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Read the review - American University of Beirut
12
ARTS & CULTURE
THE DAILY STAR
AGENDA
LE BAN O N
FILM
‘A Season Outside’
Metropolis Cinema-Sofil,
Achrafieh
April 24, 9:30 pm
www.ashkalalwan.org
Amar Kanwar’s 1997
documentary, investigating the border between
India and Pakistan as a
site of national conflict,
screens as part of the
Home Works forum. Followed by a panel discussion between the director
and Faisal Devji.
MUSIC
‘Primal Spheres in a
Brave New World’
Roman Baths, Downtown
April 23, 10 pm
www.ashkalalwan.org
A quintet composed of
Daniele Camarda, Jacopo
Carreras, Raed alKhazen, Lana Daher and
Jana Saleh conjure
sounds and images, “stepping out of the aesthetic
and into the visceral.”
DANCE
‘Pavlova 3’23”’
Masrah al-Madina, Hamra
April 23, 8:30 pm
+ 961 1 343 834
The BIPOD festival continues with an appearance
from legendary French
dancer Mathilde Monnier
with her company, who
explore the motif of the
dying swan in an attempt
to go “beyond all endings.”
‘I Have Come’
Theatre Monnot,
Achrafieh
April 23, 4 pm
+961 1 360 251
The Home Works forum
continues with a performance from Yalda Younes
and Gaspard Delanoe,
choreographed by experimental flamenco artist
Israel Galvin.
EXHIBITION
‘Books from the
Battlefield’
The Hangar, Haret Hreik
Until May 9, 4-9 pm
+961 1 553 604
Umam Documentation
and Research presents a
selection of texts that
challenges the platitude
that “war” and “culture”
lie at opposite ends of the
spectrum.
ART
Etel Adnan
Sfeir-Semler Gallery,
Karantina
Until July 10
+961 1 566 550
More than 50 paintings
from the celebrated
author, poet and playwright will be on show.
Also exhibiting is “Play,”
a series of photographs,
sculptures and installations from artist Yto Barrada based around her
home city of Tangiers.
‘Counting Thoughts’
Running Horse
Contemporary Art Space,
Karantina
friday, april 23, 2010
R E VI E W
Reflections on Arab society and culture
Sari Hanafi
Special to The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Samir Khalaf and
Roseanne Saad Khalaf have
assigned themselves the daunting task of framing the most
important and enduring issues
relevant to Arab society and
culture. Their 545-page edited
volume “Arab Society and Culture: An Essential Guide” is a
thematically structured reader,
a compilation of reprinted
essays about the societies of the
Arab East and Maghreb as well
as Arabs living abroad.
These themes revolve around
cultural variations in everyday
life, negotiating identities,
behavioral departures and alternative lifestyles, empowerment
of marginalized groups, gender,
religion and ritual construction
of space between local and global identities, sexuality, new
media and transitional Islam.
In all there are around 50
timely and well-selected readings relating to Arab society
and culture. An introductory
chapter prepared by the Khalafs for each theme constitutes
the glue which cements together the insightful, expository and
synthesizing
commentaries.
Although some of the materials
broached are complex, they
ought to be fathomable to the
discerning reader.
Through beautiful texts from
Orhan Pamuk, Wright Milles,
Charles Taylor and Bertrand
Russell, the first part of the volume, sheds light on the foundations of, and opens reflection
upon, the sociological and literary imagination of (and about)
the Arab world.
All the collection’s essays
stem not only from the social sciences, mainly sociology and
anthropology, but also from literary work, shed light on the
compelling transformations that
the Arab world has undergone,
especially in the last two
decades. These transformations
and their consequences are
often qualified as “unsettled,”
which illustrates how much the
Khalafs want to show the complexity of this geographical area
and warn readers from any linear reading of these changes.
Thus, the selected readings are
far from reifying Arab culture.
Editors depict movement,
dynamism and in-between-ness.
For instance, in the part
related to negotiating identities
in dissonant worlds, they report
the dazzling cultural transformations of the new generation,
which “lacks the traditional certainties of their grand-parents
and the economic security of
their parents. Hence, they are
embroiled in the need to negotiate a sense of self from among
a set of overlapping and competing internal and external
sources of loyalties.”
Negotiations do not occur
under agency and the constraining social structures within one’s nation-state but under
the compelling effects of the
globalization. To paraphrase
Farha Ghannam, the local is
globalized and the global is
localized. Arab culture is no
longer confined to the Arab
geographical boundaries. Culture travels and from there local
Islam becomes transnational.
