Archive for June 2009

Abstract writing and essay discussion

June 30, 2009

The deadline for handing in the Abstract for the essay was on Monday (22/06).

I have to say I haven’t procrastinated as much since needing to do revision for my final yr at uni. Choosing a title for the essay was very difficult so I decided to stick to something simple and to the point for now and then refine it later to make it more relevant to how my essay shapes out.

So the Title (for now) is Contemporary Islamic and Middle Eastern Art – can it be defined?

I have to admit I struggled to do this as I kept wanting to include so much information without as many words. I ended up with about 3 drafts and still was not very happy with what I had. Some of it didn’t even make sense:

Islamic art encompasses many artworks that were produced within Islamic dynasties of centuries old and stems right the way through these to today’s work produced by artists currently living and working across the globe. One may assume that the link that binds these works is the faith of Islam. Is this a correct assumption? The definition of Islamic Art has been disputed by many as it is believed by some to be broad and with significant historical background to take in to consideration.

It also takes into account the emigration of people from one land to another (sometimes to and other times away from Muslim lands). Have they been restricted by their own society? If they are not practising the religion of Islam, are they Muslims that can be relied on to paint a picture of the cultural scene at that moment?

The evolution of design and aesthetics, tastes, technology and materials are also an important aspect that shaped the current Middle Eastern and Islamic Art scene not to mention historical events such as September 11th. Are we trying to understand the East? Do we get a realistic picture?

A very recent exhibition held at the Saatchi Gallery, London (2009) ‘Unveiled: New art from the Middle East’ brings together such examples of varied artworks. Similar collections for public view have been gathered in New York’s Modern Art Museum and in the Louvre, France. By comparing the array of subject matters addressed in the artworks we can gauge that certain topics such as political divisions, social unrest, religious conflicts and freedom of speech are prominent and therefore of high importance.

These are, however, negative aspects that have been highlighted for almost a decade now as the media has increased the reporting on the various ‘wars on terror’. Is this a means of communicating and informing the West of Middle Eastern ideology? Is it succeeding? Which artworks are of a positive and more inclusive nature?

Following the rule that art is a representation of public sentiment, is it fair to say that the art work on show in current exhibitions of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art is within the correct context to be termed as Islamic or Middle Eastern? If it is not accepted within the boundaries of the social rules from which it derives, is it feasible to draw a true picture of the culture and themes they are said to represent?

I then sent an email to a friend/peer with the following to explain what I was trying to say in my abstract and I think it came out better than the actual thing:

In layman’s terms I guess I’m trying to say that people living outside of Islamic borders (physical or not) are producing the artwork that is termed ‘Islamic’ yet their only link to Islam is sometimes their origins. This could then be argued from various p.o.v’s – it’ just that I need it to be presented as more of a question than a statement so that I can argue the different views.

I also want to bring in the idea that their rebellion against their homelands restrictions is the reason they left those places and that those restrictions are what their work may sometimes centre on. This is certainly the impression given through the exhibitions that are around at the moment – negative stuff seems to pull in the crowds?

In some cases they may be going against the acceptable social behaviour/beliefs and perhaps can’t be termed as ‘Islamic or Middle Eastern’ because it’s not a majority view? As in not truly representing the cultures and lives of the Muslims but only a snapshot of certain aspects. Once again if I make this more of a question I can give different views.

The angle I was going to take was one of the West trying to understand the East. In the essay itself I’d like to mention very briefly the events since Sep 11th and how they’ve shaped the Islamic art and Middle East art movement to become more globalised but still centred on topics such as politics and war.

I knew I’d get some useful feedback from Andy and the other part-timers (Esmeralda, Rupert and Isaac) who were also discussing their essays. So even though I wasn’t happy with what they’d be reading (as in my hand-in) I knew it was a necessary step in order to make progress.

In regards to the title – this was said to be fine. I could make it more specific to the content I was writing by adding an additional line in the style of a slogan of some sort.

The first paragraph was ok too but could do with a definition of Islamic Art – perhaps as a quote.

Actual notes I took:

Look on wiki for tips on ‘how to write a research question’
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Can the work be defined by curatorial agenda?

Near the start of the essay mention certain practitioners that are challenging or engaging with the assumption (mentioned in current draft). Some may say their work is more than ‘belief’ or other angles to their creative process – this is a key element and could prove to be very interesting. There is a distinction between reflecting the faith or the creative process (?)

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Stay away from media as a subject area – e.g. much has already been said about Sep 11th and it could veer off into other directions so best to stay clear of it.

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Alhambra is a very good example of where Eastern and Western creative processes merged (various reasons) but techniques of both styles were adopted and embraced by both the locals and foreigners. Focus on the sparks between the East and West.

