Contemporary art and heritage in the Gulf
My first book project examines visual artists' visceral responses to the heritage industry in the Gulf countries of the Arabian Peninsula. States such as the UAE and Qatar have focused on revitalizing Bedouin heritage narratives for nation-building purposes. The artists I have lived and worked with during my ethnographic fieldwork in Dubai respond to this heritage industry that shapes the national narrative of who can genuinely belong to these states as a national subject. Although many of these artists are the children of laborers, their artistic responses seem counter-intuitive. Instead of producing work that fosters a sense of relief in the viewer (through, for instance, the depicted empowerment of the powerless), these artists seem merely to replicate or reenact, in their work, systems and symbols of power.
I explain this conundrum through mimetic art theories and argue that the element of repetition and replication opens new forms of appreciative visibilities. The book explains how artists developed a visual language of belonging that uses mimetic strategies to achieve two aims: circulate their art and messages, and implicitly issue critique in a way that allows them to exhibit their work.
I published a preview of this argument in the peer-reviewed journal Visual Anthropology in summer 2019 in an article called: When Workers Toil Unseen, Artists Intervene: On the In/visibility of Labor in the Arabian Gulf States. In this article, I examine art practices from Gulf-based artists that address the invisibility of workers by replicating the conditions of the laborer in artworks, a process I term “total replication”. For my book project, I further develop the theoretically-driven yet empirically grounded idea of what I termed “total replication”.
You can read my article in Visual Anthropology by following this link.