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New Book: Catalog The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society

The Fertile Crescent is a remarkable project, introducing audiences to the work of extraordinary women artists from the Middle East and the Middle East diaspora. The art is as stunning as it is critical, dazzling as it is political. It demonstrates how important the visual arts are for addressing issues of compelling importance about women, gender, sex and sexuality.”—Joan W. Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.






Five years in the making, the highly anticipated 256-page volume The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society will be published by Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art and distributed by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers in November 2012. The book is a captivating, timely, and comprehensive overview of the work of contemporary women artists of Middle East heritage who are described by the authors and essayists as living in “unavailable intersections,” their “precarity” making them impossible to pigeonhole by simple national or religious identities. The work of these multi-generational, multi-national artists examines and reveals from their global perspectives matters of gender, homeland, geopolitics, theology, and the environment.

This stunning volume is accompanied by an unprecedented fall 2012 multi-venue exhibition (and accompanying events) also entitled The Fertile Crescent taking place at Rutgers and Princeton Universities, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Arts Council/Paul Robeson Center for the Arts in Princeton, the West Windsor Arts Council Galleries, three public libraries, and other locations in New Jersey.

For more information, visit www.fertile-crescent.org

The Fertile Crescent book and core exhibition focus on 24 artists from the various countries that comprise the area (see list below), among them artists well known in Euro-American countries such as Mona Hatoum, Parastou Forouhar, Shirin Neshat, Sigalit Landau, and Shazia Sikander, but also artists whose work is primarily known only in the Middle East. These artists address the status of women in the Middle East today, drawing from such themes as orientalism, cultural heritage, colonialism, globalization, surveillance, regional conflict, identity and the impact of multi-national geographic existence, and the iconography of the veil. The essays dissect the artists’ work and investigate the theoretical, historical, and political sources that have shaped their creative achievement.

Through painting, photography, performance art, multi-media, sculpture, and film, the artists deconstruct stereotypes of Middle East women, challenging the commonly held Western view of Middle East women as oppressed, the sexual objects of men, with their bodies hidden under veils, while acknowledging existing social and theological restrictions that have caused many of them to leave their homelands. The work is political, but goes beyond immediate confrontations to present a collective view of this region of the world that is nuanced, thought provoking and illuminating.

The authors in this volume (see bios below) address multi-nationalism and the interaction of Middle East countries with Euro-American cultures, resulting in U.S. and European relationships that are sometimes congenial and at other times problematic. The book also addresses the Middle East’s cultural diaspora in black Africa and South Asia. But above all, the book addresses the political and theoretical issues that inform the work of these artists.

In her essay The Art of Revolution in Egypt: Brushes with Women, leading gender specialist Margot Badran who has been living in Cairo, introduces to the West for the first time some of the most exciting and timely art emanating from women artists in Egypt. The work comments on the status of Egyptian women after the revolution of January 25, 2011 and reflects their reaction to the events in Tahrir Square and their disappointment in the lack of recognition of women’s rights by the new order.

The curators of the exhibition and authors of the book, Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, write in their essay about unavailable intersections: “The artists in the exhibition are representative of a complicated state of affairs. They consider themselves inheritors of the culture, values, and beliefs of their individual countries while often living elsewhere, and they deem themselves as also belonging to the nations in which they reside.”

In her essay, Kelly Baum introduces the concept of “precarity.” She writes, “Thanks to the institutionalization of misogyny and the ubiquity of conflict, ethnophobia, American imperialism, and state-sponsored oppression, ‘precarity’ is a daily experience for women and Middle Easterners. This is especially true for Middle Eastern women and women of Middle Eastern descent, whose gender, religion, and ethnicity compound the prejudices to which they are exposed.”

Essayist Gilane Tawadros, who a decade ago, organized the exhibition, Veil, one of the earliest curatorial efforts to address gender in contemporary Middle East art, deals with the issue of “unavailable intersections” and “precarity.” She writes “The work confounds our efforts to name, to define, to circumscribe geography, hinting at the difficulty of corralling a multitude of histories and cultures into a single geographical designation: “Middle East,” “Orient,” “North Africa,” “Fertile Crescent,” “Near East,” “Levant.”

The core Fertile Crescent artists are: Shiva Ahmadi (Iranian), Negar Ahkami (American/Iranian), Jananne Al- Ani (Iraqi), Ghada Amer (Egyptian/American) and Reza Farkhondeh and (Iranian), Fatima Al Qadiri (Kuwaiti), Monira Al Qadiri (Kuwaiti), Zeina Barakeh (Lebanese/Palestinian), Ofri Cnaani (Israeli), Nezaket Ekici (Turkish), Diana El Jeiroudi, (Syrian), Parastou Forouhar (Iranian), Ayana Friedman (Israeli), Shadi Ghadirian (Iranian), Mona Hatoum (Palestinian), Hayv Kahraman (Iraqi), Efrat Kedem (Israeli), Sigalit Landau (Israeli), Ariane Littman (Swiss/Israeli), Shirin Neshat (Iranian), Ebru Özseçen (Turkish), Laila Shawa (Palestinian), Shahzia Sikander (Pakistani), Fatimah Tuggar (Nigerian), Nil Yalter (French/Turkish).

The Fertile Crescent is intended to attract diverse audiences: art lovers, academics, students, feminists, religious leaders, historians, and anyone with an interest in gender issues, social issues, religion, and the complex geopolitical structure of the Middle East today, and its relationship to and impact on the rest of the world.

Related Event:
Wednesday, November 14, 6-8pm
Panel Discussion and Book Signing
New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street
New York, NY

Panelists: Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin, along with two of the contributors of essays to the book, Gilane Tawadros and Kelly Baum, and two of the artists featured in the book, Nil Yalter, a Paris-based artist of Turkish heritage and Negar Ahkami, an artist of Iranian descent born and living in the United States.

