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

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On Friday 24 January 2014, the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art was severely damaged in a suicide car bomb attack that might have targeted the nearby State Security premises. The extent of the damages on artefacts is still unknown but reports describe the “indescribable” destruction of the building and display re-inaugurated in 2010 as many of the glass window panes were shattered as a result of the blast. It seems the museum was not a primary target but a collateral victim of a wave of terrorist attacks on the eve of the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution due to its location.

Image

The Cairo Museum of Islamic Art is a unique institution because of its very location in the Middle East, in the land of Orientalism. This location questions the reciprocity of the East-West relation of Orientalism: Can displaying Arab art in an Arab country constitute an “oriental” answer to Orientalism?  Read the rest of this entry »

In these times of presents, I feel like offering a short reflection on the late historian of islamic art Oleg Grabar (1929-2011) and his legacy.  Grabar started his career when Orientalism was beyond critics and participated in reevaluating and transforming the field of Islamic studies. He managed to define the undefinable of the mixed influences and melting pot of islamic art. His studies on ornament also influenced contemporary art in Middle East and beyond. Respect.

This paper was published in the Dictionnaire des Orientalistes de langue française, 2d revised and enlarged edition, december 2012.

Block Carved with a Fan Pattern, ca. 720–724. Limestone, carved. Department of Antiquities, Qasr al-Qastal Archaeological Site, Jordan

Block Carved with a Fan Pattern, ca. 720–724. Limestone, carved. Department of Antiquities, Qasr al-Qastal Archaeological Site, Jordan

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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 revues.org:

Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, « La question des restitutions d’œuvres d’art : différentiels maghrébins », L’Année du Maghreb [En ligne], IV | 2008, http://anneemaghreb.revues.org/431

Enjoy your reading*.

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

Tripolitania, un via de Tripoli

Commemorative Postcard, Italy or Libya, ca. 1915, DR.

In the midst of the last developments of liberated Libya, we’ve ‘forgotten’ to remember October 5th 1911*: the day the Italian army invaded Libya and started its colonisation. What’s the (political) meaning of commemorating history in Libya? This short article examines the political role of rewriting history in the context of Qaddafi’s regime and questions its future in the reconstruction of Libya.

On October 5 1911, Italian troops invaded Tripoli of Libya. After months of rising tensions between Italian and Turkish (Ottoman) governments, the Italian Navy had started to bomb the port of Tripoli leading to the invasion of Tripoli and Tripolitania. It took few years to the Italian Republican and Fascist troops to conquer what was to become Libya in 1934 after Cyrenaica was conquered and united with Fezzan and Tripolitania. Ironically, the centennial coincides with the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. 1861, 1911, 2011: history seems to defy common sense in mixing dates. One wonders how the former regime would have orchestrated commemorations… No doubt it would have been a great post-colonial show as the resistance of Libyans to the Italian colonisation had been erected as a fundament of the ideology of Qaddafi’s ‘revolutionary’ regime. This short article – these are personal notes and reflections- examines the political role of rewriting history in the Libyan context and its future in the reconstruction of Libya.

Rewriting History

Historical studies were leaded and controlled by the Markaz al-Jihad (Research and Documentation Centre on the Historical Jihad [in this case resistance]). Created in 1978, that research center have been for more than 30 years a pillar of  Qaddafism. As explained by Clémence Weulersse (click here to read the article), its first role was to “liberate” the history of Libya that had been written by imperialist hands; in this pseudo-Marxist doxa, liberating history aimed at liberating minds. Second, the Markaz al-Jihad aimed at proving the possibility of the (Gadhafist) revolution in rewriting the history of Libya: Read the rest of this entry »

  Camille el Kareh, Self-portrait , Lebanon 1920

Camille el Kareh, Self-portrait, Zhorta, Lebanon, 1920, Collection: AIF/Mohsen Yammine Copyright © Arab Image Foundation

I work now as a Research Associate for the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut on a strategic program called the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI). MEPPI is led jointly with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the University of Delaware, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Qatar Museums Authority.
MEPPI main goal is to raise regional awareness and expertise in photograph preservation
. This initiative has three interconnected components:

– The MEPPI Survey, a survey aimed at identifying and assessing significant photograph holdings in the Arab world. Our scope also extends to collections in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.
– The MEPPI Courses, a series of courses, where collection keepers will be invited to learn and share best practices about photograph preservation.
– The MEPPI Symposium, where regional cultural policy decision-makers will be invited to reflect upon the importance of photographic heritage.
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Amingo, ex. Nuer war child in Gambella, jan. 2008

New Sudan: Peace and Unity

Southern Sudan is the 193rd State recognised by the UN on the 14th of July 2011. Happy Birthday Southern Sudan: I wish you peace and unity. With a special thought to my friend Amingo I met in Gambella, the Ethiopian border town back in 2008. Here’s an excerpt of my 2008 Gambella Stories, a history of violence, multiculturalism, failed dreams of modernisation in a remote place:*

Amingo is a Sudanese Nuer. He was a war child and one of the refugees who arrived in the 1980’s when the Sudanese civil war opposing the Northern Sudanese government to the Southern Sudanese guerilla resumed. The leadership of the Guerrilla was based in a refugee camp near Gambella city, and almost ruled on the region. It is a long story. Read the rest of this entry »

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].

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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 »