Arab Center for the Study of Art

The Arab Center for the Study of Art, undertakes research in the visual art and photography of Western Asia and North Africa through a variety of disciplinary approaches. The Center aims to move research and pedagogy beyond the established canons of Art History by investigating the histories and theories of art that are particular to the region from regional perspectives. It does so in collaborative dialogue with the methods and debates of a global Art History and with the widening cultural horizons in both the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

The Center will be a nexus for conversations and partnerships open to scholars and to art practitioners from across the region and from around the world. An extensive archive of vernacular and documentary photography from the region already established at NYUAD will be expanded to include documents, images and publications from the visual arts as a whole drawn from the collections of artists, cultural actors, and institutions. The Center will also pioneer a regional oral history of the arts in the form of audio and video interviews with artists and art professionals. The Center supports research fellowships and artists’ residencies, a program of conferences, colloquia and workshops, and book publications.

All materials gathered by the Center will be digitized, preserved in perpetuity in collaboration with New York University’s Digital Library Technology Services in New York, and made available via the Center’s website.

The Center is organized around three interconnected clusters of activity.

Mawrid, the first cluster, directed by Professor Salwa Mikdadi, is focused on developing new frameworks for the study of the visual arts of Western Asia and North Africa. The goal is to create an expanded and revised chronology of early modern and modern forms of the region’s culture, as well as new narratives of the region’s experience of modernity and its contribution to modernism. New research will serve as an impetus to innovations in pedagogy by making available resources for the designing of new curricula and new art historical methodologies, both at NYUAD and at other academic institutions. The research and the pedagogical developments will be grounded in particular in the construction of archival resources that will make visible the neglected histories of Arab art institutions and of art exhibitions.

The second cluster, Haraka: Experimental Lab for Arab Art and Social Thought, is led by Professor May Al-Dabbagh. It bridges the arts and social sciences to investigate the ideas, interpersonal engagements, cultural production, and knowledge flows emerging from the region to support alternative modes of knowledge production and pedagogy about the Arab region’s societies and history. Drawing upon new understandings of Arab and global social thought, this cluster will develop three research projects: ‘Tracing Migrations,’ an oral history research project which documents the lives, careers, and contributions of artists and cultural managers (e.g., curators, directors of art foundations, community directors) in the GCC region; ‘Teaching Global Social Theory,’ a pedagogy project that reworks the “centers and peripheries” of social theory; and ‘Plurilogue,’ a mobile conversational platform based on engaging artists and social scientists working on the region in Arabic and English.

The Center also incorporates Akkasah, the previously established archive of ‘vernacular’ and documentary photography at NYUAD. The project, led by Professor Shamoon Zamir, examines the histories and contemporary practices of photography in the Western Asia and North Africa, and serves as a hub for scholarly research on photography in the region. With the incorporation of the project into the Center, the project will broaden its focus to include the role of photography in contemporary visual arts, especially the widespread interest in visual archives and the repurposing of archive photographs, and the work of a diverse range of contemporary photographers.