TITLE: Tragic Breakfast
DATE: 06/12/2009 22:30:39

What had happened to the dreams of liberation that brought many of us to radical movements in the first place? . . . What had happened to our New Eden, our dreams of building a new society? And what had happened to hope and love in our politics? . . . How do we produce a vision that enables us to see beyond our immediate ordeals? How do we transcend bitterness and cynicism and embrace love, hope, and an all-encompassing dream of freedom, especially in these rough times?
Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.
We must tap the well of our own collective imaginations, that we do what earlier generations have done: dream.

Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
By Robin D. G. Kelley


TITLE: The Owl: Wisdom and Doom
DATE: 05/23/2009 00:27:19

André Breton, Poème-objet (La chouette noire), 1955.

"When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in."
-G. W. F. Hegel, "Preface," Philosophy of Right

When I was out shopping for Christmas presents on the high street in December, I was struck by the ubiquity of owl accessories: owl jewellery, owl cushions, owl key rings – owl motifs everywhere:

Brian Barn Owl Ring, Accessorize.
Coral Owl Drop Earrings, Miss Selfridge.
Long Beaded Owl and Acorn Pendant, ASOS.
Darling Owl Overnight Weekend Bag, Bobbypin.
Stone Encrusted Owl Brooch, ASOS.
Owl Pendant, Accessorize.

Coincidence? Or – since design is always a reflection of zeitgeist – sign of a general yearning for wisdom, stoicism and insight in times of crisis?
For the ancient Greeks, the owl, as the attribute of goddess Minerva, indeed represented wisdom, but its nocturnal habits also commonly aroused fear, loathing and ridicule, earning the bird a reputation as an essentially evil creature, a harbinger of doom. Thus ornithologist Jacques Delamain wrote in the Surrealist journal Minotaure in 1935, conflating vernacular myth and scientific explanation in a manner characteristic of the Surrealists:
When it comes to the barn owl, certain individuals are phosphorescent, because tiny particles of the rotten wood they get in touch with in tree cavities remain stuck to their plumage; this explanation is reassuring, but can one contemplate without agitation these luminous phantoms that silently pass over the fields in complete darkness? […] Ought one to be surprised, then, that man’s imagination has created around the owl a network of sinister fables?
Pablo Picasso, Chouette et trois oursins, 1946.

I was also reminded of a funny anecdote I read a while ago: apparently Picasso, who created several owl paintings, drawings and ceramics in the 1940s and 50s, owned a pet owl for some years during this period. It was christened UBU, partly out of assonance with the French word for ‘owl,’ ‘hibou,’ and partly after the obnoxious hero of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. This is how the bird found its way into his care:
While Pablo was still working at the Musée d’Antibes, [Michel] Sima had come to us one day with a little owl he had found in the corner of the museum. One of his claws had been injured. We bandaged it and gradually it healed. We bought a cage for him and when we returned to Paris we brought him back with us and put him in the kitchen with the canaries, the pigeons, the turtledoves. We were very nice to him but he only glared at us. Any time we went into the kitchen, the canaries chirped, the pigeons cooed and the turtledoves laughed but the owl remained stolidly silent or, at best, snorted. He smelled awful and ate nothing but mice. [...] Every time the owl snorted at Pablo he would shout, ‘Cochon, Merde,’ and a few other obscenities, just to show the owl that he was even worse mannered than he was. He used to stick his fingers between the bars of the cage and the owl would bite him… Finally the owl would let him scratch his head and gradually he came to perch on his finger instead of biting it, but even so, he still looked very unhappy.
Françoise Gilot, quoted in Neil Cox and Deborah Povey, A Picasso Bestiary.
Via Mapping the Marvellous


DATE: 04/11/2009 04:10:52

Andy Warhol Exhibit at Paris' Grand Palais highlights Pahlavi Era Portraits amidst 20th Century Icons who inspired the Pop Art Maestro (*)

©Andy Warhol & Photocomposition©DK

"Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art."
- Andy Warhol's blunt observation about his Art

No other artist is as much identified with Pop Art as Andy Warhol. The media called him the Prince of Pop. Warhol made his way from a Pittsburgh working class family to an American legend. The exhibition "Le grand Monde d'Andy Warhol", at the Grand Palais in Paris, presents a selection of nearly 150 works among the impressive "portraits gallery" made by Andy Warhol from the 60's to his death. The exhibition, which opened last month on March 18th, has been drawing record crowds of experts, neophytes or simple admirors of the Pope of Pop Art who can see first hand Portraits from Marilyn Monroe and Chairman Mao to Elvis Presely and the Shah of Iran. The array of screen-prints, Polaroids and film footage, which has never been shown together before, will not travel to any other city in the world. Paris hopes the show will add to the city's already record-breaking museum visitor figures this year, which have sparked talk of a "new French renaissance" in the exhibition world.