Book specifications:
ISBN: 978-0-9790497-9-8
Hbk, 8.5 x 11 in./256 pgs/180 color
U.S. $45.00 C DN $45.00 November 2012

Media contacts:

USA – Andrea Smith – +1 (646) 220 5950 – andreasmith202@gmail.com
Europe – Myrtille Beauvert – +1 (347) 295 7694 – +33 6 60 09 85 71 – myrtille.beauvert@gmail.com


NEGAR AHKAMI, Hot and Crusty, 2011

Bios of Authors and Essayists:

Margot Badran is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., and Senior Fellow at the Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. She holds a diploma from Al Azhar University, an MA from Harvard, and a DPhil from Oxford. She was the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Religion, and Preceptor at the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought at Northwestern University in 2003–04, and held the Georgianna Clifford and Reza Khatib Visiting Chair in Comparative Religion at St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn, in 2010. A co- editor of the Brill series on Women and Gender in the Middle East and Islamic World, she is on the boards of several publications. Her books include: (as editor) Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt (1995); Feminism beyond East and West: New Gender Talk and Practice in Global Islam (2007); Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (publ: 2009); and Gender and Islam in Africa: Rights, Sexuality, and Law (2011); and (as co-editor) Opening the Gates: An Anthology of Arab Feminist Writing (new edit. 2004). Her work, which also includes numerous scholarly articles as well as essays in newspapers and popular journals, has been translated into many languages. Among her awards are the Fulbright New Century Scholars award; ISIM (Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World) fellowship, Leiden; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at Bellagio; Social Science Research Council grant, New York; United States Institute of Peace grant; and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars fellowship.

Kelly Baum, BA, Art History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and MA and PhD, University of Delaware, 2005, is the Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Princeton University Art Museum. From 2002 to 2007, she was Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; and from 2008 to 2010, she was the Locks Curatorial Fellow for Contemporary Art (Princeton University Art Museum). Her exhibitions include Carol Bove, 2006; Jedediah Caesar, 2007; The Sirens’ Song, 2007; Transactions, 2007, all at the Blanton Museum; Nobody’s Property: Art, Land, Space, 2000–2010 and Doug Aitken: migration (empire), both at Princeton University Art Museum, 2010. Her essays have appeared in October, Art Journal, The Drama Review, and PUAM’s Record. Baum received an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Research Fellowship in support of the 2013 exhibit New Jersey as Non-site.

Judith K. Brodsky is Distinguished Professor Emerita, Department of Visual Arts, Rutgers University; Founding Director of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper renamed the Brodsky Center in her honor; Co- founder and Co-director with Ferris Olin of the Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art; and The Feminist Art Project, a national and international program to promote recognition of the esthetic and intellectual contributions of women artists. Herself one of the founders of the feminist art movement in the United States, she was a contributor to the first comprehensive history of that movement, called The Power of Feminist Art. An artist in her own right, her work is in permanent collections worldwide including the Library of Congress, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Stadtsmuseum, Berlin. Brodsky presently serves on the boards of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the International Print Center New York.

Ferris Olin is a Professor Emerita at Rutgers University and the Co-founder and Co-director of the Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art and The Feminist Art Project. She is curator with Judith K. Brodsky of the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series at Rutgers founded in 1971 by Joan Snyder. Recent publications with co- author Brodsky include: Stepping out of the beaten path: Feminism and the Visual Arts; SIGNS, A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2008; and Eccentric Bodies: The Body as Site for the Imprint of Age, Race, and Identity. With Brodsky, Olin created the Women Artists Archive National Directory (WAAND), a digital directory to archives of the papers of women artists in the US since 1945. Among the exhibitions she and Brodsky have curated are a 50-year retrospective of Faith Ringgold’s work, 2009 and How American Women Artists Invented Postmodernism, 1970-1975 in 2005.

Gilane Tawadros, an internationally-recognized curator and writer, was founding director of London’s Institute of International Visual Arts (InIVA), setting its distinctive artistic and intellectual agenda through an innovative program of exhibitions, publishing, education, multimedia and research. Anticipating new trends and developing new models of working, she established InIVA as a ground-breaking visual arts organization which redefined the parameters of internationalism, cultural diversity and research; InIVA is acknowledged as a pioneer in its field, “changing the landscape of contemporary art.” nationally and internationally. She has curated numerous exhibitions, including at the Venice Bienniale and the Brighton Photo Biennial and as a contributing curator to the Guangzhou Triennial. Among her books are Changing States: Contemporary Art and Ideas in an Era of Globalisation (2004) and Life is More Important Than Art (2007). Tawadros is currently preparing an anthology of her own writings with the working title, The Sphinx Contemplating Napoleon.

FATIMAH TUGGAR, At the Meat Market, 2000

The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society has been made possible through support from the National Endowment for the Arts grant number 10-4100-7033; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust; the Artis Foundation and the Office of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New York, both of which helped fund the participation of the five Israeli artists in the exhibition, Ofri Cnaani, Ayana Friedman, Efrat Kedem, Sigalit Landau, and Ariane Littman; Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany which funded the participation of Parastou Forouhar and Ebru Özseçen; and the Harris Finch Foundation. Several programs including the inaugural symposium were made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. Program partners and co-sponsoring departments including the Rutgers Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs also contributed to the funding, as did Basem and Muna Hishmeh, along with other individuals. The Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art is a unit of the Rutgers Office of the Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Partnerships in the Arts and Humanities and a member institute of the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership Consortium. The IWA receives General Program Support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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