Revolution in Art, a review of “Reflections” at the British Museum

14 February, 2021


Huda Lutfi (b. 1948),  Al-Sitt and her Sunglasses . Mixed media, 2008. Funded by CaMMEA.

Huda Lut­fi (b. 1948), Al-Sitt and her Sun­glass­es. Mixed media, 2008. Fund­ed by CaMMEA.


Reflections—Contemporary Art of the Mid­dle East and North Africa, edit­ed by Vene­tia Porter, with Natasha Mor­ris & Charles Tripp
British Muse­um Press, 1st Ed
ISBN 978–0714111957

Malu Halasa

Issam Kourbaj,  Dark Water, Burning World , 2017. Bicycle mudguards and burnt matches. H: 3 cm W: 5 cm L: 14 cm (average). Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Issam Kour­baj, Dark Water, Burn­ing World, 2017. Bicy­cle mud­guards and burnt match­es. H: 3 cm W: 5 cm L: 14 cm (aver­age). Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

In 2000, ten years after the end of the Civ­il War, Lebanese artists bris­tled at for­eign crit­ics and cura­tors who tried exoti­ciz­ing them under the ban­ner of “Arab” or “Islam­ic” art. At the time region­al cura­tors were start­ing to emerge in Beirut, Cairo and Jerusalem, but few West­ern muse­ums were col­lect­ing con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East­ern art, and it would be many years before multi­na­tion­al muse­ums emerged in the Gulf. If mod­ern art­works were acquired, as they were in the 1980s by the British Muse­um, they were over­shad­owed by the muse­um’s more exten­sive­ly dis­played col­lec­tions of Islam­ic art and objects. This changed with the 2011 Arab Spring or Awak­en­ing, with art in the front­line, using satire and stark imagery against cor­rup­tion, mis­rule and state brutality. 

Reflections—Contemporary Art of the Mid­dle East and North Africa, edit­ed by the muse­um’s Mid­dle East cura­tor Vene­tia Porter, with Natasha Mor­ris and Charles Tripp, intro­duces a selec­tion of the 170 Arab, Iran­ian and Turk­ish artists and art­works in the British Muse­um’s con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East col­lec­tion. Rich­ly illus­trat­ed, the book elu­ci­dates the jour­ney the art and artists have made from their respec­tive art scenes and coun­tries to inter­na­tion­al col­lec­tions. Some of the artists remained at home in their respec­tive coun­tries; oth­ers are work­ing in exile, or in the dias­po­ra. Recog­ni­tion has been a long time in com­ing. In the spring, the con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion will be exhib­it­ed for the first time in the British Museum. 

One of the col­lec­tion’s pre­scient works, Dark Water, Burn­ing World, 2017, by Issam Kour­baj (b. Suwei­da, Syr­ia, 1963) was recent­ly installed as Object 101 in the BBC Radio 4 series, His­to­ry of the World in 100 Objects. Kour­baj, who lives in Cam­bridge, fash­ioned a flotil­la of lit­tle boats from bicy­cle mud­guards. Each one car­ries a car­go of burnt match­sticks. The work was cre­at­ed dur­ing the height of the arguably not total­ly over migrant refugee crisis.

Porter, who has been with the British Muse­um since 1989, explained to the BBC, “It’s so impor­tant for us as a muse­um … to col­lect works like this because they are doc­u­ment­ing moments in time. It’s as though art is also a doc­u­ment. But by say­ing ‘doc­u­ment’ it ren­ders [art] ster­ile. It doesn’t.” 

She con­clud­ed, “It’s that [art] has that abil­i­ty to speak to us in so many dif­fer­ent ways.” 

Hafidh al-Droubi,  Drunken Friend in the Alwiya Club Garden , 1976. Watercolor on paper. H: 55 cm W: 22 cm. Reproduced by permission of the estate of the artist.

Hafidh al-Droubi, Drunk­en Friend in the Alwiya Club Gar­den, 1976. Water­col­or on paper. H: 55 cm W: 22 cm. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the estate of the artist.

