MESA Banner
Queer Artistic and Cultural Practices of Southwest Asia North Africa

Panel IV-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Queer artistic and cultural practices of Southwest Asia North Africa are achieving unparalleled global visibility in the 21st century. However, increased visibility is not equivalent to nuanced perspectives, recognition of Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies, or embodiment of methods and practices from Global Souths. This panel seeks to answer arising and ongoing questions about queerness in material and ephemeral cultures from the SWANA region, such as how artists and cultural creators negotiate in- and hyper-visibility, cultural relativism and cultural requirements, and histories and presents, within the “glocal.” Kina and Bernabe contend that “the very real material and political stakes of representation and misrepresentation” are in operation whenever scholarship aims to ask difficult questions not only through [queer] content and analysis, but also through considering the meanings and circumstances that permit or encourage coalescence around certain topics (4). This panel seeks to discuss these new frameworks for queer and queer[ed] artistic and cultural practices in context. To queer is to work at an angle to, or sideways, as in crossing (Sedgwick); to be queer is to embody or identify with this approach. Neither in direct agreement nor direct opposition with dominant norms, a queer thing exposes the reification of hegemony bound up within binaries and offers alternatives. The papers on this panel discuss objects and use approaches that exist at these sideways intersections. One of the papers examines the interplay between visibility and invisibility in pioneering queer films from the early 2000s in Lebanon as the country was reimagining public space in the post-civil war period. The paper looks at how film narratives showed how queer Lebanese individuals were attempting to remap the country's fragmented geography through queer desire by transcending sectarian differences. Another analyzes visibility through the theme of the archive, suggesting that Tunisian artist Aïcha Snoussi’s installations re-narrativize modes of modern art such as surrealism, while suffusing the colonial/modern gender system (Lugones) with a disruptive deviance. The final paper considers Druze women’s homosocial gatherings as sites of transformative queer practice. The papers on this panel thus create new archives of queer practice that resonate across multiple temporalities, and which reveal and repurpose embedded colonial modernities (Gopinath). Bibliography Gopinath, Gayatri. Unruly Visions. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. Kina, Laura and Jan Christian Bernabe, eds. Queer Contemporary Asian American Art. University of Washington Press: 2017. Lugones, María. “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System.” Hypatia 22 no. 1 (2007): 186-209. Sedgwick, Eve. Tendencies. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Art/Art History
  • Anne Marie Butler -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Ms. Deena Naime -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Dr. Raed El Rafei -- Presenter
  • Natalie El-Eid -- Chair
  • Mejdulene Shomali -- Discussant
  • Anne Marie Butler
    Young, queer Tunisian Aïcha Snoussi’s artistic practice deploys decolonial methods by engaging from the margins of geographies, genders, and sexualities. Her depictions of queer bodies and sex practices of deviance, pain, and pleasure disrupt hierarchies of knowledge upon which state and social authorities are built. As Love has argued, deviance challenges “the stability and coherence of [the social world]” (2015). This paper finds affinities between sexual anomalies and deviance in Snoussi’s recent installations Le livre des anomalies (2017) and Bugs (Anticodexxx) (2019) and reads the works as archives of deviance that “perform new histories” (Zaatari, qtd in Gopinath). Such (re)narrativizations decolonize the normalization of the Tunisian state authority, which supersedes various governmental transitions, and where queer desires permeate normalcy (Gopinath). The works evokes surrealism in their intention to disturb the barrier between the conscious and unconscious minds. They thus coincides with the ideology of disturbing the real, exposing it as a construction, a sham, while revealing the real real (Rosemont), that is, the social world and the state stripped bare of illusions that conceal the ever present workings of power and state authority in the most ordinary aspects of life; the arenas where the demands of the state, upheld by society, are enacted most presciently, yet are obscured by their mundanity, such as sex acts. Deviant sex practices and queer bodies in surrealist visuals present an approach from the margins of the somewhat normative view of gender and sexuality often upheld by the male surrealists. Working on the margins of sexuality decenters the conceptualizations of liberated sexuality that are dependent upon the colonial/modern sex/gender system (Lugones). Snoussi re-creates her own embodied sexual aesthetics as a queer, North African woman, repurposing dominant narratives of the state, Tunisian society, surrealism, and queer Ottoman-era sex practices to reveal the arbitrariness within the hegemonic constructions of sex and sexuality, even within surrealist conceptualizations that claim to engage in liberatory social and sexual practices, or within contemporary understandings of Ottoman-era sexuality, and to create an archive that repositions knowledges of anatomy, sex acts, and erotic relationships. Bibliography Gopinath, Gayatri. Unruly Visions. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018. Love, Heather. “Doing Being Deviant: Deviance Studies, Description, and the Queer Ordinary.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 26 no. 1 (2015): 74-95. Lugones, María. “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System.” Hypatia 22 no. 1 (2007): 186-209. Rosemont, Penelope, ed. Surrealist Women. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1998.