Warhol's Portrait of Princess Ashraf Pahlavi ( The Shah of Iran's twin Sister)
made the cover of French Art Magazine's March Issue N°40, 2009
©L'Objet D'Art

-->Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh as the son of Slovak immigrants. His original name was Andrew Warhola. His father was as a construction worker and died in an accident when Andy was 13 years old. Andy showed an early talent in drawing and painting. After high school he studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Warhol graduated in 1949 and went to New York where he worked as an illustrator for magazines like Vogue and Harpar's Bazaar and for commercial advertising. He soon became one of New York's most sought of and successful commercial illustrators. In 1952 Andy Warhol had his first one-man show exhibition at the Hugo Gallery in New York. In 1956 he had an important group exhibition at the renowned Museum of Modern Art. In the sixties Warhol started painting daily objects of mass production like Campbell Soup cans and Coke bottles. Soon he became a famous figure in the New York art scene. From 1962 on he started making silkscreen prints of famous personalities like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. The quintessence of Andy Warhol art was to remove the difference between fine arts and the commercial arts used for magazine illustrations, comic books, record albums or advertising campaigns.

Empress Farah of Iran and Former First Lady of France, Bernadette Chirac
Honored the Exhibition with her Presence ©PDV & ©Farah Pahlavi

The pop artist not only depicted mass products but he also wanted to mass produce his own works of pop art. Consequently he founded The Factory in 1962. It was an art studio where he employed in a rather chaotic way "art workers" to mass produce mainly prints and posters but also other items like shoes designed by the artist. The first location of the Factory was in 231 E. 47th Street, 5th Floor (between 1st & 2nd Ave).

Warhol's favorite printmaking technique was silkscreen. It came closest to his idea of proliferation of art. Apart from being an Art Producing Machine, the Factory served as a filmmaking studio. Warhol made over 300 experimental underground films - most rather bizarre and some rather pornographic. His first one was called Sleep and showed nothing else but a man sleeping over six hours.

Film Critic and Iranian Diplomat Fereidoune Hoveyda befriended
Warhol in the 1970's and was an enthusiast Pop Art
Amateur Painter himself (**) ©Fereidoune Hoveyda

In July of 1968 the pop artist was shot two to three times into his chest by a woman named Valerie Solanis. Andy was seriously wounded and only narrowly escaped death. Valerie Solanis had worked occasionally for the artist in the Factory. Solanis had founded a group named SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) and she was its sole member. When Valerie Solanis was arrested the day after, her words were "He had too much control over my life". Warhol never recovered completely from his wounds and had to wear a bandage around his waist for the rest of his life.

Pahlavi Era Portraits by Andy Warhol are currently exhibited at the Grand Palais, Similar authentic reproductions can be found at the Tehran Museum of Modern Arts
©Andy Warhol

After this assassination attempt the pop artist made a radical turn in his process of producing art. The philosopher of art mass production now spent most of his time making individual portraits of the rich and affluent of his time like Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson or Brigitte Bardot. Warhol's activities became more and more entrepreneurial. He started the magazine Interview and even a night-club. In 1974 the Factory was moved to 860 Broadway. In 1975 Warhol published THE philosophy of Andy Warhol. In this book he describes what art is:

"Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art."

