Artistic production testifies to vitality of Arab culture
What is remarkable about modern Arab art is that it has continued to embrace its origins while opening itself up to worldwide artistic trends.
2017/10/01 Issue: 125 Page: 23
The contemporary art exhibition “Ourouba, The Eye of Lebanon” constituted an invaluable source of expression of present torments. This is because contemporary Arab societies have best expressed themselves through the arts — in great novels, poetry, music or painting and in so many movies depicting human suffering.
The best way to grasp collective Arab consciousness is to travel inside its world of art. Before being a political or religious concept, “Ourouba,” which translates as “Arabicity,” is a cultural view of the world, specific to the Arab people, their rich history and their artistic talents.
Irrespective of the emergence of different political entities, geographical diversity and socio-economic structures in modern times, Arabs exist collectively within a unified culture that creates indestructible bonds between them.
The Arab world today is in shambles: Failed political regimes, savage armed attacks from outside and inside, the flow of millions of miserable refugees, destruction of entire cities and aggression against its rich archaeological patrimony.
The Arab world’s artistic production, however, is flourishing more than ever, proof of the vitality of its culture. This contrasts sharply with the political and military dynamics of failure and self-destruction initiated decades ago.
What is remarkable about modern Arab art is that it has continued to embrace its origins while opening itself up to worldwide artistic trends. Arab visual art has expanded to include many styles and themes, as have music and literature. Centuries ago, Arab poets developed many themes related to love, including that of pure, virginal love passed on to European troubadours. In the 20th century, Arab artists did not hesitate to unveil the human body in painting or sculpture, proving they had no inhibitions or constraints.
More recently, female Arab novelists have become known for their crude descriptions of how male-dominated societies have oppressed them. Their novels give in-depth descriptions of how Arab women in the most traditional societies are progressively shaking the ossified and oppressive family structures.
While the male-dominated establishment has misused religion to maintain regressive attitudes in Arab societies, thus weakening them and turning them into easy prey for foreign intervention and internal violence, artists, writers, film-makers and musicians have acted boldly as dynamic counterweights.
The lively artistic development in most Arab societies is spectacular proof of the falseness of orientalist theories about the Arab east or the whole Muslim world, which claim that the Arab mentality is, by essence, exclusively constituted from an immutable, narrow, theological mind.
We must be grateful to Arab artists for creating work that contradicts the simplified and stereotyped anthropological and political approach to Arab culture, which suggests that, by nature, it is opposed to modernity and modern values.
The vitality of Arab artistic talents in so many fields should be encouraged and supported. Art should not be viewed as an additional money machine but as the reservoir of the dynamics of collective Arab culture, which is maintaining life and creativity in oppressed and suffering Arab societies.
The “Ourouba” exhibition, which was on display at the recent Beirut Art Fair, was a very lively and challenging proof that Arab collective consciousness as expressed by its artists continues to show strength and vigour, despite all the destruction and violence affecting the Arab world.