Art Ver­sus Religion

Reflec­tions opens with art that chal­lenges long held assump­tions about Mid­dle East­ern visu­al cul­ture. An Islam­ic pro­scrip­tion against rep­re­sen­ta­tion gave rise to the belief that human form in art from Mus­lim coun­tries was some­how for­bid­den, despite tra­di­tions of Per­sian minia­ture paint­ing and Byzan­tine influ­ences from the ear­li­est days of Islam­ic art and archi­tec­ture, which sug­gest­ed otherwise.

To his par­en­t’s dis­may, Iraqi mod­ernist Hafidh al-Droubi (b. Bagh­dad, 1914–1991) would draw peo­ple as a child. In the col­lec­tion, his work cap­tures the pomp and cir­cum­stance of a Ba’ath Par­ty procession—as well as solic­i­tude in the water­col­or Drunk­en Friend in the Alwiya Club Gar­den, 1976.

Safeya Bin­za­gr (b. Jed­dah, 1940) from Sau­di Ara­bia stud­ied print­mak­ing in 1970s Lon­don and filled a note­book with pen­cil sketch­es of faces for an etch­ing she was mak­ing at Cen­tral St. Mar­tins. Her tutors won­dered whether this art prac­tice could con­tin­ue after she returned to her reli­gious­ly con­ser­v­a­tive home. Now Darat Safeya Bin­za­gr, her pri­vate gallery in Jed­dah, exhibits por­trai­ture and offers draw­ing classes. 

Both artists had been influ­enced by mod­ern approach­es in art from the West. In the intro­duc­to­ry essay for Reflec­tions, Porter cites oil and can­vas, sculp­ture and print­ed image, among oth­er medi­ums, as con­sti­tut­ing “a clear rup­ture with [the region’s] tra­di­tion­al or his­tor­i­cal Islam­ic art … ” that had been root­ed in cal­lig­ra­phy, geo­met­ric abstrac­tion and less fig­u­ra­tive or rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al work.

Iran­ian art his­to­ri­an Fereshteh Daf­tari had been an ear­ly pro­po­nent of rethink­ing the use of the word “Islam­ic” to describe Mid­dle East­ern artists or their art. The term “the Arab world” was also prob­lem­at­ic, and not just for the artists in Reflec­tions from Iran and Turkey. How could a blan­ket expres­sion encom­pass the wide-rang­ing expe­ri­ences of artists who hap­pened to live in or came from the 22 mem­ber states of the Arab League?

Safeya Binzagr,  The Blind Teacher , 1980. Etching and drypoint, numbered 15/30. H: 31.5 cm W: 46 cm. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Safeya Bin­za­gr, The Blind Teacher, 1980. Etch­ing and dry­point, num­bered 15/30. H: 31.5 cm W: 46 cm. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

An impor­tant debate was tak­ing place with­in the British Muse­um, as Porter writes, “whether the mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art should be con­sid­ered anoth­er phase in the sto­ry of Islam­ic art … ” or whether ” … the fact that artists may choose to express them­selves through forms and tech­niques asso­ci­at­ed with his­tor­i­cal ‘Islam­ic art’ does not nec­es­sar­i­ly make their art ‘Islam­ic.’ ”

Parastou Forouhar, Red Is My Name, Green Is My Name I, 2008. Digital prints on Hahnemühle rag paper, Artist's Proof ½. H: 80 cm W: 80 cm (each). Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Paras­tou Forouhar, Red Is My Name, Green Is My Name I, 2008. Dig­i­tal prints on Hahnemühle rag paper, Artist’s Proof ½. H: 80 cm W: 80 cm (each). Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

The turn­ing point for the insti­tu­tion came in 2006 with an exhi­bi­tion she curat­ed. Word into Art: Artists of the Mod­ern Mid­dle East showed that the artists had deep aes­thet­ic and cul­tur­al ties to cal­lig­ra­phy. How­ev­er, as Porter points out, “the forms of the script could be tak­en beyond their lit­er­al mean­ing, and in many of the works, the writ­ings them­selves could be read as com­men­taries on the his­to­ries and pol­i­tics of today.” 

