artists & participants
The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona presents the exhibition WEST BY EAST , curated by the Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb.
West by East is an exhibition about how Westerners, Europeans in particular, have been seen, past and present, by the Islamic East. During the preparation of the exhibition, it very soon became evident that historically, Easterners have paid a lot less attention to Europeans than we have to them. While Orientalism is a cultural tradition in the West, it is rare to find the West in creativity in Eastern cultures.
The layout of the show allows visitors to observe how Islam has been divided in the way in which it sees the West and highlights the different viewpoints and attitudes that have existed side by side throughout history. Conflict, solidarity, interchange, fascination—rather than alternating in time, they coincide.
In an attempt to better understand this complex situation, the exhibition presents seven different sequences and a total of 215 works . Each sequence or section of the exhibition confronts views from the past (12th-19th centuries) with those of the present. Miniatures, manuscripts, maps, paintings and photographs illustrate how Islam has seen Europe over the centuries, mirrored by images in other artistic languages that offer a contemporary key to the question.
The contemporary voices are represented firstly in the work of nine visual artists ( Marjane Satrapi, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Mohamed el Baz, Shadi Ghadirian, Jellel Gasteli, Bouchra Khalili, Hassan Musa, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Touhami Ennadre ) who are invited to do what traditionally they never have: present their views of the West. Then five writers have recorded their testimonies: Houda Barakât, Nilufer Gölë, Sorour Kasmaï, Daryush Shayegan and Salah Stétié . The resulting interviews will be screened in the galleries and, together with the works of the above-mentioned artists, they constitute brand-new material to throw light on the body of reflection proposed by the CCCB.
THE SEVEN SEQUENCES OF THE EXHIBITION
1 - al-Idrîsî. A description of Europe The point of departure for the exhibition is the map drawn by the Arab geographer al-Idrîsî when in the service of the Christian king, the Norman Roger II of Sicily (1105-1154). Commissioned by his royal protector, al-Idrîsî wrote the book The Pleasure Excursion of One Who Is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World which introduced a systematic description of Europe into the field of knowledge in the Arabic language. The description begins with the territories that now correspond to Italy and Spain, reaching as far as England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland and Russia, via Brittany, France, Flanders, Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Saxony and the Balkans.
The Iran-born artist Marjane Satrapi reflects this sequence in an original work painted in situ.
2. Ibn al-Munqidh. Between the Jihad and the Crusades We have chosen the Syrian Usâma Ibn al-Munqidh (1095-1188) to represent the Islamic view of the Crusades. He was an enlightened Muslim, an impartial observer who shared the chivalrous spirit practised both in the West and in the East. At one point, Usâma refers to the Western Other as an enemy to whom friendship may be extended.
The Algerian-born video artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah will reflect the figure of Ibn al-Munqîdh by filming the remains of his family castle, a fortress in Shaizar in the north of Syria.
3. Diversity in similarity The Koran contains elements of the Bible and of Jewish literature that are unknown in the Bible, as well as episodes taken from the Gospels and the Apocrypha. The religious iconography of Islam takes its inspiration from these episodes.
It was surely coexistence with Christians that lies at the origin of this pictorial tradition. Christian vicinity was a stimulus that prompted Muslim painters to portray the life of their prophet, despite the iconophobia traditionally attributed to them, which is manifested in the absence of icons in Muslim temples.
To accompany this sequence, the Morocco-born visual artist Mohamed El Baz will produce an installation inspired by Abraham’s sacrifice and its present-day repercussions.
4. Painting the West Painting has played a major role in the relation of mutual recognition between Europe and Islam. As of the 15th century, and in many different ways, Islamic painting has manifested its knowledge of the West.
The Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian will produce a work that, starting out from Teheran, shows East’s representation of the Western Other.
5. The desire for Westernisation Islam’s fascination with Europe coincided with the impact of the Industrial Revolution and everything this involved.
Islam witnessed a major debate about how to adapt to new material conditions while remaining faithful to its own heritage. The Westernisation process began in this way, with a desire to discover or to assimilate European fashions and the philosophical, political and moral reasons that caused them to emerge.
Europe constituted a theme for debate for Islam as a whole starting in the 19th century. The debate grew in intensity when the hegemony of the Old Continent began to threaten Islamic territoriality in the form of colonialism. It was in the name of democratic and enlightened principles that the pro-West Muslim reformists decided to fight against local despotism and Western domination.
5.1 - Photography and Kings The fascination of some monarchs with photography as of the last few decades of the 19th century is well known. The issue of the image and the official portrait of four non-European heads of state allows us to appreciate a complex spectrum of reactions, ranging from the simple attraction of technological novelty, the mastery of which symbolised allegiance with modernity, to the debate with political and theological implications about images and their sacralisation.
5.2 - The modernisation of Islamic societies All of these transformations were documented by new photographic technology. In the process of Westernisation as a state policy, sometimes under sufferance, we can also highlight the emergence of artistic figures who adopted the technologies and formats of European visual arts, thereby recording, by means of photography or easel painting, the state of their society amid the transformations they lived through or the continuance of traditional rituals.
5.3 - The journey West Starting in the 1830s, the journey to Europe became a vital step for reformist politicians, enlightened moderns, theologians set on reform and students eager for knowledge. One issue to make a great impression on Eastern travellers was the freedom enjoyed by women. They found it hard to associate the figure of the woman with independence, due to the degree of reclusion and inequality to which women were subjected in Islamic tradition.
Moroccan video artist Bouchra Khalili will respond to the taboo of foreign love such as might be found in the heart of an Islamic woman.
6. From love to tension A liking for all things Western was expressed by Islamic collectors’ love for Western art. In the early 1930s, the president of the Egyptian senate, Mahmut Khalil, put together a collection of 19th-century European art, including masterpieces by Delacroix, Fromentin, Millet, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Rodin, among others.
Then, in 1974, on the initiative of the Empress Farah Dibah, the Museum of Contemporary Art was founded in Teheran, with emblematic works from various 20th-century European and North American trends (from Max Ernst to Andy Warhol, via Pollock and Tàpies). After Khomeini’s revolution, under the government of the Islamic Republic, the collection was put into storage.
7. The war of images In the late 1920s, radical anti-Western feeling was theorised and incorporated into political discourse by the combative ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. In these between-the-wars years, supporters of the adaptation and imitation of the Western model gradually refined their protest. Ever since, the history of Islamic countries has been marked by the dividing line that separates pro-Western from anti-Western tendencies.
This antagonism has become more marked in recent decades due to new communication technologies (satellite TV, Internet, etc.), marking the declaration of the war of images between East and West.
The filming of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban and al-Qaeda (March 2001) or the images of the destruction of New York’s towers shows that the war of images clearly forms part of the strategy of anti-West terrorists. But it is important to remember that the war of images is waged not just between Islamic terrorists and the West, but also between two irreconcilable camps within Islam, divided by the way they see the West as a problem of thought and being.
The works of four artists of very different origins -Hassan Musa, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Samira Mahkmalbaf and Touhami Ennadre- come together and address this conflict with different accents and nuances.
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WEST BY EAST
Kurator: Abdelwahab Meddeb
Marjane Satrapi, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Mohamed el Baz, Shadi Ghadirian, Jellel Gasteli, Bouchra Khalili, Hassan Musa, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Touhami Ennadre
Houda Barakat, Nilufer Gole, Sorour Kasmaï, Daryush Shayegan, Salah Stetie