Warhol had an ambiguous sexuality which also played a part in his creations. Some close associates and friends even assimilated to being asexual with a slightly bizarre personality. True or false, by the fifties he dyed his hair straw-blond. Later he replaced his real hair by blond and silver-grey wigs.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Warhol produced more than 1,000 portraits, with subjects ranging from Mick Jagger to Princess Caroline of Monaco, Nelson Rockefeller to Queen Elisabeth or Shahbanou Farah of Iran and members of Iran's Royal Family and dignitaries. Warhol's society portraits based on Polaroid snapshots taken during the late '70s were moneymaking machines for the Factory, selling at $25,000 a piece or $40,000 for two. Though Warhol's extraordinary market has recently entered another stratosphere, these debauched, headshot close-ups from the '70s are about as interesting as a Warhol of, say, depraved contemporary subjects like Michael Jackson or O.J. Simpson. The sky-high estimates simply don't compute. Comparisons are elusive in past auction results, thus Warhol's Princess Ashraf Pahlavi dubbed "Portraits of an Iranian Princess" (in two parts) from 1980 sold for £100,150/$152,667 in June 2002. But then again, a well known Iranian American Arts Dealer Tony Shafrazi was hawking a Warhol triptych of the Shah, Empress, and Princess sister Ashraf Pahlavi at Basel a few years ago for the aristocratic asking price of $8 million. So Go figure…

At one stage, Warhol was making $1m a year from such portraits. He painted Lady Diana, commissioned by a bar owner in Hong Kong. He painted Brigitte Bardot for the German millionaire toyboy Gunther Sachs, whose marriage to the actor lasted only two months. His fee was always the same - the portraits were usually made up of a set; the first cost $25,000, the second $15,000.

When in 1972 a dealer encouraged Warhol to paint a world-famous figure such as Albert Einstein, Warhol shocked the art scene by instead producing four giant portraits and wallpaper of the Chinese leader Mao Zedong, based on a photo on the cover of the Little Red Book. It was a reworking of a propaganda image, on which Warhol put lipstick to raise questions about Mao's sexuality.

--> The pop artist loved cats, and images of them can be found on quite a few of his art works. One of Andy's friends described him as a true workaholic. Warhol was obsessed by the ambition to become famous and wealthy. And he knew he could achieve the American dream only by hard work. 

In his later years, Warhol moved beyond the film stars and political icons and turned to religious imagery, including works such as 112 screen-prints of Christ and a portrait of an electric chair - seen by some as a modern crucifix.

©Andy Warhol

In his last years Warhol promoted other artists like Keith Haring or Robert Mapplethorpe.
Andy Warhol died February 22, 1987 from complications after a gall bladder operation. More than 2000 people attended the memorial mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. A Man of Many Paradoxes, The pop art icon Warhol was also a religious man - a little known fact. The Brilliant Artist may be dead but his visual legacy and enduring influence lives on …

Authors Notes:

(*) Open Everyday except Tuesday starting March 18th to 13th of July, 2009 : 10 A.M. to 22 P.M. ( 20 P.M. on thursdays) Ticket Price : 11 euros, Discount : 8 euros.
Official Website of The Grand Palais
Official Website of Andy Warhol Exhibit
(**) Fereydoun Hoveyda (1924-2006): A Class Apart By Darius KADIVAR
Official Websites of Andy Warhol's Museum and Foundation:
Andy Warhol Foundation
Andy Warhol Museum
Art Auctions:
A Shah for Sale:London Bonhams Auction of Nasseredin Shah Portrait sells £260,000
by Darius KADIVAR
Recommended Readings:
Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art By Robert Tait ( The Guardian)

Empress of the Arts
Farah Pahlavi at Maurice Béjart 80th Birthday Party By Darius KADIVAR
Fereydoun Hoveyda (1924-2006): A Class Apart By Darius KADIVAR
FASHION KING YVES SAINT LAURENT DIES IN PARIS : Farah Pahlavi assists to Tribute Funeral by Darius KADIVAR
Rainbow High: Farah Pahlavi at Paris Dior 60th Anniversary Gala by Darius KADIVAR
Honoring A People's Princess: Shahbanou Farah at Lady Diana's Tribute in Paris by Darius KADIVAR
Persian History Inspires French Comic Book Masters by Darius KADIVAR
Le Charme Persan by Darius KADIVAR
An Axis Of Joy: Monika Jalili & Noorsaaz Band Triumph in Paris by Darius KADIVAR
Musical Ode To Cyrus The Great In Paris by Darius KADIVAR
MAZEH : A Taste of Persia in the Heart of Paris by Darius KADIVAR
The Persian Girl Of Saint-Germain by Darius KADIVAR
A Night at the Comédie Française by Darius KADIVAR
Anicée (ALVINA) Shahmanesh: France's Sex Icon of the 1970's By Darius KADIVAR
Via Peyvand


TITLE: Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East at Saatchi Gallery
DATE: 02/08/2009 05:07:58

