Accepted Paper:

Land Art as a means to negotiate the culture/nature divide in the desert of the UAE  


Melanie Janet Sindelar (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the practice of land art within the UAE as a means to negotiate the nature/culture divide in the context of neoliberal acceleration policies.

Paper long abstract:

"This paper investigates the mediation of cultural-environmental relationships through art production in the United Arab Emirates. Since the discovery of oil, the UAE has become the prototype for neoliberal success. This success transformed the natural coastline into concrete ports and palm-islands. It seems that the “backwater” of the UAE is not the sea, but the desert beyond the cities, remembering us of Baudrillard’s “America” (1988). He insisted that American culture is “heir to deserts”, but deserts are not “part of a Nature defined by the contrast with the town”. These deserts, where human-natural relationships are negotiated under extreme conditions, have received increased attention from Land Artists. Land Art is an intervention transforming land into art, leaving signs of culture visible for nature to look on. But such interventions work both ways, nature is not only a “passive recipient of human agency”, as Gingrich (2014) reminds us. How come Land Art is practised in a place like the UAE? Why are most of its practitioners Emirati? Three-quarters of the UAE’s population do not hold UAE citizenship - and the booming local art scene is reminiscent of that. This paper will contribute to the culture/nature discussion by arguing that such oppositions still matter to anthropology insofar as their real-world implications effect the phenomena we study, and that the debate can be enriched by a focus on new ethnographic examples, as these may inform a “Third Space” (Bhabha 1994) that moves beyond dichotomies. The paper is based on fieldwork in the UAE in 2015 & 2016. "

Panel P100
Revisiting the culture/nature divide under the conditions of global forces