This post provides a short introduction to a history of photography (and photograph collections) in the Arabian Peninsula. It was written in March 2012 as a report of the extensive fieldwork research I did in 2011 in the framework of the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI), organised by the Arab Image Foundation (Beirut), the Getty Conservation Institute, and the funding of the Andrew Mellow Foundation. Since I wrote this piece, several initiatives took place, including the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Akkash: Center for Photography.

Photographs found in a building about to be destroyed that used to host Studio Jamal in Kuwait City, oct. 2011

Photographs found in a building about to be destroyed that used to host Studio Jamal in Kuwait City, oct. 2011

Read the rest of this entry »

What do Voltaire, Mozart, Bonaparte, Freud, Hergé, Elizabeth Taylor, and Michael Jackson have in common? 

To find out the answer, read Florence Quentin’s Livre de Egyptes, released on 29 January 2015, which explores the everlasting Western fascination for Egypt.

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz 's Cleopatra,1963

Extras on the set of Mankiewicz ‘s Cleopatra,1963

Read the rest of this entry »

Is Islamic Art a Western invention? I open with this article a series of articles I’ve published this year on the invention of Islamic Art. It comes in line with the reopening of departments of Islamic Art a the Metropolitan  in November 2011 and at the Louvre expected in 2012. It leads to a reflection on the Orientalist tradition and the political meaning of exhibiting Islamic Art.

Poster & Matiss

Poster of "Meisterwerke muhammedanischer Kunst" exhibition, Munich, 1910, photo:DR. // Matisse and friends at the Oktoberfest, Munich 1910, DR.

Are contemporary exhibitions/museums of Islamic Art embedded in a century old Orientalist tradition?
Here’s a book review – published on Studia Islamica, 2011, 2 – of Avinoam Shalem & Andrea Lermer’s After One Hundred Years that celebrated the 100 years of the exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’held in Munich in 1910. The aim of the organisers the Munich 1910 exhibition was to break up with Orientalism by linking Oriental Art to Modernism. The exhibition entered history that way with Matisse among other avant-garde artists visiting it. This book examines the heritage of this amazing exhibition considered as a major landmark in Islamic Art studies. This book review offers a chance to reflect on the history of exhibitions as a research topic. It also raises questions on the contemporary exhibitions of Islamic Art in the public space and their political discontent. Is exhibiting Islamic Art political? As more museums are being opened, the orientalist tradition raises under the cover of a so-called  Islamophilia supposed the counter post 9/11 islamophobia.

After one hundred years: the 1910 exhibition ‘Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst’ reconsidered’, Andrea Lermer and Avinoam Shalem, Leyde, Brill, 2010, 401 p. Read the rest of this entry »

Statue de Bourdelle au Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Alger, DR.

For the 15 years now, demands of return, repatriation and restitution of artefacts stolen during the colonial period have been an endless diplomatic issue between former colonised and colonisers in Africa. How objects of cultural heritage became subjects of conflict?

Not all Africans countries claim for their ‘looted’ heritage, North African countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) barely asked for cultural artefacts to be repatriated. This article explains that difference through the analysis of 50 years of cultural policies in a post-colonial context. It raises questions that help reformulating the dead-end of the question of restitutions. How that difference enlights the relationship between the part (the object in exile) and the all (the heritage in situ)?
This complete article (in French) is now  on line on

Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, « La question des restitutions d’œuvres d’art : différentiels maghrébins », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], IV | 2008,

Enjoy your reading*.

*I’m aware it is a very academic article. Research aims at fuelling cultural policies with new matters, doesn’t it!?

What is the meaning of an Ethnographic Museum in a post-colonial world in which boundaries between the Self and the Other are in a constant evolution? If the Self and the Other are a reflective myth, the Museum is a privileged machinery to construct the representation of Alterity, of Otherness.

Savignac, "Allez au Musée de l'Homme", Affiche, 1981, DR

The Museum orders, screenplays and formalises the re-presentation of the World. Therefore, the Museum appears a effective place to study the history of the representations of Others as in the case of the transformation of the old Paris’ Musée de l’Homme into the new unfortunate Musée du Quai Branly. [On the Quai Branly’s vicissitudes, refer to Kimmelman’s brilliant article: “Heart of Darkness in the City of Light“, New York Times, July 2 2006]

This book review [in French] of Benoît de l’Estoile’s, the Taste of Others [Le goût des Autres*] provides a chance to discuss the role of Anthropology and the Museum in the reprensentation of Alterity. Commenting on the book’s argument also provides an insight that reconsiders the role of anthropologists and intellectuals in the social and political debates on multiculturalism.

Anticipating on the conclusions and on further articles (to come here, stay tuned), I think that this book offered a good example of a certain school of Museum Studies that hardly consider museums as a research subject but as an object: the study of discourses about the museum overdetermines the topic of Otherness. Museum considered as a discourse is a powerful means to understand non said representations and give sense to nonsensical cultural discourses.

* Note: Le goût des autres / The Taste of Others: this is a literal translation as to keep on playing with the reference to Agnès Jaoui’s 2000 film on the experience of multiculturalism in France. As a complementary reading on the same topic, here’s a reference to Sally Price’s excellent Paris Primitive: Jacques’s Chirac Museum at the Quai Branly, Chicago, 2007… [here’s a book review in French].