Shadi Ghadirian's work 'Untitled' at the Saatchi Gallery
Unveiled, the new Saatchi Gallery's second show lays bare the Middle East in all its raw and quirky glory
Shirin Fakhim, Tehran Prostitutes
Shirin Fakhim, Tehran Prostitutes, 2008
From The Times
January 27, 2009

Charles Saatchi clearly enjoys his role as the art world's grand provocateur. His Sensation! show at the Royal Academy was just one of many to have provoked outrage at what might constitute contemporary art. Now he has put together an exhibition of contemporary art from the Middle East which contains elements that could provoke dramatically hostile reactions from Muslim fundamentalist quarters. In our hypersensitive times, after the fatwa condemning Salman Rushdie and the violent reaction to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet, Saatchi might be testing his luck in celebrating homosexual images of cavorting naked Muslim men, and cartoonish sculptures of Tehran prostitutes and transsexuals.

Yet however combustible it may turn out to be, Saatchi has good reason to put on this top-notch survey of Middle Eastern contemporary art. News of the Middle East today is dominated by images and reports of death and destruction, of terrorists and refugees, and the human misery caused by long-held political and religious antagonism. This widespread conflict overshadowing the region has tended to obscure the remarkably vibrant contemporary art scene that is alive and well in the countries of the Middle East and its diaspora.

Young artists in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and many other nations of the region are graduating from art school, travelling abroad, building perspectives on their own experiences, and turning out art works that speak of what they have grown up with. Some treat their subject matter obliquely, others choose to meet the brutal suffering and the dispiriting politics head on, producing works that are as direct and brutal as the head of an axe.

In its second show since moving to the King's Road, the Saatchi Gallery offers us a major survey of recent Middle Eastern painting, sculpture and installation. Nineteen artists are represented, most of them in their twenties and thirties, from Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria and Algeria, and their works reveal something of the range of their experiences and of the cultural and historical traditions of their homelands.

These nations have had long and rich visual arts traditions going back several centuries, but in the last hundred years, governments and rulers have invested in building museums and filling them with national collections, establishing art schools and sending young art students to study in beaux arts institutions all over the world, to bring back Western and Far Eastern aesthetics. The legacies of these investments and of the independent art scenes they have spawned are to be seen in this rich and revealing exhibition, which thrums with the ideas and the energies of artists from whom we in the West seldom hear.

This is a large show of almost 90 works, mostly large-scale paintings, with a selection of sculptures and installations. It is noticeable that the installations avoid the tricks and high-tech gimmicks beloved of Western artists. Perhaps their message is too urgent for them to be messing around with strobe lights and computer-generated stuff. Perhaps they cannot get hold of these things, but the poverty of their materials contributes to the direct hit of their concepts.

One of the most arresting pieces is Ghost by Kader Attia, a French Algerian living in an immigrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Paris. Ghost is a room full of supplicant Muslim women wrapped in silver garments, row upon row of figures kneeling in devotion, 240 of them filling the room to the extent that there is only just space enough to pick your way along one side and get to the front. You expect to hear the murmur, the gentle susurration of prayer, but as you turn at the end of the room you see that these women are hollow figures, vacant shells of tin foil, each with a gaping black hole where the face should be swathed in the veil. Attia's image of emptiness is heavily political, the shrouded, veiled, yet empty, figure of Muslim women presented as the symbol of divergent struggles over decolonisation, nationalism, revolution, Westernisation and anti-Westernisation.

Rokni Haerizadeh, an Iranian from Tehran, paints epic tableaux so vibrant with colour, movement and energy that you expect them to give off their own high-intensity noise and heat. In Typical Iranian Funeral he depicts the scene of the burial with crowds of hired mourners wailing extravagantly and corpses on full display; this is contrasted with the funeral feast, shared between close family and friends, divisively seated at separate tables. In his Typical Iranian Wedding diptych, he describes the business of getting hitched, Iranian style: the men in one room eating, drinking and carousing with abandon, and the women on the other side of a curtain, dressed to the nines for each other but barely eating or drinking.