In this regard, selections from
texts by Tareq Ramadan, Bassan
Tibi and others are very interesting. The headscarves’ affair is
explored by Joan Scott, showing
the crisis of the visibility of Muslims in some nations. Jan Nederveen Pieterse argues smaller
countries in the West, such as
the Netherlands, may offer
greater
opportunities
for
crossover culture than larger
countries, such as France. However developments and violence
since 2008 in the Netherlands
suggests an oppositional trend.
Migration produces tremendous transformations in Arab
culture. Being between worlds,
Edward Said delivers a very
insightful autobiographical text
about exile and the anomic situations of migrants and refugees.
In their introduction, the Khalafs
introduce the topic of transnational Islam and Bassam Tibi’s
essay insists on the process of
hybridity for immigrants in
Europe, particularly for the second generation. Tibi writes that
they undergo the reconstruction
of new identities, rejecting what
some writings on the predicament state – that migrants find
themselves compelled to choose
between their place of cultural
origin and European culture.
Samir Khalaf employs the
homonyms
“roots”
and
“routes” to support what he
views as the dialectical interplay
between tradition and modernity – which can affect migrants
and non-migrants alike.
In his analysis of Lebanese
social transformation, he examines how “familism,” communal
and confessional solidarities
have responded to the forces
which undermine their cohesion
and collective identities. He
demonstrates “how this longing
to reconnect with one’s roots
may be transformed into routes
for the articulation of professional and new cultural identities
that are more relevant for safeguarding civil peaceful forms of
pluralism and tolerance.”
Himself a professor of sociology, Samir Kalaf has numerous publication credits to his
name and works as director of
the American University of
Beirut’s Center for Behavioral
Research. Roseanne Saad Khalaf is assistant professor of English Literature and Creative
Writing at AUB.
In their book, Samir Khalaf
and Roseanne Saad Khalaf
insist on showing the diversity
of cultural patterns and social
structures. Family and kinship
ties remain resilient sources of
psychological wellbeing but
variation is very important.
Different from the writings on
urban society, the piece by Naja
Hamadeh,“Wives or Daughters:
Structural Differences Between
Urban and Bedouin Lebanese
Co-wives,” points out how
Bedouin Lebanese co-wives
generally accept their husbands’
polygamy and are even ready to
live with other co-wives under
the same roof.
Gender, intra-family relationships, including parent/children relationships, and sexuality vary tremendously between
a working-class neighborhood
in the eastern suburbs of Beirut
(Bourj Hammoud) and the
(upper) middle-class milieu of
AUB students. Suad Joseph and
Roseanne Saad Khalaf respectively offer compelling results
from fieldwork and research on
these differences.
This reader chose some essays
which depict the changing patterns, not only geographically
but over time. The essay from
Samir Khalaf on sexual outlets in
Beirut traces the history of these
outlets since 1890. Using historical records and autobiographical sketches, Khalaf shows the
role that the regulation of the
prostitutes’ professional lives
has played in changing perceptions of this profession. He
argues that the commodificaton
of legal prostitution by the
Ottomans in 1931 generated
“circumstances which rendered
it more human and less alienating to both the women who are
supplying the services and the
men who demanded them.”
[Presumably “1931” is a misprint, since the Ottoman Empire
is conventionally seen to have
ceased to exist in 1922-3.]
This changing pattern can be
seen in the piece by
McCormick about Lebanese
society’s acceptance of gay culture and its visibility.
Religion and rituality are
also changing. The most influential moral entrepreneurs for
Arab youth who live in the
MENA region and beyond are
no longer preachers in the
mosques. Rather they are the
new preachers such as Amr
Khaled, Khaled Guindi and
Omar Abdel Kafi, who provide
a more modernist message than
the classical orators. The essay
from Asef Bayat is very interesting in this regard, showing
how these figures, akin to
American televangelists, are
combining faith and fun and
conveying simple ethical messages about moralities of everyday behavior. They do not issue
fatwas, but address the spiritual and psychological needs of
those groping to forge a meaningful identity anchored in a
new scriptural cosmopolitism.
While showing a variation of
pattern according to different
fault lines, these rich materials
about Arab society and culture
did not, in my opinion, sufficiently address variability
according to social class. I also
wished that the selected essays
had brought more voices from
the Arab region, as foreign
researchers and those living
aboard dominate this reader.
This work should gladden all
inquisitive persons with a serious interest in Arab society and
culture. Its audience will likely
encompass social scientists, lay
persons and policy makers. The
volume is also suitable for
didactic purposes.
This excellent reader is thoroughly recommended to all,
particularly the Western audience, as it ably achieves its aim
of providing a greater understanding of Arab society as a
structure or historical process.
The Khalafs’ staunch efforts in
the aforementioned regard
were truly fruitful. They have
carefully probed and examined
the somewhat nebulous and
amorphous terrains of culture
in an unsettled area such as the
Arab region.