Final­ly there was recog­ni­tion that these artists, unhinged from the man­tel of reli­gion, con­sti­tut­ed a pow­er­ful mod­ern move­ment in their own right. This would be a crit­i­cal devel­op­ment in the cre­ation of a viable con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion for an insti­tu­tion long con­sid­ered a muse­um of his­to­ry, one with a sig­nif­i­cant lega­cy of colo­nial­ism.

In Reflec­tions, Paras­tou Forouhar (b. Tehran, 1962) plays with the delib­er­ate ambi­gu­i­ty of imagery for the four dig­i­tal prints, Red Is My Name, Green Is My Name—Karree, 2007. The abstract­ed col­ors of the Iran­ian flag and a geo­met­ric grid don’t dis­guise the body parts. The artist’s par­ents Dar­iush and Par­vaneh Forouhar were assas­si­nat­ed dur­ing the 1998 cam­paign of vio­lence against intel­lec­tu­als in Tehran. This was anoth­er exam­ple of “art as doc­u­ment” that Porter referred to on the BBC.

 

Every Home Should Have One

Works on paper make up most of the art in Reflec­tions. Among the excep­tions, which include artists’ books and Kour­ba­j’s boats, is the dark­ly humor­ous, hand paint­ed glazed porce­lain Chi­nese vase. It is one of three col­lect­ed by the muse­um from the series Yassin Dynasty, 2013, by the con­cep­tu­al artist Raed Yassin (b. Beirut, 1979).

Original drawing for the vase, by Omar Khouri from the archive of Raed Yassin. Courtesy Kalfayan galleries, Athens.

Orig­i­nal draw­ing for the vase, by Omar Khouri from the archive of Raed Yassin. Cour­tesy Kalfayan gal­leries, Athens.

Raed Yassin,  Yassin Dynasty , 2013. Hand-painted glazed porcelain. H: 44 cm W: 26 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kalfayan gallery, Athens.

Raed Yassin, Yassin Dynasty, 2013. Hand-paint­ed glazed porce­lain. H: 44 cm W: 26 cm. Cour­tesy the artist and Kalfayan gallery, Athens.

The time­less­ness of the vase’s tra­di­tion­al blue and white Wil­low Pat­tern jars with the almost tele­vi­su­al imagery of mod­ern war. Syr­i­an MIGs encir­cle the neck of the glob­u­lar vase. On its body, armed Syr­i­an sol­diers face off against Lebanon’s Gen­er­al Aoun. Refugees emerge out of their UNWRA tents to scour the skies.

Reflec­tions also includes the orig­i­nal draw­ing made for vase by Lebanese illus­tra­tor Omar Khouri (b. 1978), which was copied by porce­lain crafts­men in Jingdezhen. 

Yassin told cura­tor Nat Mueller for Ibraaz that, “By putting …  a very sen­si­tive issue like the Lebanese Civ­il War … on dec­o­ra­tive items, I get rid of it, in a way—it becomes like a vase, for the house. I want to have this vase in every house, so every­body could just get rid of it. I just want to get rid of the issue, make it more like a dec­o­ra­tive, throw-away item.” 

Yass­in’s vas­es and Forouhar’s dig­i­tal prints were acquired for the muse­um by CaM­MEA (Con­tem­po­rary and Mod­ern Mid­dle East­ern Art), an acqui­si­tions group formed by art patrons from Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Sau­di Ara­bia, Turkey and the U.A.E. CaM­MEA has worked close­ly with Porter since 2009 and has pro­vid­ed most of the finan­cial sup­port for the con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion. It also cov­ered artists’ fees and the costs of print­ing for dig­i­tal art­work by new gen­er­a­tion Syr­i­an artists, from the book Syr­ia Speaks, which I coedit­ed, and which traced the cre­ative out­pour­ing of the Syr­i­an Revolution. 