Haerizadeh's brush is brutal and his satire sharp, but his treatment of his flawed world is broadly sympathetic. Ahmed Alsoudani, on the other hand is more bitterly direct about his life's experience. An Iraqi from Baghdad, he fled to Syria before claiming asylum in America, and now lives in Berlin. His contemporary history paintings come directly from his experiences as a child, depicting the turbulence and the bitter confusion of the atrocities that have taken place in his country. Informed by the works of Goya and George Grosz, these large war canvases are raw and aggressive in their depiction of suicide bombers, of the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the carnage and destruction, as well as the fractured nature of daily life in Baghdad.
One of the most deliberately controversial bodies of work is that by Haerizadeh's brother, Ramin, who has also been embraced by Saatchi, and has produced a series of manipulated photographs of two semi-naked men entitled Men of Allah. Based on photographs of the artist, they show two bearded and heavily hirsute men cavorting in fleshy and highly sensuous poses. The images undoubtedly transgress religious, political and gender boundaries and one might fear for the reactions of fundamentalists to the pouting lips and ballooning buttocks of these overtly homosexual images.

Shirin Fakhim, an Iranian living and working in Tehran, is similarly provocative with her series of humorous makeshift sculptures of Tehran prostitutes fashioned from everyday objects and items of clothing. She makes her life-size figures from footballs, torn and patched stockings, exaggeratedly plumped brassieres and cheap market-stall items shoved down stockings, each one finished off with a wig on top and a pair of trademark stiletto boots down below. With their badly stitched-up crotches and wayward hanks of rope revealing pre-op transsexuals, these prostitute dolls become rude jokes, provoking thoughts of cross dressing and the sordid reality of poverty, domestic violence and human trafficking.

I would be prepared to bet that Hayv Kahraman, another Iraqi from Baghdad, has studied early Chinese art and the masterpieces of Renaissance Florence, as well as Islamic miniatures, because her depictions, particularly the diptych, Carrying on Shoulder 1 & Carrying on Shoulder 2 are influenced by the serenity, delicacy and angelic beauty of these periods of explosive artistic riches. All her paintings depict the fable of the sacrifice of the lamb, recorded both in the Koran and the Bible, but she recasts the legend with women taking the men's role. Her exquisite women are depicted two dimensionally on bare canvas, their elongated necks and delicate features cast like angels, and their swaying bodies clothed in loosely flowing fabric beautifully wrought with designs both traditional and contemporary.

There are so many powerful, authoritative and insightful works in this show that I cannot mention them all; but I have at least briefly to include Shadi Ghadirian, whose work has been seen in the UK as part of the Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art show that toured in 2003. Her humorous photographs take on the subject of women and the veil, her Like Everyday Series showing brightly coloured veils with kitchen utensils held in place of the face. A colander represents a woman who is all mouth, a broom huddles demurely beneath the veil, and a meat cleaver brings to mind the hatchet face.

This is a richly fascinating survey and anyone with an interest in the region, at any level, would do well to take a look at these revelatory views from the inside.
Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East is at the Saatchi Gallery (www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk), Duke of York's HQ, London SW3, from Friday to May 6 





Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East at Saatchi Gallery, The Times
--> Charles Saatchi unveils Middle Eastern works, Sunday Times
The veil is lifted on hidden talent, The Observer
Unveiled: New art from the Middle East, The Independent
Artist of the week 27: Shadi Ghadirian, Guardian
Islam stripped bare, The Sunday Times
Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East at the Saatchi Gallery, Daily Telegraph
Kunst met een sluier, De Standaard Online
Saatchi show unveils vibrant Middle East art scene, Reuters
Unveiled: New Art From The Middle East, Time Out
Images fortes des territoires islamiques, La Libre Belgique
Subversive beauty in Unveiled, Evening Standard
Iranian prostitutes and half-naked men: Saatchi promotes Mideast art, Haaretz
Middle Eastern promise, The First Post
Le Moyen-Orient d��tr��ne la Chine chez Saatchi, collectionneur avis��, Le Monde (France)
London Art: Star Wars meets Middle East in art at the Saatchi gallery's incredible new exhibition, The London Paper
London's Saatchi Galley shows Middle Eastern Art, Washington Post
Saatchi Shows Veiled Women Made of Foil, Iran Sex-Worker Dolls, Bloomberg
Modern Middle Eastern art show opening in London, AFP
Saatchi: la Brit Art non fara storia, Corriere Della Sera (Italy)
Islamic art a 'taboo buster', Brunei Times
London exhibits Middle East art, Press TV
Mideast art challenges common perceptions, The South African Star (South Africa)
London's Saatchi Galley shows Middle Eastern Art, Associated Press
In pictures: Middle East art, BBC
Powerful new art from the Middle East on show in London (Feature), Monsters And Critics
Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, Spoonfed
Modern Middle Eastern art show opening in London, Middle East Online
Saatchi show unveils vibrant Middle East art scene, MSNBC
Powerful new art from the Middle East on show in London, Khaleej Times
Mideast art challenges common perceptions, Pretoria News (South Africa)
Saatchi-Galerie zeigt moderne Kunst aus Nahost, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung (Germany)
Oriente Medio llegara a la Saatchi de Londres, Informacion (Spain)
Saatchi shows vibrant Middle East art, Spicezee
La nueva Saatchi dedicara su segunda exposicion al arte de Oriente Medio, El Confidencial
Saatchi Show Unveils Vibrant Middle East Art Scene, Iraq Updates
Tin Women: Saatchi Gallery's Newest Installation, Musliman Media Watch
Arte shock per l' Islam senza veli, Corriere della Sera (Italy)
Per Le Nuove Acquisizioni Mr. Saatchi Torna Alle Sue Origini, Arkadja Art Magazine
El arte actual de Oriente Medio ilumina la nueva galeria Saatchi de Londres, Latino MSN
El arte irani levanta el velo, El Pais (Spain)
Saatchis Schocktherapie, Art Magazin (Germany)
Saatchi-Galerie zeigt moderne Kunst aus Nahost, Saarbruecker Zeitung (Germany)
Islam-Kritische Kunst bei Saatchi, Castor & Pollux (Germany)
London's Saatchi Galley shows Middle Eastern Art,Lethbridge Herald (Canada)
Saatchi show unveils vibrant Mideast art ,Zaman Gazetesi (Turkey)
Saatchi dispara a Oriente Medio ,Larazon (Spain)
Llega el arte actual de Oriente Medio a nueva galeria Saatchi ,El Universal
Oriente Medio llegara a la Saatchi de Londres, La Opinion
Unveiled, Evene (France)
Provokateur der Kunstwelt,Der Standard (Austria)
Kunst aus Nahost,Salzburg (Austria)
Mostra "Unveiled" reune nomes da arte contemporanea do Oriente Mdio,UOL Entretenimento (Brazil)
Mostra reune 'a nova arte do Oriente Medio',Estadao (Brazil)


TITLE: Everyday Cosmopolitanism
DATE: 11/09/2008 09:07:58

Perpetrated by the media and policy circles, the language of clash currently dominates interreligious and intercultural relations, overlooking the more common human practices based upon association and cooperation. It is therefore high time to invoke the notion of “everyday cosmopolitanism” both as a scholarly inquiry and an ethical project.

