Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, History of Art, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History/Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Perennial Painting and Modernism’s Mortality: The New Syrian Art, 1946-76

This study tracks modernist painting through Syria’s cultural institutions from 1946-1976. By researching a series of individual Syrian artists and their production at the foreign academy settings that occupied the center of Syrian art production, I investigate how artists dealt with rapid reconfigurations of the relationship between art, education, and governance after WWII. In 1958, a new and comprehensive arts bureaucracy instituted by the state began to circulate its national artists to European art academies for finishing. The resulting intellectual formation incorporated Arab and European artists together in study at academies in Cairo, Rome, Paris, and Damascus. While the state invested capital and rhetoric in that multi-national academic system – so appropriating the same foundation claimed by Euro-American modern art in liberal educational ideals and the democratic nation-state – it also recuperated that symbolism for a centrally planned monopoly on culture. In the early sixties, Syrian artists saw painting as a transformative practice meant to realize an authentic self, followed by the realization of a just society. In the sixties, however, a sequence of proclaimed radical breaks with modern art provided that painterly practice with a distinct, anti-Western valence. After the Arab loss in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, a new body of cultural criticism emerged that critiqued modern conceptions of painting that presupposed its universality. The protests in Paris in May of 1968 – joined by the Syrian artists studying in Paris – again lambasted painting’s presumption to universal significance, further rejecting it as a commodified object and oppressive force within contemporary society. By a sustained analysis of the conditions that produced modernism in Syria and subsequently adjudicated its relevance, I investigate how the formal preoccupations of modernist painting (often literally the product of a specific school of art) in interaction with entirely other contemporary contexts might be marked as living practices or dead objects.