Read the rest of this entry »

Osama Esid, The fantastic Jawa (Cairo Street workers series), 2006 (DR)

Following the life of the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes (we talked about it already), I’ll be participating on the 3rd conference that prepares the new edition of the Dictionnaire with another analytical volume. It’s a three days conference with 60 speakers from both sides of the Mediterranean aiming at shedding light on the old orientalist practices and renewing perspectives. The ultimate goal is to evaluate the dialogue of Orientalism with and within the Orient.

I’ll talk in the F. Pouillon’s round table #2 “inventing the  Tradition” : Cairo’s Museum of Arab Art: Anatomy* of an Orientalist institution in the Orient (1881-2010).

Read the rest of this entry »

Here is a short book review of Silvia Naef’s Y-a-t-il une « question de l’image » en Islam ? [litt. Is there ‘a question of image’ in Islam? / trans. Pictures and Aniconism in Islam] (Paris, Téraèdre, 2004 / published in German in 2007). It was written in 2006 but published in 2004 [sic!] in Studia Islamica. It’s available online on Jstor. If I were to write it again I would write something very different. Reviewing that book offers a chance to discuss the issues of Orientalism and how the contemporary understanding of pictures and images is embedded in the 19th c. conception of an essentialist prohibition of pictures in Islam.

A propos de Silvia Naef, Y-a-t-il une « question de l’image » en Islam ? Paris, Téraèdre (collection « l’Islam en débats »), 2004, 132 pages.

1. La question de l’image en Islam est-elle caricaturale ? « L’affaire des caricatures » aux premiers mois de 2006 a réveillé de vieux démons d’une opposition Occident-Orient. Des caricatures du Prophète de l’Islam publiées dans le magazine danois Jyllands-Posten mettaient le feu aux poudres. Pour les commentateurs, peu importaient les dessins, leur pertinence ou impertinence, le bon ou le mauvais goût, qu’ils aient été vus ou non, c’était le principe de l’interdiction de la représentation figurée (en particulier celle du Prophète) qui avait été enfreint. Ce qui était alors apparu comme une haine de l’Occident pour les uns répondait à ce qui était vécu comme une haine de l’Islam[1] pour les autres. Le débat s’est donc résumé à une opposition de partis autour d’une idée reçue sur l’Islam, des mieux enracinées dans les consciences, celle d’une société sans images. Read the rest of this entry »

Here is the very beginning of a (short) article (in French) that has just been published in Qantara, Magazine des cultures arabes et méditerranéennes of the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris.

Cet article fait partie d’un dossier spécial “Patrimoine antique, le regard des Arabes“. Coordonné par François Zabbal, ce dossier analyse le transformation du regard porté sur les antiquités gréco-romaines dans le monde arabe. Observée depuis une décennie, cette transformation semble s’accélérer avec le “printemps arabe”. Loin des considérations politiques du moment? Peut-être pas, car il s’agit d’observer comment les identités collectives se font et se défont.

The Arch of Marcus Aurelius as a cinema, 1911

The Arch of Marcus Aurelius as a cinema, 1911

Un arc aux objets encombrants

Elevé au IIe siècle, l’arc de triomphe de Marc Aurèle règne au coeur de la médina de Tripoli de Libye. Ranimé voici un siècle par le colonisatur italien, qui en fit le symbole de la romanité glorieuse, il est à l’inverse tout juste toléré depuis l’instauration du régime de Khadafi, victime de la décolonisation de l’histoire nationale entreprise par le colonel. Mais peut-on occulter l’Histoire en la passant sous silence?

Read the rest of this entry »

How does a book live after its publication?

Last year, I announced  the release of the Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française (F. Pouillon ed., Paris, Karthala, 2008).   One year later, the book is almost outsold and received  a deserved (almost unexpected) audience. Therefore the critical work on evaluating orientalism is going on!

– A website has just been launched by the editors:
It features the life of the book after its publication (reviews, conferences, etc.) and the ongoing continuation of the work started in 2000: exploring new paths, intending reequilibration of the diverse geographical and cultural spaces of orientalism, forgotten names… Still in the making.

– A conference on orientalism 50 years after the Independances, 30 years after Edward Said’s book and polemics is being planned for June 2011 in Paris: “L’orientalisme, et après ? Médiations, appropriations, contestations“. It sounds as a promise for heated debates.
Read the rest of this entry »

Ceci est le power point d’une présentation donnée à l’école doctorale de l’IISMM, EHEE,Paris, 22-26 septembre 2008 et animée par Gabriel Martinez-Gros. Le thème de cette école doctorale était les héros fondateurs.

J’ai abordé la question des héros comme des fondateurs de monuments. En effet, les fondations monumentales – temples religieux ou temples de la nation, musées, statues, etc. – sont construites comme des images du pouvoir sur la nation, mais constituent en même temps des images de la nation héroïque. Les monuments (qui avec le temps deviennent historiques ou patrimoine) contribuent largement à l’imagerie nationale, ou encore, à structurer l’imaginaire national dans lequel la nation se confond avec la figure de ses fondateurs.
Read the rest of this entry »