The posters by the anony­mous Syr­i­an col­lec­tive Alshaab alsori aref tarekh (The Syr­i­an Peo­ple Know Their Way) and the illus­tra­tions of Sulafa Hijazi (b. Dam­as­cus, 1977) are art of rev­o­lu­tion and pop­u­lar polit­i­cal move­ments. The posters, pro­duced dur­ing the 2011-12 mass demon­stra­tions against Bashar al-Assad, were dis­sem­i­nat­ed online, then down­loaded, print­ed out and car­ried on march­es by demonstrators—art as social com­men­tary in a very charged con­tem­po­rary setting.

In Dam­as­cus, Hijazi too was in the streets. Peo­ple she knew had been arrest­ed. Wor­ried for her own safe­ty, at night after she worked on her illus­tra­tions; she hid them deep in her com­put­er where no one could find them. Her images shock in a dif­fer­ent way. Instead of memo­ri­al­iz­ing scenes of a war long passed in the art, vio­lence has per­me­at­ed the fab­ric of every­day life. At the wed­ding in one of Hijaz­i’s prints, a bride and groom wear gasmasks.

In the book’s chap­ter on Polit­i­cal Strug­gle, Rev­o­lu­tion and War, the artists have been grouped by geog­ra­phy. This allows a younger artist like Hijazi to con­verse through imagery and con­tent with a more expe­ri­enced Syr­i­an artist. Youssef Abdelke (b. Qamish­li, 1951) is no stranger to total­i­tar­i­an­ism. Impris­oned in the 1970s, he was released and he lived many years in exile. His much-her­ald­ed return to Syr­ia in 2005 was con­sid­ered as a thaw in the Assad dic­ta­tor­ship. In 2013, he was dis­ap­peared again, this time for five weeks, after which he was sud­den­ly, inex­plic­a­bly released. His pas­tel and col­lage Fig­ures (No. 2), 1991–93 of mon­strous men lurk­ing in the shad­ows is chilling.

 

Gen­der, Anoth­er Battlefield

Iran­ian pho­tog­ra­phy in the chap­ter on the Female Gaze meets on the indices of his­to­ry, faith and pop art. A 1979 black-and-white pho­to­graph of a protest­ing woman hec­tor­ing a mul­lah on the last day before the enforced wear­ing of the hijab, by Hengameh Golestan (b. Tehran, 1952) and an artist’s self-por­trait in con­tem­pla­tion and prayer from the series Women of Allah, 1995, by Shirin Neshat (b. Qazvin, Iran, 1957), pro­vide counter blasts to the pho­to col­lage Bad Hejab, 2008, by Ramin Haer­izadeh (b. Tehran, 1975). 

Haer­izadeh took Inter­net images of women rebuked or arrest­ed for not cov­er­ing their hair and super­im­posed his beard­ed face over theirs. It is an image that could be con­strued as rep­re­sent­ing the name­less men who harass women every day on Iran­ian streets. The effect is both com­i­cal and enraging. 

“For female artists,” writes Charles Tripp in his essay Art and Pow­er, “ques­tions of gen­der, tra­di­tion and faith informed many of their works as they sought indi­vid­u­al­ly to under­stand the place of Islam in their lives and the forces that used reli­gion or the appeal to tra­di­tion to cir­cum­scribe their lives as artists and as women.” 

Youssef Abdelke,  Figures (No. 2) , 1991–93. Pastel and collage on paper. H: 145 cm W: 105. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Youssef Abdelke, Fig­ures (No. 2), 1991–93. Pas­tel and col­lage on paper. H: 145 cm W: 105. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

He con­tin­ues, “Inevitably, this brought them up against forms of pow­er and cen­sor­ship, dri­ving some into exile, a fate they shared with male artists when they too drew atten­tion to the ways in which state author­i­ties used Islam­ic jus­ti­fi­ca­tions to keep women (and men) in their place.” 

