Contemporary Art, Islam, and the Middle East

90 minuten

Video-On-Demand via De Balie TV en op De Balie Vimeo. Discussions in western countries about Islam very quickly become dominated by the idea that there are irreconcilable differences between cultures, also when it comes to art. There are however many examples demonstrating that contemporary art and Islam can go together, in Europe, but also in the Middle East. How real are the contradictions between contemporary art and Islam? Must we particularize them, or can we better neutralize them? Whatever the case, it is clear that we must approach the question in a more highly nuanced manner than that found in political propaganda and mass media. A variety of artists around the world have a complex personal relationship with Islam and Islamic cultures, so diverse that they cannot be placed in one category. When such artists receive an invitation because of an interest in their religious and cultural identity, they often get the thankless task of functioning as a spokesman for the whole religious community or tradition. Both emphasizing and ignoring the religious background are problematic in the context of contemporary art. There are numerous examples in which artistic projects, despite the best intentions of stimulating mutual understanding, can also lead to misunderstandings. Especially since some of these projects are deliberately intended as provocations. Besides, while in countries like the Netherlands political support for contemporary art seems to be crumbling away, in the Middle East governmental investment in the visual arts is taking off. But, what kind of artistic projects are developed, and do these connect to the wealthy Islamic tradition of art or is the introduction of contemporary art in the Middle East a distorted idea? Introduction by Jelle Bouwhuis, curator Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. Photo: Abdulnasser Gharem, Road to Makkah, 2011 (installation view)