Research

Plan for Greater Baghdad by Ala Younis (2015). Photo by Alessandra Chemollo. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia

The history of modern art in the Arab world has multiple points of origin: the Ottoman War
College in Istanbul, the presence of European painters on the Mediterranean coast, colonial education institutions, and the ties of the Maronite Church in the Lebanese mountains to Italy. The different trajectories of painting that depart from these points of origin converge, however, in art schools, exhibition spaces and publications established largely in the context of the formation of new political entities. Although the practices of art that blossomed in these spaces were seeded by styles and methods from the strain of modernism that emerged in Europe, they grew in response to a particular set of experiences: the encounter with ancient civilizations and the traditions of the past; the circulation of modern scientific and philosophical thought; the re-engagement of craft traditions and folklore; struggles for justice against powers both imperial and native; the trauma of war and the psychological effects of migration—among others. Because modern art was shaped by these experiences, it also preserves a record of them in the singular modality of aesthetic form; research on art tries to retrieve that record and to understand its formation as an essential mode of human thought, speech and action.

The experiences formative of the region’s modern art were shared to some extent in different parts of the world during the twentieth-century. But they cannot be understood within the received paradigms formulated by the academic discipline of art history for the simple reason that those paradigms have been abstracted from the historical experience of western Europe and North America and do not fit the historical experience of Asia, Africa or Latin America. This discrepancy has forced the academic study of art and literature to revise its interpretative frameworks in order to take into account the multiplicity of histories of art practices across the globe. al Mawrid contributes to this theoretical reconstruction of the humanities by pursuing a unique program of research that formulates new historiographies for the Arab world’s cultural history.

The Center’s strategy is to identify interpretative questions in the documentary record and to investigate those questions with a view to developing new analytic categories both in the conventional format of extended academic writing and in the visual format of artistic research. Artistic research employs visual tools and the technologies of digital scholarship to activate the epistemological capacities of the image and to use those capacities to perform the work of historical analysis.

In conjunction with its research program, al Mawrid contributes to the teaching of the history of the modern art history of the Arab world by designing syllabi structured by the analytic categories it develops. These syllabi include surveys as well as modules focused on particular themes. Additionally, we work with NYUAD faculty to identify primary source material relevant to a range of political, cultural and intellectual themes.