The Sublime in Contemporary Art and Politics: The Post 9/11 Art of Middle Eastern Diaspora in North America
Arda Guney, Talat Balca
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This dissertation takes ethnographic approach to researching art with an emphasis on the artistic practices of Middle Eastern diasporic artists in Canada and the USA. This dissertation moves from an account of aesthetic theory to the revival of public interest in art related to the Middle East and the artistic challenges faced by diasporic artists from the Middle East in presenting depictions of their own subjectivity. The Arab Spring, revolutions, bloody protests and riots, as well as the attacks of radical Islamist groups have crowded mainstream news coverage with images of terror and the paradigm of radical destruction. Such reflections of horrific scenery emulate the aesthetics of the sublime in the imagination of contemporary politics. The increasing body of art emphasizing the region of the Middle East has also regenerated this mainstream media focus on the Middle East, Arab lands, and the Muslim landscape" with the same connotation of sublimity. I argue that these artistic reflections presume a particular Middle Eastern diasporic subjectivity that comes into visibility simultaneously as the translator and the witness, as well as the victim or perpetrator of this catastrophic imagery of the Middle East. I explore the artistic practices of the Middle Eastern diaspora in order to understand how they reflect their own self-image in the contemporary art scene to challenge this stereotype of the disaster carrier. I also investigate the novel ways in which the new social movements in the Middle East, such as the Green Movement in Iran or the various Arab Springs, are represented by the art works of critical diasporic artists living in North America and how such representations settle within the landscape of contemporary art. In this study, I consider two major subject matters that are present within diasporic artworks related to Middle East: the artistic representations of home countries and the current socio-political landscape; and the self-design art practices enacted through memories of immigration, performances of body and religiosity in the North American art scene. Rather than an analysis of hegemony, this dissertation analyzes how these art trends claim to be artistically valuable and aim to reach a wide audience, as well as what kinds of artistic desires they evoke. Drawing on critical studies of democratic process and social equity, this book contributes to aesthetic theory on contemporary art and puts forward questions concerning whether or not the oppositional capacity of contemporary art has withered away in neoliberal democracies.