Re-displaying the Modern: A History of Art Exhibitions, Artistic Networks and Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa 1930-1989

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History of Art


This doctoral research project focuses on the institutional history of modern art practices in the Middle East and North Africa between 1947 and 1989. While revisionist narratives have brought into view previously neglected spatial and temporal networks, art historical scholarship tends to overlook the fact that artworks today praised as 'discoveries' in the West belong to a local narrative of a pre-globalised history of art and exhibitions. This project thus aims to provide a critical framework to map the development of galleries, festivals, biennials, journals and other platforms for artistic exchange in the region. The dominant historiographies of modernist art have, until recently, ignored art from the Middle East or cast it as derivative of its European sources.

The project will thus engage broadly with institutional practices across the region and re-evaluate the adoption and adaption of modernist paradigms, asking questions such as: What institutions served to exhibit and disseminate modern artistic projects in the Middle East in the second half of the twentieth century? How did these institutions, and the artists working in them, negotiate the tensions between the local and global, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, political engagement and artistic autonomy, and popular and avant-garde art trajectories? How might a map of the institutional links between artists working in cities such as Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Tehran necessitate a re-thinking of the nation-state as a framework through which to understand artistic production in the region?

The project will involve examining art exhibitions, biennials and festivals as they intersect with the history of avant-garde groups, art movements and political alliances of their time, including but not limited to: Al-Nahda's cultural Renaissance in early twentieth-century Lebanon and Syria; the Egyptian Art and Freedom group in the 1930s; the Baghdad Modern Art Group formed in 1951 by Jawad Salim; the Union of Arab Plastic Artists that gathered throughout the 1970s between Damascus, Rabat and Baghdad, where the first Arab Biennale was held in 1974; the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of the Arts in Iran; and the Asilah festival in Morocco in 1978.

Based in London, the project will involve an examination of the histories of works of modern Middle Eastern and North African art within Tate's collection, utilising the museum's records. There is an aim to produce summary texts about individual artworks in Tate's collection for publication on Tate's website, following existing guidelines, and related texts, such as catalogue entries. Research findings will be shared with staff at Tate, both informally and formally through seminars and a range of possible publishing outcomes. The assembling of documents relating to the history of art in the region could be a further valuable outcome of the project.


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Description Through my research, I have explored the trajectory of ideas and people from and to Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century in order to study the development of artistic movements, institutional practices and patronage. Key findings include a move away from a Euro-centric perspective on Surrealism and instead shifting the focus away from Paris and in my case, look at expressions of Surrealism in Egypt without maintaining the centre and periphery model that has hitherto been applied to the literature. Other findings center around the study of futurism and its Egyptian chapter, founded by Nelson Morpurgo, a protégée of FT Marinetti in 1920. Valentine de Saint Point, the great-niece of Lamartine, who had been a dancer in the 1910s and at the centre of the Parisian avant-garde, moved to Cairo in 1924 where she converted to Islam and wrote vehemently against colonialism and for women's rights. De Saint Point's life in Cairo has not been sufficiently explored until now or more importantly placed within the context of her life trajectory. I also managed to gain access to the collection of Mahmoud Khalil made up of French and Italian impressionism housed in his house-turned-museum in Cairo. The collection has been in storage for years now for restauration purposes and access for research is very limited. My chapter centres around the role of Khalil in developing the art scene in Egypt and his role in the Society des Amis de l'Art and the founding of the museum of modern art in Cairo as well as his patronage of the arts.
Exploitation Route I intend to publish my dissertation into a book.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The catalogue summaries I am writing for the Tate website, which will be published online in the near future, will have a non-academic impact as it will raise awareness about Tate's middle east modern and contemporary art collection.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title Abdel Hadi El Gazzar Archive 
Description This online archive on Abdel Hadi EL Gazzar brings together his artwork, his writings, poetry and library. It is a full documentation of the artist's library that is an indispensable research tools for researchers of modern middle eastern art history. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We are in the final stages and the archive will be made available by June 2018. 
Description Tate Modern 
Organisation Tate
Department Tate Modern, London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution As part of the Collaborative Doctoral Award, my studentship is in partnership with Tate Modern, where I have to write 40 catalogue entries about the Middle Eastern modern and contemporary collection. These entries will then be published on Tate's website.
Collaborator Contribution My second supervisor is Morad Montazami, who is an adjunct curator of the Middle East at Tate Modern. I also have access to the collection.
Impact The partnership involved work on the Middle Eastern art collection, which will be made available to the public on the website.
Start Year 2015
Description Presentation at Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The conference attempted to situate Egyptian surrealism within a wider , more global network of surrealism. Academics from all over the world were invited to speak.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015