by Asef Bayat

It might sound out of place to speak of, let alone, invoke the idea of cosmopolitanism in the current global conditions that are dominated by the language of “clash” – clash of cultures, civilizations, religions, or ethnicities. The discourse of clash is currently so overwhelming as though it were the central feature of our international, religious, and communal life. The media apart, academia is also inclined to concentrate far more on human “conflict” as a subject of scholarly inquiry than on “cooperation” and “sharing.” Precisely because of this prevalent preoccupation with clash, it becomes morally imperative to underline the other, more common but unnoticed and inaudible processes of human conduct, to show how people belonging to different cultural groupings can transcend their immediate selves by intensely interacting in their life-worlds with members of other ethnic or religious collectives. Would we still imagine today’s Iraq as the “natural” embodiment of sharp ethnic and religious boundaries (because the “nation” was no more than an artificial and imposed construct), if only we knew how the twentieth century Iraq was replete with instances of individuals, families, and neighbourhoods from Sunni, Shii, Jewish, and Christian communities engaged in interactions and shared lives (see pp. 6-7)? The recent upsurge in the literature on cosmopolitanism (even though highly diverse) points to welcome efforts to rectify the discourse of confrontation and mistrust, by resurrecting the ideal of living together. But how do we perceive “cosmopolitanism”?
Cosmopolitanism refers to both social conditions and an ethical project. In the first place, it signifies certain objective processes, such as globalization and international migration, that compel people of diverse communal, national, or racial affiliations to associate, work, and live together. These processes lead to diminishing cultural homogeneity in favour of diversity, variety, and plurality of cultures, religions, and lifestyles. In this sense Dubai, for instance, represents a cosmopolitan city-state in the sense that it juxtaposes individuals and families of diverse national, cultural, and racial belongings, who live and work next to one another within a small geographical space. Indeed modern urbanity per se can potentially contribute to cosmopolitan habitus by facilitating geographies of coexistence between the members of different religious or ethnic groups. But this may be so not just because people of different religions and cultures naturally come to live and interact with each other; after all neighbours might dislike and distrust one another. Rather because proximity and interaction can supply opportunities for divergent parties to experience trust (as well as mistrust) between them.
Cosmopolitanism has also ethical and normative dimensions; it is a project, something to be cherished. In this sense, cosmopolitanism is deployed to challenge the language of separation and antagonism, to confront cultural superiority and ethnocentrism. It further stands opposed to communalism, where the inward-looking and close-knit ethnic or religious collectives espouse narrow, exclusive, and selfish interests. Cosmopolitanism of this sort also overrides the “multiculturalist” paradigm. Because although multiculturalism calls for equal coexistence of different cultures within a national society, it is still preoccupied with cultural boundaries – an outlook that departs from cosmopolitan life-world where intense interaction, mixing, and sharing tend to blur communal boundaries, generating hybrid and “impure” cultural practices. The initiative of the Palestinian-Italian music group, Radiodervish (see pp. 12-13) to create multilingual songs where lyrics range from Italian, Arabic, to English and French, amplifies such a cosmopolitan project of crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries.
But is this lifestyle not the prerogative of the elites as the critiques often claim? Certainly elites are in a better material position to experience cosmopolitan lifestyles; they are the ones who can easily afford frequent travelling, developing taste for different cuisines and alternative modes of life and cultural products. In addition, unlike the poor, the privileged groups need not to rely on exclusive communalistic networks as a venue to secure social protection – something that tends to reinforce more inward-looking communalism. However, the objective possibility to experience mixing, mingling, and sharing is not the same as the subjective desire to do so. The question is how many of those elite expatriates residing in the metropolises of the global South share cultural life with those of the poor of the host society? In a closer look, the cosmopolitan Dubai turns out to be no more than a “city-state of relatively gated communities” (pp. 10-11) marked by sharp communal and spatial boundaries, with labour camps (of south Asian migrants) and the segregated milieu of “parochial jet-setters,” or the “cosmopolitan es” of the Western elite expatriates who remain bounded within the physical safety and cultural purity of their own reclusive collectives.
It is a mistake to limit cosmopolitan exchange solely to the prerogative of the elites. Indeed, there is a serious need to pay scholarly attention to the cosmopolitanism of the ordinary people in their daily lives. Evidence from twentieth century Cairo, Baghdad, or Aleppo suggests how, beyond the elites, the ordinary members of different religious communities – Muslims, Jews, Christians, Shiites, or Sunnis – were engaged in intense inter-communal exchange and shared lives in the localities or at work. In the everyday life, women in particular act as protagonists in initiating cosmopolitan exchanges and association. In mixed neighbourhoods, women generally move easily between houses, chatting, exchanging gossip, and lending or borrowing things from their neighbours. They participate in weddings, funerals, or religious festivals. Children of different confessional affiliations play together in the alleyways while teens befriend and men go on neighbourly visits. All these exemplify what I like to call “everyday cosmopolitanism” of the subaltern.
By everyday cosmopolitanism I mean the idea and practice of transcending self – at the various levels of individual, family, tribe, religion, ethnicity, community, and nation – to associate with agonistic others in everyday life. It describes the ways in which the ordinary members of different ethno-religious and cultural groupings mix, mingle, intensely interact, and share in values and practices – the cultures of food, fashion, language, and symbols – in history and memory. It signifies how such association and sharing affect the meaning of “us” and “them” and its dynamics, which in turn blurs and problematizes the meaning of group boundaries. The “everyday cosmopolitanism” may not go as far as the often abstract and philosophical notions of Stoicist “world citizenship,” but engages in the modest and down-to-earth though highly relevant ways in which ordinary men and women from different communal cosmos manage to engage, associate, and live together at the level of the everyday.

Asef Bayat is Academic Director of ISIM and holds the ISIM Chair at Leiden University.

ISIM R E V I E W 22 / AUTUMN 2008

Thanks for reading PREVIOUS BLOGS # 1

« Previous
« Prev Post


Post a Comment