks at the spatial politics of art in the Middle East from major architectural developments in the Gulf such as Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi to more fluid institutional spaces for art such as the Sharjah Biennial and the ‘Home Works’ international forum in Beirut.

Keynote speaker: Shumon Basar

Panel discussion with: Shumon Basar, Jack Persekian (artistic director, Sharjah Biennial and director, Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art), Wael Shawky (artist), William Wells (director,Townhouse Gallery, Cairo), Oreet Ashery (artist and fellow at Queen Mary University), Suha Shoman (founder, Darat al Funun, Amman), Christine Tohme (curator and founder, Ashkal Alwan.Chaired by Jack Persekian

Conference Recordings

See also