  • Dr. Raed El Rafei
    The appearance of the very first Lebanese films to openly address homosexuality at the beginning of the new millennium can be seen as a response to growing exposure to globalized queer narratives in western media. But a closer analysis of these films reveals their importance in responding to the Lebanese national identity crisis a decade after a 15-year-long civil war had fractured the country. In this paper, I argue that queer self-expression in Lebanese films of the post-civil war period is shaped through deep engagement with local political questions by attempting to define a sense of national belonging that transcends sectarian differences. I analyze two pioneering works of queer Arab cinema: How I Love you (2001) by Akram Zaatari and Cadillac Blues (2002) by Mazen Khaled. I show how they reflect an impulse to connect, through queer desire, the country’s fragmented public space patching up the nation’s failures to create a meaningful and stable unity. Using queer theory, queer of color critique, and my own experience as a young Lebanese gay man in the early 2000s, I look at the interplay between queer visibility and invisibility in relation to shifting boundaries between private and public spheres as they translate into the filmic space. I build on the concept of “shame” by Dina Georgis to understand how negative feelings of self-repudiation helped shape queer subjectivities in early Lebanese queer film narratives. I use Gayatri Gopinath's insights into queer remappings of space to examine how art can challenge official discourses about national space and citizenship. As Gopinath suggests, “queer modes of affiliation, desire, and embodiment” can point to “alternative possibilities of organizing social relations in the present.” The films I analyze show how, through even short-lived and brief encounters with the unmarked “other,” queer Lebanese men were reversing and undoing, to a certain extent, the violence of separation, displacement, and dispersal caused by the war and its aftermath. BIBLIOGRAPHY Georgis, Dina. “Thinking past pride: Queer Arab shame in Bareed Mista3Jil.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 45, no. 2 (2013): 233–51. doi:10.1017/S0020743813000056. Gopinath, Gayatri. Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. Marks, Laura U. Hanan Al-Cinema: Affections for the Moving Image. Leonardo. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2015.
  • Ms. Deena Naime
    For the Druze community, sobhiyat and zyarat (morning and afternoon gatherings, respectively) are spaces that are deliberately forged among women to sustain themselves. While sobhiyat and zyarat themselves are not necessarily unique to the Druze community, I argue that the ways in which Druze women foster the spaces, the specific contexts and contents that inform their experiences with the spaces, and the impacts of them are distinct. One reason, among many, that Druze women’s enactment of these spaces has been transformative for the community is precisely due to the context within which they live their lives as a significantly globally marginalized community. That is, in forging these spaces, there is a rejection of that marginalization through the generations of these community spaces. Further, sobhiyat and zyarat have become cornerstones of the Druze community - as well as what current iterations and understandings of Druzeness entails for generations of Druze adults and youth. Therefore, in my research, I look at how the closeness and intimacies cultivated by and for women are actually shaping Druze culture and future. By looking to queer Arab scholarship by Mejdulene Shomali and Arab feminist scholarship by Nadine Naber, I think through the queer and radical readings of sobhiyat and zyarat made possible by attending to the ordinary, everyday interests of Druze women - while simultaneously utilizing the practices of the spaces to theorize a new feminist research method. Ultimately, I gesture towards the radical possibilities that emerge through those very everyday experiences and relationships that so often get overlooked or written off as unimportant by attending to the significance of sobhiyat w zyarat in Druze culture and community.