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Using the examples given in the 4th paragraph – specify artists/practitioners who are expressing these things

war and victimisation – is this just a current theme?

Maybe discuss the art scene in the context of culture being embedded in religion and that it cannot be separated.

Can still mention Saatchi’s intentions – knowing that the public is aware of what is going on in the Middle East, they will be more inclined to come to an exhibition that gives an insight to that culture.

So now I know to concentrate on a few particular artists who seem to be making a name for themselves in contemporary Islamic and Middle Eastern Art. I guess I should look into what their motivations are and the subject matters they like to express the most and more importantly their choice of medium.

Once again my to-do list is piling up. I have a feeling I won’t get round to doing the bulk of my tasks till the summer break by which time I’ll probably start panicking about the 2nd year! The pressure will probably do me some good though and hopefully snap me out of the procrastinary stage I seem to be stuck in.

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Tutorial – notes and ideas stemmed

June 8, 2009

Date of tutorial: 03/06/09

Tutor: Jonathan Kearney

It’s been a while since my last tutorial so it’s interesting to see my blog posts being looked at from the perspective of someone who visits after a while and basically catches up with what I’ve been doing.

Jonathan asked about my recent activities and I gave him an overall summary similar to the update in my previous post. He then asked me about various subjects such as Arabic calligraphy and whether this can be used in m project. Something you may be aware I have considered a while back. He suggested I experiment even if it doesn’t go to plan. At least that way I can learn from the experience and progress through it knowing I gave it a shot. I guess by giving all your ideas a chance to formulate and be tried out means there’s less chance of regret later.

Jonathan also reminded me to check out his write-up on the uni wiki about reflective blog writing and showed me some of the bullet points that would be good for me to use in assessing my older posts. The intention would be for me to question myself about how/what I was thinking at the time of writing the post and compare that to how/what I’m thinking/feeling now. Have I changed my views on certain subjects? Do I feel the same about them?

We also discussed the requirements for the essay which although not due till September is still something I need to start focussing on. It’s a 5,000 word essay about contextualising my project. I think I had difficulty in understanding what exactly this meant when I first started this course. And people use the word ‘contextualising’ aaaall the time at uni (no exaggeration). I think it’s one of those words that means a lot and does a good job in getting a point across but is sometimes used to fill gaps in explaining an artist’s thoughts on their own work and where it fits. So it’s handy and vague enough to be used all over the place.

My understanding (now that I’ve also discussed it with Johnathan) is that it’s about looking at what’s going on in the world or the circle of work around you and seeing where you or your work belongs. This could be from any perspective really and can sometimes be very subjective but where (like in this essay) you have to address it for formal writing you need to be quite objective. You also need to acknowledge that there might not be an allocated slot waiting for you to park yourself and your work in. Or there might be one but it’s over crowded. Or what if you have to make your own patch of grass in the field? Whatever you do you have to back it up. And so I need to think of a relevant subject to discuss.

I could do something that looks at contemporary middle eastern art – especially as I did the lengthy posts about the Unveiled exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. But I think I’ve drained myself on that subject. There really are so many possibilities and subjects I could cover so I’m going to give myself a few days to really think about it.

Our mini deadline is for June 22nd by which time we must provide our tutors with a title, abstract and bibliography. I better get my skates on.

So overall we had a good discussion about project ideas that I can experiment with and subjects I could consider for my writing. Below I have typed out the actual notes I took during the tutorial:

Maybe write a reflective summary on each point discussed previously in for example the Saatchi post.

Or for example after completing one task think about it at a deeper level – How did I feel about this? Did it fulfill it’s goal? Was I frustrated? If yes then why? If not then why not? Does it mean enough to me?

Refer to content on wiki about reflective blog writing

Possibilities of using Arabic calligraphy in my work – why not experiment?

Digital surface has no limit in terms of scale so could zoom in on detailed work

Using existing ideas of fragmented parts making a whole, how about words within words within words so that as you keep zooming they appear just as the first word did to start with. Would this then be only calligraphic text or normal arabic writing? Both are very different – maybe they could be combined?

Is there software that can produce an outline and then fill the shape of the word with other words provided? Maybe it could be created?

The word Allah (swt) repeated within itself has strong metaphorical message.

If it doesn’t work then so be it. You’ll learn something from the experience anyway. Then the reflective questions come into play and you go through the process of fully understanding how that experimentation made a difference to the project as a whole.

It could be interesting to look back at the Saatchi post now and ask myself about what I wrote and why I wrote with focus on certain aspects.

Essay abstract (roughly 200-300 words), title and bibliography are due 22nd June!!

Contextualising – understanding where you stand. Could be saying ‘this is one angle and this is another’

It is important to be objective and know what’s going on around you even if you don’t like it.