Tripp, an aca­d­e­m­ic, is known for his books on Mid­dle East pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment. Despite being mar­ried to Porter, he came late to art, after the Arab Spring. 

Some of the artists in Reflec­tions pro­vide a more the­o­ret­i­cal cri­tique on the optics of moral com­bat. Iman Raad (b. Mash­had, Iran, 1979) was inspired by the folk art of Per­sian cof­fee shops; the ani­mal fables of Kalila wa Dim­na (trans­lat­ed from San­skrit into Pahlavi and then into Ara­bic, in the eighth cen­tu­ry); and George Orwell’s Ani­mal Farm. Hand-carved stamps were used to cre­ate two oppos­ing armies of divs, or mytho­log­i­cal crea­tures, on a seem­ing­ly one-dimen­sion­al field of bat­tle influ­enced by from the mono­chro­mat­ic flat­ness of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Qajar-era lith­o­g­ra­phy. It is anoth­er telling sub­ver­sion of an old­er art form.

In com­bat, the artist told Porter, ” … there is no clear bina­ry of good and evil.” An over-empha­sis on the win­ners and losers of Mid­dle East con­flicts effec­tive­ly obscured the peo­ple on the ground. This was the main rea­son that for­eign gov­ern­ments, Mid­dle East watch­ers and aca­d­e­mics com­plete­ly failed to pre­dict the Arab Spring. Since then, not only has there been more of an appre­ci­a­tion of MENA art in the West, more atten­tion is now being paid to art, artists, even street artists, in the region. Twen­ty years ago, when those Lebanese artists were com­plain­ing, there were only a few home­grown ini­tia­tives sup­port­ing them. Now NGOs like AFAC (Arab Fund for Arab Cul­ture) and the Beirut Art Cen­ter have changed the cul­tur­al scene. 

 

Sulafa Hijazi,  Untitled , 2012 (from the series Ongoing). Digital print on archival. Paper. H: 60 cm W: 70 cm. Courtesy Sulafa Hijazi and Malu Halasa.

Sulafa Hijazi, Unti­tled, 2012 (from the series Ongo­ing). Dig­i­tal print on archival. Paper. H: 60 cm W: 70 cm. Cour­tesy Sulafa Hijazi and Malu Halasa.

His­to­ry & Art

A time­line in Reflec­tions jux­ta­pos­es polit­i­cal his­to­ry with spe­cif­ic arts mile­stones. Book­end­ed by hope—Iran’s 1905 Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rev­o­lu­tion and the 2019–20 forced res­ig­na­tion of Alge­ri­a’s pres­i­dent Abde­laz­iz Bouteflika—it shows that in between wars, geno­cide, forced migra­tions and mil­i­tary coups, con­tem­po­rary art seed­ed itself in the MENA region. 

The first art schools opened in Jerusalem, Cairo and Tehran under colo­nial­ism, in the ear­ly 1900s. By 1931, Cairo had the region’s first con­tem­po­rary art muse­um. Fine art acad­e­mies fol­lowed in Lebanon and Iraq at the end of that decade. In 1951 the Bagh­dad Mod­ern Art Group was launched. For the new­ly inde­pen­dent coun­tries, art was per­haps not a pri­or­i­ty; but still, by 1959 a fac­ul­ty of fine arts was estab­lished in Damascus. 

By then Iran had already pulled ahead in terms of con­tem­po­rary art pro­duc­tion. The first art bien­ni­al took place in Tehran, five years after a U.S. and U.K.-backed coup removed Moham­mad Mosad­degh from pow­er. Six­teen years lat­er, in 1974, the Arab Bien­ni­al was held in Bagh­dad. Near­ly two more decades passed before the Shar­jah Bien­ni­al took place in 1993. 

