Ali Khadra, the Editor-in-Chief of Canvas, a Middle Eastern art and culture magazine, takes exception with Anna Somers Cocks’s editorial on Western influence in Contemporary Middle Eastern art:
What was the Middle Eastern art scene before the western institutions such as the Tate and the British Museum got interested in it? Long before the Tate formed a Middle Eastern art acquisitions committee; before New York’s New Museum opened the exhibition, “The Generational: Younger than Jesus”, that featured works by Middle Eastern artists, among others; before Saatchi’s “Unveiled: New Art From the Middle East”; before the Chelsea Art Museum’s “Iran Inside Out: Influences of Homeland and Diaspora on the Artistic Language of 56 Contemporary Iranian Artists”; before six Middle Eastern Pavilions and five platforms showing works by Middle Eastern artists at this year’s Venice Biennale; before Christie’s set up shop in Dubai and witnessed over 70 world records for Middle Eastern art—there was a staunch tradition of patronage and it was by those who belonged to the huge Middle Eastern diaspora.
It was these patrons, and the artists whom they supported, who were responsible for Middle Eastern art’s arrival in the west. Needless to say, the artists are the Hirsts, Warhols and Pollocks of the Middle East, but one hopes that, with the advent of institutions in the region, we will be able to bring our key artists to the fore. The Middle East seeks to stand up there, side by side with institutions of the west. Of course, there were also the curators who raised the flag for what were to become some of today’s hottest Middle Eastern artists. In fact, these artists’ works—aside from being in renowned private collections the world over—are also on the walls of some of the west’s most prominent institutions.
Unfortunately, the tragedies of the past and present continue to disfigure the region. The Middle East has struggled and managed to survive, but where was the time, money and energy to create proper infrastructures for art, when we have had non-stop political conflicts, from Intifadas, occupations and civil wars to dictatorships, nuclear threats and other mortal issues?
Let us also not forget that the countries of the region were colonies and that independence is a relatively recent experience for many, if not most. “Colonisation” means, among many things, that in former colonies, the European schools of art have had and still have enormous influence. Nevertheless, we have come up with our own unique style that has only fairly recently found its own voice. But our own voice it is.
Contemporary Art in the Middle East (The Art Newspaper)