Art, Culture and Materiality in the Arabian Peninsula
Location Brunei Gallery - B211
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 16:30
Sessions 1


  • Sarina Wakefield email
  • Sabrina DeTurk (Zayed University) email

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Short abstract

This panel seeks to explore the ways in which cultural institutions and individual cultural actors have contributed to, and shaped, the materialisation of arts and culture in the Gulf States.

Long abstract

This panel seeks to explore the intersections between art, culture and materiality in the Arabian Peninsula. Traditionally the Arabian Peninsula has consisted of oral based tribal societies. Arguably, rapid development and investment has led to increasing materialisation within the Arabian Peninsula. This panel is particularly interested in exploring how developments within the arts and cultural sector have led to an increasingly materialised cultural industry. The panel is particularly interested in exploring the ways in which artists, collectors, curators, dealers and cultural institutions have contributed to the materialisation of cultural formations in the Arabian Peninsula. We are particularly interested in exploring what factors are involved in developing new forms of material culture within traditionally oral based societies. What processes are involved in the formation of new types of material assemblages in the Arabian Peninsula? Who are the key actors involved in shaping material based collections? How are communities responding to new and existing assemblages of material culture? Papers are welcomed from cultural practitioners, artists, archaeologists, museologists, critical heritage scholars and academics.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Solidifying national identity through visual and material culture in post-blockade Qatar

Author: Serena Iervolino (King's College London) email

Short abstract

The 5th of June 2017 is a significant date in Qatar's recent history; it marks the start of an unprecedented blockade imposed on the state by a Saudi-led coalition. The paper explores the role played by iconic images and sensational, material manifestations of nationalism in a Qatar under siege.

Long abstract

Talking to the American programme "60 Minutes", H.E. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, stated (October 2017): "Qatar after the 5th of June is not like Qatar before. We're proud of what we were. We're proud of our history. But after the 5th of June, it's different. We are stronger." After 05/06/17 Qatar did not look like Qatar just before. It resembled its eccentric outlook during the annual Qatar National Day celebrations, when public and private buildings, vehicles, and other paraphernalia are saturated with "state symbols, slogans, icons, and colors" (Kock, 2016: 43).

In post-blockade Qatar, these symbols resurfaced. The blatant manifestations of nationalism and loyalty to Qatar's leaders, however, came to centre around an artwork and its slogan "Tamim al-majd" ("Tamim the Glourious") created by a young Qatari artist. This image trended on social media and soon turned into a national emblem, being plastered on virtually every car and building, as well as on large murals installed across Doha. Here Qataris and residents were able, and tacitly invited, to express their support to the country's leadership. Exhibitions of murals and artworks inspired by the siege were organised across Doha, whilst graffiti were commissioned by Qatar Museums. Some "Tamim al-majd" murals were allegedly acquired by museums.

By examining these initiatives, the paper shades light on how, in Gulf states, political events and particular actors may give impetus to the formation of material apparatuses intended to solidify national identity, foster nationalism and mitigate anxieties.

Shaping the Emirati artistic landscape: Role and legacy of Emirati Art pioneers

Author: Océane Sailly (Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3) email

Short abstract

This proposal aims to explore the evolution of the Emirati artistic landscape from 1980 until today to shed light on the role and legacy of the first generation of Emirati artists and art patrons in the institutionalization of art. Their efforts have created a fertile soil for cultural developments.

Long abstract

The rapidly growing Art market of Dubai and the announcement of an "Island of museums" converging international architects in Abu Dhabi have caught the attention of media which regularly covers the progress of museum projects on Saadiyat Island and hails Dubai as a new capital of Art. Yet, those two dynamics are either described as imported phenomenons from Foreign experts or as created ex-nihilo in a cultural desert. So, while this media coverage has shed light on the current Emirati artistic landscape, it obscures the foundations and history of artistic developments in the United Arab Emirates. What is its genesis ? What were the major steps ? Who were the key actors ?

We have chosen to present the Emirati artistic landscape since 1980, year of creation of the Emirate Fine Arts Society, until today. Our approach focuses specifically on private actors, primarily artists, but also art patrons and professionals, who were and are currently the main representatives of a rapidly developing artistic landscape. We will first see that Emirati artists were the first to plant the seeds necessary for the emergence of contemporary art, developing an organic scene evolving with the country. Then, we will see that the emergence of a locally established private sector has, to a certain extent, enabled the institutionalization of contemporary Art while mitigating the lack of infrastructure. Finally, the recent upheavals of the artistic landscape of the UAE will be apprehended through the socio-economic changes in the country, especially in Dubai.

What is the "Appropriate" Emirati Face Mask? Contemporary Discussions on the Cultural Representation of Emirati Women

Author: Manami Goto (University of Exeter) email

Short abstract

This paper explores discussions around the 'appropriate' Emirati face mask, burgu', though analysing concepts of female agency and cultural appropriation. The research highlights significance of burgu' in Emirati identity and messages the wearers communicate by wearing different styles of burgu'.

Long abstract

Since the establishment of the United Arab Emirates as a nation-state in 1971, the government has paid special attention to material cultures, using them to cultivate a strong sense of Emirati national identity. One aspect of this is the use of the woman's face mask, known locally as burgu'. It was formerly a long-standing custom amongst Emirati women to adopt the burgu' from the age of puberty, or on their wedding day, and to continue wearing it for the rest of their lives. However, as the practice of concealing the face has declined, both the government and people have sought to preserve the face-mask-culture in various other ways. Middle-aged Emirati women regularly appear on social media wearing the face mask; however, despite their important role as 'cultural guardians', in this regard, a contemporary version of the Emirati face mask—the burgu' bushanab— which consists of a narrower frame and does not conceal the face like 'traditional' ones, has received some criticism from local people, and in particular, men. Their main argument is that the contemporary mask does not fulfil the authentic purpose of the mask, which is to represent an "appropriate" image of Emirati woman and their identity. Through interviews and observations of online discussions, this paper investigates how Emiratis, especially women, perceive new changes to the face mask and, through it, acknowledge their ideal representations of Emirati women in relation to the face mask. The discussion is built around concepts of female agency and cultural appropriation.

Salvator Saudi? MBS, Cultural Materiality, and Materialism

Author: Stephen Steinbeiser email

Short abstract

This paper examines recent exemplars of cultural materiality in Saudi Arabia and the impact that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's program of economic reform has had and continues to have on both the cultural landscape of the Kingdom and the actors shaping it.

Long abstract

In an effort to save Saudi Arabia's economy, its reformist-minded Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is marching the country inexorably from a petro-dominated economy to a post-oil one. As part of this effort, the powerful and austere religious establishment, arbiters of Islamic decorum in the public realm, have been brought to heel, and secular expressions of culture can flourish. Both the need for economic diversification and the curtailment of the dominance of religious authority has afforded an opening for individuals and organizations to explore artistic areas more freely and fully inside the Kingdom than at any other time in previous decades.

Private galleries are thriving with local artists. Public concerts have begun, and cinemas are on the horizon. The government itself is constructing new areas of entertainment and culture, including museums, as part of its Saudi Vision 2030. These venues will provide both economic opportunity and the chance for the government to burnish an updated, contemporary image of what it means to participate in Saudi society.

Such an image will undoubtedly be useful for the government as it seeks to attract increased outside investment and position itself as a regional hegemon. This paper asks two interconnected questions: can such cultural capital simply be purchased along with the acquisition of fine art, or constructed through government museums and entertainment cities? Or will it require more rooted individual efforts which themselves demand artistic license and creative freedom?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.