Light from the Middle East – Victoria & Albert Museum

17th February 2013

A very thought-provoking exhibition from mainly female photographers, which in light of the position most women are assumed to hold in middle-eastern, Muslim countries, this seemed out-of-step.  Although the title of the exhibition ‘Light from the Middle East’ would suggest that it included all the countries from that region it was glaringly obvious that nothing was shown from any Israeli photographer, the nearest thing to Israeli was a single montage of watch towers from the Israeli Palestinian border that was made in the Becher style.

Broken into three distinct genres within the halls, the Recording images come first, followed by Reframing and finally Resisting.  

The images in Recording weren’t anything more than can be seen anywhere about the middle east, some of its culture and particularly it’s violence, in fact under the final heading the images here are very mild, possibly the most alarming scene is of four dead bodies posed for press during the Iranian revolution, the rest didn’t show me any more than I’ve seen elsewhere and didn’t really seem to say anymore than has been said many times about middle-eastern, Muslim countries at other times.

Reframing was an interesting collection where modern images were treated to appear like early twentieth-century coloured photographs.  In fact I think the most attractive and meaningful image in the whole exhibition was hung within this section and created some debate and I believe the point of Gareth’s next article on the visit.

Raeda Saadeh, ‘Who will make me real?’ Victoria & Albert Museum Light From The Middle East

Based upon the work by Titian ‘Venus of Urbino’, who probably based his painting on ‘Sleeping Venus’ by Giorgione (which Titian finished for him after his death) and ultimately copied in style by just about anyone painting nudes from 1500 onward

Sleeping Venus by Giorgione Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

Venus of Urbino Titian (Free Commons Image)

This image is  really intriguing and for me it summed up the seemingly schizophrenic way that artists from Muslim countries depict their art.

The heritage of this society is one of strict adherence to the Koran, its tenets and Sharia Law.  It’s only in the very recent past (since oil extraction on a vast scale) that some of the people have been seen to either question their beliefs or want to try to re-interpret them.  The great majority of the people who inhabit these countries are poor, uneducated and conformist and for the ‘elite’ to now seemingly embrace western values and trends, away from this tradition, must cause a difficult burden to be placed upon them especially in light of the way that the clerics in the Muslim religion tend to appear so dogmatic in their renouncement of all things that promote free thinking beyond the 14th Century.

For Raeda Saadeh to clearly mimic a form of western art that would cause even the most mild of Muslim clerics to tear his hair and beard out in denouncement, but to also introduce a very clear link to her Muslim heritage with the covering of her body is a statement to me that she sees merit in both ideals.  Why she chose to use newsprint as the covering I don’t really know but my surmise is that newsprint is a product that is generic to both cultures and so is another way of linking the two cultures she wants to share.

The final section Resisting was again a clear indication to me that those artists that contribute to this art are trying to bring light to bear on the practices of the more repressive governments within that geographical area.  It  has to be remembered that there aren’t any democratically elected governments in the vast majority of the countries within this region and a lot of them only hang on to their power through fear and violence.  Therefore for anyone to speak out in any way against these regimes is not necessarily the way to continue to enjoy good health.  It’s not surprising therefore that the images displayed aren’t totally condemnatory and don’t display a totally open message.  By keeping the images non-specific in whom they’re aimed at, but at the same time condemning the practices, is probably the safest way to go.

The USA and some of the other western governments don’t escape the light of criticism from these artists either and their reticence to openly condemn them as well shows that they have a healthy regard for the power of the west and their past attempts at suppression of anti-western feelings with such things s rendition.

I went away with a feeling of disappointment that artists have to be so circumspect in their approach to sounding their disquiet about political subjects that they have to follow the time-honoured tradition of metaphor and obfuscation.

What did I learn?  Difficult to say that what I’ve written about will impact my work directly as I don’t have to fear repressive regimes in the same way they do, nor am I very interested in using my work to make political statements.  I can only say that this has made me aware that I’m lucky that I can produce my work in safety and without fear or reprisal or physical harm and that I’ve no need to make those statements of politics to change the lot of the general populace.


2 Responses to Light from the Middle East – Victoria & Albert Museum

  1. vickiuvc says:

    My idea on the newspaper was that it provided protection—and yet it is flimsy; easy to destroy, and showed her form without showing her form. Also the headlines on the news print. Going to have to rip over my catalogue today and have a good look! But at the moment, I’m getting prints ready for Saturday!

    • Eddy Lerp says:

      I guess the interpretation of an individual image is governed by your interpretation of the collection and I see the artists trying to find a balance between Muslim and western culture and this one shows the western influence from the Titian copy and the Muslim influence from the whole body cover up with the newspaper as the linking mechanism.

      I also think that your interpretation has validity for me as well, it’s just in the way you look at groups and individuals I suppose.

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