After the nation­al muse­um and library of Iraq were loot­ed dur­ing the U.S.-led mil­i­tary over­throw of Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003, Lon­don slow­ly emerged as anoth­er cen­ter for Mid­dle East art. Since then pol­i­tics has out­paced art. How­ev­er, a glob­al art move­ment aid­ed by the Inter­net and fueled by a pro­lif­er­a­tion of region­al bien­ni­als and inter­na­tion­al muse­ums and art auc­tions and sales allow some artists to live and work wher­ev­er they are. 

Mitra Tabriz­ian, to take one exam­ple from Reflec­tions, resides in Lon­don. The artist’s sec­ond proof of Sur­veil­lance, 1990, a 20 x 60 inch black-and-white col­lage pho­to­graph, explores key moments in the for­ma­tion of the mod­ern Islam­ic Repub­lic of Iran. Fac­ing the view­er, instead of the mil­lion-strong audi­ence behind them, ten peo­ple stand on a high­ly styl­ized stage. On the left, two men in West­ern suits come to an under­stand­ing, watched by a mul­lah, in a scene rep­re­sent­ing the U.S.–U.K. coup against Mosaddegh. 

Hengameh Golestan,  Witness '79 , 1979, printed 2015. Black-and-white photograph printed on Epsom. Exhibition fiber paper, numbered 2/10. Reproduction courtesy of the artist.

Hengameh Golestan, Wit­ness ’79, 1979, print­ed 2015. Black-and-white pho­to­graph print­ed on Epsom. Exhi­bi­tion fiber paper, num­bered 2/10. Repro­duc­tion cour­tesy of the artist.

On the far right a cler­ic shakes hands with anoth­er man in a suit, sym­bol­iz­ing Khome­ini’s 1979 return to Iran. In the cen­ter is an alle­go­ry for Iran’s eight-year-long war with Iraq. A woman is prone on the ground, face to the floor. Behind her, anoth­er woman in an abaya gaz­ing off to the far dis­tance stands res­olute­ly on a plinth with these words: “In His name mem­o­ry is mute. His­to­ry speaks in the quick­en­ing of the dead.” In Sur­veil­lance, decades of Iran­ian his­to­ry have been col­lapsed into a sin­gle frame. 

Pho­tog­ra­phy remains a medi­um of immense pow­er and strange beau­ty in Mid­dle East­ern art. 

In the series Neg­a­tive Incur­sion, 2002, Pales­tin­ian Rula Halawani (b. Jerusalem, 1964) print­ed the neg­a­tives of her pho­tographs as “pos­i­tives,” after an Israeli incur­sion into Ramal­lah. She explained to InVis­i­ble Cul­ture’s Sher­e­na Razek, “As neg­a­tives, they express the nega­tion of our real­i­ty that the inva­sion rep­re­sent­ed.” Anoth­er artist, Kur­dish Jamal Pen­jwe­ny (b. Sulaimaniya, Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, 1981) address­es a con­tin­u­ing lega­cy of vio­lence and cru­el­ty in his coun­try of Iraq. For his series Sad­dam Is Here, 2010, Iraqis hold a pho­to­graph of the dic­ta­tor’s face to their own. Is it an admis­sion of vic­tim­hood or of guilt or has Sad­dam lit­er­al­ly got­ten into our heads, long after he’s gone?

The art in Reflec­tions pro­vides no easy answers, even in an art­work about fam­i­ly and love. 

Laure Ghorayeb,  Already Ten Years , 1984. Ink on paper. H: 95 cm W: 73 cm. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Lau­re Gho­rayeb, Already Ten Years, 1984. Ink on paper. H: 95 cm W: 73 cm. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

Two fig­ures, a moth­er and daugh­ter hud­dle togeth­er, their round expres­sive faces and bod­ies a land­scape filled with tiny draw­ings and col­lo­qui­al Ara­bic, the lan­guage of home. It is the sto­ry of 20th-cen­tu­ry war in Lebanon. The con­flict that has dom­i­nat­ed the child’s life is the coun­try’s civ­il war, inferred in the title of the pen and ink draw­ing, Already Ten Years, 1984, by Lau­re Gho­rayeb (b. Deir El Qamar, 1931). The moth­er remem­bers flee­ing with her own par­ents dur­ing the sec­ond world war and the aunts who starved to death dur­ing the first, so oth­ers could live. 

