Following on from the December issue of ART AFRICA, entitled ‘Whose South is it Anyway,’ this edition shifts our focus North to explore the artistic and cultural practices of North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
The themes and thinking around this issue were stimulated by writer and documentary filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri’s keynote speech at FORUM, 1:54’s talk programme. In her Positioning Piece, ‘The Great Divide,’ El-Tahri brings into question the reductive use of terms such as the ‘Arab World,’ which denies Africa a significant portion of its cultural history. “I am Anglophone, Francophone and Arabophone. I am Muslim and I am a total secular. I am both an Arab and most certainly an African. Who says I have to choose? Who says I can’t be both, since I am both?”
The term ‘Pan Afro-Arab’ has come up again and again as a model for understanding and engaging with artistic production in this region, especially when looking ‘up’ from other parts of Africa. The longstanding history of Pan Afro-Arabic cooperation has been largely sidelined in recent decades. For this reason, the March issue of ART AFRICA aims to shed light on this significant relationship.
The compounding of identities under a single banner, that of the ‘Arab,’ is a point that curator Nadira Laggoune touches on in her Positioning Piece, ‘Arab Territories:’ “This amalgam [between the term ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’]… often refers to a homogenous block that is unchanging and prey to fanatical passions… the ‘Arab’ world is composed of multiple communities and it would be reductive to approach it as a monolithic assembly overwhelmed by Islamic fundamentalism.”
Taking its cue from these two Positioning Pieces, this issue allows room for the multiplicity of perspective inherent in art. From the Carthage Film Festival in Tunis to the Biennale of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World, Beauté Congo and COP21 in Paris, the scope of this issue attempts to engage a variety of perspectives that are contextually specific yet fundamentally aligned. In this light, we felt it necessary to include artistic reactions to recent events through the prism of art as resistance – in a feature by international journalist, Layli Foroudi.
ART AFRICA is also excited to introduce our newly appointed Middle East editor-at-large, Dr Zoltan Somhegyi. In his insightful piece ‘Hub in the Making,’ Somhegyi elaborates on key developments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the new Guggenheim and Louvre museums will make their home. In our reviews section, we look at galleries and artists from this region, including Khaled Hafez’s ‘A Temple for Extended Days’ (Ayyam Gallery), Cheikhou Ba and Serwan Baran’s ‘A Game of Mirrors’ (The Mojo Gallery), and an interview with independent Kenyan filmmaker Amirah Tajdin.
Other pioneering art events featured include the Off Biennale Cairo, which includes an interview with Simon Njami, as well as an interview with Reem Fadda, the Marrakech Biennale curator. We are also pleased to feature multiple participants of the second edition of THAT ART FAIR 2016.
The March edition of ART AFRICA is a first in many ways. This issue includes the addition of French translations for three of our pieces; Jihan El-Tahri’s Positioning Piece, Layli Foroudi’s article about art as resistance and a review of ‘Beauté Congo’ at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. Publishing content in French is a logical progression if we are to expand ART AFRICA’s reach into Francophonic Africa.
The creation of this issue has been an interesting process, drawing on existing networks and reaching out to new ones to ‘join the conversation.’ We look forward to the responses generated from this issue and to include more voices as we continue ‘looking further North.’