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Time Frames: Art as an Embodied Practice of Time from an Anthropological Perspective

Panel XI-18, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
This panel aims to reflect on the interplay between artistic practices, bodies and time from an anthropological perspective. This way, it explores the multiple combinations of ephemeral gestures necessary to produce art works and how these body movements get inscribed in time. While the body movement stops once the artists’ hand, arm or legs are at rest, artists try to situate their production in genealogies of other artists’ works. This way, they tend to elaborate transmission strategies for techniques, aesthetics and general conceptions about art, and to stage rupture with previous approaches towards artistic practice. Moreover, they often attempt to establish links with the general situation of the world and to present evolutions in art as a reflection on a historical period and as a means to engage with it. Finally, there is the material outcome of art practices, either as a direct product of the artists’ work or through its documentation. The panel tackles these issues by considering the practice of Arab artists in the Arab countries, in Europe and in Northern America, and the reflections they develop about it. Thereby, the panel explores how embodied experiences of time are transposed and transfigured into artistic practices. There is a tendency to consider art primarily through discourses and, in the case of Arab countries in particular, through the prism of narratives about the nation. By contrast, this panel proposes a more practice-oriented approach of the work of Arab artists. Ethnographically studying it through the lens of the body and of the multiple temporalities in which it gets involved offers new perspectives on art in its more intimate and affective dimensions, offering important insights into the manner art shapes subjectivities and allows us to experiment with our perception of the world.
  • In the performance ‘Behind your eyeballs’, the performers explore their perception of the archive 858 which gathers the footage collected by the Mosireen collective in the streets of Egypt since 2011. Through the performance, the two artists investigate their relation to this archive, analyzing their role in the capture of the footage, in the conception of the website that rendered public this archival material and how, nowadays, they process it through an artistic proposition. Ultimately, the performance is a proposition on the artists’ relation to time. Here, the body becomes the primary tool to process the lived-experience of political mobilization. Reflecting on the past experiences, on the role the performers played then as activists and how, a decade later, they look back at their own intervention through performance will provide the base for analyzing artistic practices as a tool to reflect one’s positionality. Hence, this paper proposes to explore how Egyptian artists involved in the 2011 uprising reflect on their political engagement ten years later through performing arts ? How does the embodied aspect of their artistic practice offer a transformed perspective on their own involvement and activism ? Based on ethnographic fieldwork among Egyptian artists in Berlin, this paper analyzes how the temporal distance impacts artists’ subjectivities and how the creativity and the performance become medium to process and exteriorise these reflections. In parallel, the presentation will also parse out how the geographical distance (re)contextualizes the political reflections, creating connections and providing new concepts to rethink the forms and meanings of engagement.
  • Calligraphy in Egypt is an ancient trade yet its institutional structures and its market have gone through important changes across time. Formerly organized around chains of transmission in which the relation between master and student in the workshop were predominant, it evolved to a system in which people learn their craft in schools and prove their credentials through diplomas recognized by the state. Nowadays, these teaching structures face important difficulties due to a chronic underfunding. As an alternative, calligraphers have created associations in charge of promoting the practice. Yet, most of its practitioners make a rather dire assessment of its present situation in their country. Among the main culprits, besides the underfunding of calligraphy schools, they point at digitalization which led to replace hand writing by prints, and the bad state of public education, because of which children do not learn anymore the rules of calligraphy. Therefore, the majority of calligraphers I encountered in my research envision their practice as endangered. This presentation addresses this crisis of transmission by focusing on the concrete process of learning as a correlated education of the hand and of the eye. Because Arabic calligraphy in its classical styles rests on set rules of proportions, the assessment of the quality of writing and composition is often a matter of small details which are hardly perceptible for a person which has not learned the craft him/herself. There is a strong valuation of the calligrapher’s hand, found for instance in the descriptions of the craft as its ‘tongue’ (lisān al-yad), in the distinctions calligraphers make between each other as having different ‘hands’, and having a ‘strong hand’ is deemed necessary to become a good calligrapher. Besides, repetitions of the same movements to emulate a teacher’s writing style is key to the learning. A certain disdain which can be found towards what some qualify as art paintings and towards attempts some make to learn calligraphy through video channels hint at a distrust many share towards approaches privileging a visual approach. Therefore, this presentation interrogates the manner aesthetics depend on learning processes in which the body plays a central role, and people’s feeling of loss when the time for embodying the necessary skills does not seem granted anymore.
