Current Institutional Affiliation
Post Doctoral Fellow, Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Forms for Our Time: Modern Art and the Problem of the Human in Baghdad, 1940s-1960s

This project is a study of the emergence of modern art in Baghdad, in between World War II and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Rather than focus on the specific difference between Iraqi modern art and European modern art, I ask how modern art might have contributed to the formation of the socialist-secular modernity of Ba'thist Iraq by producing a concrete image of "the human" [al-insaan] as a suffering being – one both quite different from the abstract ideal of "the human" constituted by the European discourse of rights and yet descendant from the same genealogy, coming to Iraq by way of communist cells established in the late Ottoman Empire. I inquiry into how modern art constituted such an image of the human, and how the problem of the human constituted a particular practice of modern art in Iraq. Specifically I argue that modern art's search for forms that would be "of the time" [mu'asira] converged with a contemporaneous search for forms that could think "the human" as an epistemology for suffering; by giving concrete forms to the abstract "human", modern art then gave intelligible form to life in Baghdad. This research will demonstrate that modernity involved not only political and economic transformations but also the elaboration of entire creative projects to generate new means of expression capable of articulating the vicissitudes of life, and death.