“Arab Society and Culture: An
Essential Guide,” edited by Samir
Khalaf, Roseanne Saad Khalaf is
published by Saqi Books.
R E VI E W
Nine women artists try to avoid talking about gender
Mayssa Fattouh curates ‘Counting Thoughts’ at The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space
Matthew Mosley
Daily Star staff
EIRUT: Several years
ago, Japanese car giant
Honda ran an ad campaign with the folksy
slogan, “Hate something,
change something.” Inspired by
an abhorrence of noisy, dirty,
inefficient diesel engines, the
ads claimed, Honda had developed a diesel engine without
the downsides.
Irritating as the jaunty television spots soon became, Honda’s campaign touched on an
intriguing point: The creative
power of hatred. Hatred is a
strong word, but a weaker variant – discomfort, perhaps – was
the starting point for curator
Mayssa Fattouh when she put
together “Counting Thoughts”
an interdisciplinary show at The
Running Horse Contemporary
Art Space in Karantina.
“When Lea [Sednaoui, Running Horse owner] asked me to
curate a show on women, I didn’t want to do it,” said Fattouh
at the opening of “Counting
Thoughts” on Wednesday.
“It was a gender show and I
don’t like gender shows. Then I
thought it would be interesting
to explore why I don’t like them,
what exactly makes me uncomfortable about this concept.”
The resulting exhibition, featuring works from nine female
Lebanese and international
artists, takes a loose and
diverse look at womanhood.
B
Such a lack of focus is exactly
what Fattouh was looking for.
“Bearing in mind the various
polemics circulating around
this subject,” writes Fattouh in
the exhibition catalogue, “the
show attempts to open up a dialogue on the implications that
this categorization has on the
artist, curator and viewer when
confronted with such a loaded
and indefinable subject.”
Perhaps predictably, the
female body is a focus for many
of the artists.A particularly blunt
look at perceptions of the female
form is evident in Russian artist
Nastia Bolchakova’s installation
“Beefsteaks Transaction.”
Laid out on a bench and
piled up in a cardboard box is
an array of cling-wrapped polystyrene trays of the type that
hold chicken breast portions or
mincemeat in supermarket
refrigerator cabinets. Some of
Bolchakova’s packages contain
the meat products one would
expect, albeit in the form of
luridly colored photographs:
Livid steaks, garish chops and
blood-red piles of mince.
Alternating with these are
trays holding another variety of
flesh: Breasts, molded from
some latex-like material. Colored in a pallid flesh tones similar to uncooked chicken, with
sore-looking red nipples, the
breasts are squashed into the
trays and offered up as consumer products.
A less angry take on depictions of the female body is evi-
Until May 29
+961 1 564 359
Curated by Mayssa Fattouh, this interdisciplinary group show features
the work of nine female
artists reflecting on womanhood in a free context.
Just a thought
I wanted to be the first
woman to burn her bra, but
it would have taken the fire
department four days to
put it out.
Dolly Parton
(1946 - )
American singer-songwriter, actress and philanthropist
“Eleven birds capturing the elusive” from Kalache’s installation.
dent in a series of photographs
from Rasha Kahil, whose video
work “The Eye” was on show at
The Running Horse’s previous
exhibition, “Soft Sculpture.”
In “The Eye,” Kahil filmed
herself as she kept her lids prised
open. With “Insomnia is a 4-Letter Word,” a photographic diptych on show at “Counting
Thoughts,” Kahil again takes her
own body as subject.
In both images, Kahil’s hair
is pulled over her face, tied up
with a ribbon to make a ponytail that falls over her throat.
Below is her naked torso. In
one image she grips her stomach, hunching forward slightly,
in the second, she places her
hands on her head.
Photographed in high-contrast black and white, with a single light source, aspects of both
photographs are obscured in
shadow, cutting away parts of the
torso. Together with the appearance that Kahil’s head is back-tofront, the overall impression is of
a body that has been segmented
and put back together – a photographic version of an illusionist’s
cabinet, or a new take on
Frankenstein’s monster.
“Daydream,” Japanese artist
Emi Miyashita’s series of
detailed, delicate pencil drawings, represents a somewhat
cheekier take on segmented
body parts. Using a stylized aesthetic that is part Victorian gothic, part picture-book illustration,
Miyashita’s pictures show tiny
naked figures romping through a
variety of bizarre scenes.
One shows a tree bearing
fruits that have a vulva like
opening. The little people clamber in the tree, poke at the
fruits, and hover on a pair of
flying carpets alongside.
Another shows a penis-like
growth emerging from the
ground. Several butterflies are
perched around the phallus,
probing it with their feelers.
The same tiny people race
towards the protuberance in a
long line and, upon reaching it,
attempt to clamber to the top.