The art in Reflec­tions is unex­pect­ed­ly beau­ti­ful even when it dis­turbs. The courage of the artists to remem­ber, shock and cre­ate in orig­i­nal ways adds ten­sion and urgency to their work. Even in the dark­est art there are rays of hope. Reflec­tions makes me want to see the British Muse­um’s con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle East and North African col­lec­tion up close and in person—more so now because of the pandemic. 

Shirin Neshat, From the Women of Allah series, 1995. Gelatin silver print with handwritten calligraphy in ink. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Shirin Neshat, From the Women of Allah series, 1995. Gelatin sil­ver print with hand­writ­ten cal­lig­ra­phy in ink. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

Ramin Haerizadeh,  Bad Hejab,  2008. Photo collage, ink and pastel on handmade watercolor paper, numbered 4/8. H: 30 cm W: 42 cm. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Ramin Haer­izadeh, Bad Hejab, 2008. Pho­to col­lage, ink and pas­tel on hand­made water­col­or paper, num­bered 4/8. H: 30 cm W: 42 cm. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

Iman Raad,  Untitled , 2015. Relief ink on washi paper. H: 50.8 cm W: 40.6 cm. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Iman Raad, Unti­tled, 2015. Relief ink on washi paper. H: 50.8 cm W: 40.6 cm. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist.

Mitra Tabrizian,  Surveillance , 1990. Lightjet print on paper, Artist's Proof. H: 51 cm W: 152.5 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the artist. Photo: Courtesy Mitra Tabrizian.

Mitra Tabriz­ian, Sur­veil­lance, 1990. Light­jet print on paper, Artist’s Proof. H: 51 cm W: 152.5 cm. Repro­duced cour­tesy of the artist. Pho­to: Cour­tesy Mitra Tabrizian.

Rula Halawani, From the series  Negative Incursion , 2002. Photographic print on metallic digital paper. H: 86 cm W: 119 cm. Courtesy of the artist Rula Halawani and the Ayyam Gallery.

Rula Halawani, From the series Neg­a­tive Incur­sion, 2002. Pho­to­graph­ic print on metal­lic dig­i­tal paper. H: 86 cm W: 119 cm. Cour­tesy of the artist Rula Halawani and the Ayyam Gallery.

Jamal Penjweny,  Saddam Is Here , 2010. Photographic prints, numbered 4/5. H: 60 cm W: 80 cm (each). Reproduced by permission of the artist. Photo: Courtesy Jamal Penjweny and Ruya Foundation.

Jamal Pen­jwe­ny, Sad­dam Is Here, 2010. Pho­to­graph­ic prints, num­bered 4/5. H: 60 cm W: 80 cm (each). Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the artist. Pho­to: Cour­tesy Jamal Pen­jwe­ny and Ruya Foundation.

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Malu Halasa is a London-based writer and editor. Her six co-edited anthologies include—Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline, with Zaher Omareen; The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design, with Rana Salam; and the short series: Transit Beirut, with Rosanne Khalaf, and Transit Tehran, with Maziar Bahari. She was managing editor of the Prince Claus Fund Library; a founding editor of Tank Magazine and Editor at Large for Portal 9. As a former freelance journalist in the London, she covered wide-ranging subjects, from water as occupation in Israel/Palestine to Syrian comics during the present-day conflict. Her books, exhibitions and lectures chart a changing Middle East. Malu Halasa’s debut novel, Mother of All Pigs was reviewed by the New York Times as “a microcosmic portrait of … a patriarchal order in slow-motion decline.”

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