  • This paper revolves around a Moroccan community of vernacular artists (Al-‘atara) that endeavor to make a living through art. The understanding of ‘artist’ is challenged here as some of my interviewees, marginalized and precarious, do not consider themselves art producers such as painters—though some of them are—but artists who have a way of evaluating discarded artifacts in the joutia (flee markets), among other places. They consider themselves artists because they utilize their keen perception and vast knowledge of art to find and save misplaced artifacts from the pile of garbage (tourist items, collectibles, broken products, fakes, etc.). Such are artifacts that are doomed to be trashed and eventually destroyed, mishandled, and discarded, but thanks to their efforts, the artifacts sometimes find their way back into the art industry. Such a community of artists belongs to an ancient Jewish tradition of spice and herb sellers in Morocco that was later on passed to local Amazighs and Arabs who appropriated the business model to search for artifacts. They go around souks and villages collecting artistic objects to sell to bazaarists in Marrakesh and Fes, among other cities. Having said that, this community challenges the canonical understanding of who deserves to enjoy and have access to art(ifacts), and which institutions must preserve art. For some of them, their poor socio-economic situation does not equate to their inability or underserving rights to enjoy, collect, display, and criticize first-rate artifacts. As much as they are poverty-ridden and marginalized, they find it important however to learn the skills to engage with artifacts and pass the knowledge to the next generations of Al-‘atara. This paper, hence, investigates ta’tart as an artistic practice that survived rapid technological advancement, molding itself into the contemporary world while keeping its initial motivations, goals, patrons, and protocols. It attempts to come to grips with the kind of practices such communities perform to find meaning in their artistic practices/tradition in the ever so changing world, the diminishing number of practitioners, precariousness, and socio-economic and political vulnerability.
  • For the 2023 MESA conference panel, Art as an Embodied Practice of Time, I will investigate decolonial practices within contemporary art and photography as it pertains to identity narratives of the queer Middle Eastern diaspora in North America and Europe. My work interrogates the performance of queerness, the performance of Arabness, and their intersections by reflecting on modern sexual identity, its relationship to colonialism, and how contemporary queer visual artists disrupt linear identity narratives. This investigation will nuance Middle Eastern art research and cultural studies by theorizing the place of queer and/or gay studies in terms of the art of the Middle East, and making central histories of colonial empire within discussions of diasporic sexualities. In focusing on the diaspora in North America and Europe, this research emphasizes themes of migration, displacement, transnationalism, and examines how queerness is performed within artistic practice and how culturally diverse contemporary artists operate within the context of the West. Through the analysis of the visual works of artists Jamil Hellu, Ebrin Bagheri, 2Fik, Laurence Rasti, Nilbar Güreş, and Alireza Shojaian, my research investigates the localized negotiations of gender and sexual non-normativity, expanding and enriching our understandings of both the ‘Middle East’ and ‘North America’ as visual discursive categories. This research decolonizes, and thus queers, western neo-orientalist and racist projections of the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia region as a zone of sexual oppression. It therefore re-positions the queer Middle Eastern diaspora as a source of radical agency, a critical response to the whiteness of queer studies. It serves the urgent need to respond to the violent orientalizing global formations that currently frame the queer Middle Eastern subjects in the Global North.
  • Long neglected in the social sciences, dance offers a privileged space for research on the subject of the transformation of the society. By approaching the aesthetics and politics involved in the work of Taoufiq Izeddiou I propose to focus on the relationships made and unmade by one who considers himself as a pioneer. Since 2001, Taoufiq Izeddiou has engaged in a choreographic project that popularized the practice of a so called contemporary dance in the city of Marrakech. His approach invests practices of creation, transmission and festival that contributes to establish the city as a prominent space for the existence of dance in Morocco. Taking part of a globalised art-practice this artist I discuss the work is entangled in various situated temporal, geographic, and sociocultural contexts. My contribution focuses on the study of the memorial dimensions and the selective reconstructions of the "popular heritage" in  the heart of Taoufiq Izeddiou’s work and practices. Analyzing his ways to rely on traditions and his attempt to overpass the binary rupture between modernity and the past, I contextualize the logics and values of the recompositions he is building out. The contribution aims at going beyond a posture that analyzes contemporary dance in terms of global-product, interests or strategies that reductively see them as offshoots of European styles. As rooted in a long term ethnography research (2019-2023) conducted with a community of dancers in Marrakech I try to situate the production in genealogies of multi situated practices and present a perspective that discusses the complexity of the process of legitimation which surrounds the emergence of an artistic practice not carried by elites.