Miyashita’s drawings are presented alongside elaborate-looking magnifying glasses through
which the viewer can take a closer look at these salacious images.
This interactive element forces
gallery-goers into the role of
voyeur rather than casual passer-by and heightens the exhibit’s
resemblance to bizarre Victorian erotica.
Other works concentrate
more on the sociological implications of being female.Turkish
artist Iz Oztat’s animation “Sisters” hints at issues of femininity in contemporary Turkey.
A fantastical landscape combines elements of moderniza-
A still image from Iz Oztat’s video “Sisters.”
tion alongside religious symbolism. Electric streetlamps
and gilded stands populate a
vista that could have been
plucked straight from a swordsand-sorcery
video
game.
Swooping into the scene are
two versions of Shahmaran, the
mythical queen of snakes
believed, in Turkish legend, to
reside in the town of Tarsus.
One Shahmaran wears a
headscarf, the other sports a
plumed headdress. They levitate face-to-face in the foreground,
bobbing
slightly,
before leaning in to kiss each
other on the mouth. Like
Miyashita’s drawings, Oztat’s
animation makes the viewer
feel somehow complicit an intimate act.
Sirine Fattouh’s video work
“Perdu/Gagne” (Lost/Found)
was previously seen at the
Beirut Art Center in their exhibition “Exposure 2009.” Fattouh interviews Lebanese
women from a variety of social
and cultural backgrounds, posing two simple questions:
“What did you win?” and
“What did you lose?”
The resulting video presents
the experiences of women who
wouldn’t normally have a public voice.
The interior of The Running
Horse Contemporary Art
Space has been completely
restructured for “Counting
Thoughts,” with some walls
added and others pushed back
to showcase the rich selection
on display. Dominating the
glass-walled entrance is Hiba
Kalache’s installation “Give
and Take.”
Five tree trunks, each painted in a glossy pillarbox red,
grow out of the floor. Picking
their way around these trunks,
the visitor arrives at a large red
ink-and-watercolor painting.
Entitled “Eleven birds capture
the elusive,” the painting shows
what appears to be a huge
bunch of balloons that has been
let loose from its moorings by
dove-like birds.
The prettily rendered birds
and swags of rope form a contrast to the amorphous, bloblike balloons. Alongside the red
tree-trunks, the effect is spectacular but elusive. If it weren’t
for its presence in the exhibition, it’d be difficult to discover that “Give and Take” was a
work dealing with womanhood. Both fanciful and
thoughtful, this work seems to
escape easy association with
gender – which is, perhaps,
exactly as Fattouh would want.
“Counting Thoughts” is on show
at The Running Horse Contemporary Art Space until May 29. For
more details, call +961 1 562 778 or
visit www.therunninghorseart.com
HOROSCOPE
Aries (Mar. 21 – April 19)
Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Gemini (May 21 – June 21)
You need to vent this morning, but
once you do, you need to make sure
that you’re free for all the crazy activities that are sure to fill your afternoon
and evening. Have fun with it all.
You hit it off with someone early
today, and might feel comfortable
confiding in them. Things might get a
little weird later on, as egos start to
leak into your personal business.
Your typical generosity is nowhere to be
found, but don’t despair — things start
to re-balance early this afternoon. Your
social energy returns with a vengeance,
making it easy to mend wounds.
Cancer (June 22 – July 22)
Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22)
Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22)
You may need to let go of some small
measure of control — but you are sure
to be glad you did by this evening. An
amazing surge in energy is a direct
consequence of your letting go.
It’s a strange day — you start out much
more social than usual, while you end
up wanting to curl up in bed for a while.
Sometimes life gives you ups and
downs, and you handle them well.
Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21)
Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21)
Start something new — or do something over — this morning, and it
should go quite well for you. Keep
pushing through the afternoon, as
you want to make things better.
Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22)
Your head is full of conflicting ideas and
opinions early today, which isn’t much
fun, but the afternoon brings a new
clarity. You may want to get your people to try for consensus one last time.
Try to get as much done as possible
this morning — especially heavy discussions or brainstorming sessions.
Ego conflicts are almost certain to
arise later in the day.
Shore up your primary relationships this
morning — they may not need much
work, but making the effort shows you
care and scores you points. Later, your
hot energy lights up the night.
Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19)
Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18)
Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20)
Someone (maybe you) busts out with
a new idea this morning that fully
deserves investigation. Watch out for
differences of opinion later in the day,
though, as they can turn ugly fast.
You may find it rewarding to putter
around the house — you can clear up
some big messes or make life a little
cozier. Later on, a major discovery
changes your mood for the better.
Make the most of the burst of creative
energy that shows up early today — you
need to deal with someone close and
they are unlikely to appreciate any nonstandard answers.