Posts tagged ‘arab culture’

October 14, 2010

On THE Mathaf

by M. A.

I ended up at the launching reception of the Arab Modern Arts Museum in a gilded hall in an embroidered hotel by the Nile.   The guest speakers, curator Sara Rifki and artist Hassan Khan, addressed a museum’s position within the a context of contemporary art; its correlation with productivity as well as its ability to assume a proactive, critical role.   For 25 minutes they presented simple, yet critical, questions and asserted no solutions, until they were brutally interrupted by the museum’s Acting Director, who thanked them and declared that the discussion was closed, and cocktails, hors d’oeuvre, yellow smiles and business deals was open.

This was surely not the evening’s only, nor the first, interruption.  His Royal Highness Prince Al Thani, the museum’s patron, responded to Rifki’s questioning of established notions with declaring that he does indeed ‘possess answers to all questions.’  Soon after the levee broke: a gray haired artist announced that ‘we don’t understand nothing of what you say’ followed closely by an expensively-attired lady – likely a collector – responding to Rifki’s concerns for loss of value of art work when turned into a museum’s artifact proclaiming that ‘good art never loses its value.’ We were finally spared when His Highness concluded the interruptions with a short lecture on the museums innovative role of improving the image of Arab culture abroad, and presenting the best examples of modern Arab arts, assuring the audience’s biggest fear of the initiative being just another manifestation of extra exoticizing, colonially-identified submerged practices.  In short, His Royal Highness dug his own grave.  He would have been much better off sticking to an honorary role.

Interruptions were not the only tragedies that evening.  Naturally, no one in their right mind anticipated any sort of intellectual or discursive weight from this event.  The price difference between one of the wealthy Arab collectors’ purse, and that of Arab artists’ was reflected in all other aspects.  I will refrain from dwelling on the class gap, and the diversion of values, my point being that imposing ‘dialogue’ doesn’t fool anyone when the prospect profit from an initiative is so obvious.

Khan, in a cunning and insightful move, touched on the economics of the creative process.  I wished I had been given the floor to run with that ball.  Qatar, out of all Arab nations, has previous experience in launching a project to establish a presenting organization with astronomical resources and artistic standards aspiring to rival that of more established counterparts – the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.  An investment that failed on almost all aspects, yet bore staggering effects on the regional, and probably global, classical music world.  What they knowingly ignored was that it is possible to overlook the lack of substantial demand for a particular cultural product (one could even argue that it is common to use it as a promotional tool for investment in the country) but it is impossible to create a presenting space in absence of a production mechanism, a lesson countries like Egypt, Syria and Iraq learned in the 1950’s from the Soviets. Experts advised them to establish the infrastructure of artistic, critical and technical academies,  combining with the establishment of performing ensembles and the construction of presenting spaces, a mechanism that later evolved to popular culture.

No doubt that the eruption of performance spaces, orchestras, museums and auction homes in the Gulf will run for a period of time.  The question remains of these practices’ capacity to of sustaining themselves, and to affect and interaction with existing regional contemporary practices.

Edited by Timothy J. Quinn

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