Nasser Rabbat

  • Charles Théodore Frère, Grand Pyramid de Gyzeh, n.d., oil on panel, 8 1⁄2 × 15 1⁄8".


    ORIENTALIST PAINTING dates back at least to the Renaissance but was especially popular from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth, a period that tellingly coincided with the heyday of colonialism. Intent on displaying “Oriental” (read: Ottoman and Arab, mostly) life in all its strangeness and colorfulness, artists working in this subgenre of academic painting espoused a number of thematic categories that accounted for most of their output. These included portraits of Oriental stereotypes (tribal chieftains, guards, or mystics), street views or interiors, sun-drenched picturesque

  • Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad, 1959. Courtesy of Tamayouz Excellence Award, Rifat Chadriji Photographic Archive.
    passages April 30, 2020

    Rifat Chadirji (1926–2020)

    RIFAT CHADIRJI, a pioneering Iraqi architect and architecture theorist, died in London on April 10 from complications related to Covid-19. He was ninety-three. He had continued until late in his life to expound his views on buildings, culture, history, religion, and Iraq. His design days may have been behind him—he had not built anything in more than forty years—but his influence on an expansive notion of modern architecture encompassing bold regional experiments has not waned.

    Chadirji was a leading figure among a group of exceptional artists and architects who, after studying abroad in the

  • View of “Ancient Nubia Now,” 2019–20, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


    THE LATE SINGER and composer Hamza El Din (1929–2006) spent many decades touring America with his oud and tar (a kind of tambourine) to introduce American audiences to Nubian music. This indefatigable artist, born in the village of Toshka in Nubia, southern Egypt, had committed himself to preserving the musical heritage of his native land after he witnessed its horrific submersion under the waters of Lake Nasser in the late 1960s in the wake of the construction of the High Dam. The inundation swallowed many Nubian villages and permanently displaced their inhabitants. This draconian act of

  • Kamal Boullata, Paris, March 1997. Photo: Serge Picard/Agence VU/Redux.


    GRANADA STILL BEARS WITNESS to the golden age of Islamic culture in the palaces of its Alhambra, in the gardens of Generalife, and in the neighborhood of Albaicín, which grew across the Alhambra hills right before the fall. Inscribed in our collective memory as the last Andalusian city to be conquered by the Catholic kings in 1492, it is the perfect place for an Arab or a Muslim to meditate on exile. For centuries, poets, essayists, and moralists recalled Granada as our paradise lost—that is, until the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) sank in. Then Palestine became the fresh wound, the last loss,

  • Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2017. Photo: Mohamed Somji.
    architecture January 19, 2018

    France’s Oriental Dream: The Louvre Abu Dhabi

    WITH THE INAUGURATION of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum in early November 2017, France fulfilled a wish it had harbored for a long time. This ancient dream, which emerged under the Sun King Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth century, was nothing less than to assume the mantle of Imperial Rome, claiming its cultural and territorial heritage. The dream ebbed and flowed for three centuries, but its crucible and the moment that shaped its colonial, epistemological, and symbolic dimensions was the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt in 1798. This ambitious adventure ended less than three years later

  • Ginane Makki Bacho, Cedar, 2011, shrapnel, 32 1/4 × 23 5/8 × 16 1/8". From the series “Cedars,” 2010–16.


    THREE YEARS AFTER the Islamic State’s brutal offensive in Iraq, and with no end in sight to the civil war raging in Syria after six years of conflict, the Middle East is confronting new waves of fundamentalism and fascism. At the same time, the West has made a dramatic turn inward, with potentially disastrous consequences for its role in the international community. Now, when art’s critical engagement and resistance are so acutely needed, Artforum invited art historian Nasser Rabbat to reflect on two recent exhibitions in Beirut that offer a glimpse of a more cosmopolitan future.


  • Zaha Hadid Architects, Avenues Mall Mosque, 2009, Kuwait. Rendering. © Zaha Hadid Architects.

    Zaha Hadid

    ZAHA HADID WAS MANY THINGS—one of the most creative architects of her generation, a pathbreaking woman in a field still dominated by men, a formidable critic, and a beloved mentor. She was also, in her own words, a secular Iraqi Arab who had grown up as a Muslim with the religion’s ambience, rituals, and architectural manifestations around her. This assertion of identity would have been unimportant for a critical assessment of her oeuvre but for one detail: Hadid produced designs for three of the most magnificently innovative mosques of our time. These were her entry to the competition for

  • Leslie MacDonald Gill, Cable & Wireless Great Circle Map, 1946, lithograph, 40 1/8 × 49 5/8".

    “Artist and Empire”

    ASIDE FROM KEEPING the idea of Palestine alive, Edward Said had one lifelong project: From his earliest writings, he strove to reveal the processes through which imperialism seeped into and colored the cultural production of the Western colonial powers during their centuries-long ascendancy and domination, which have effectively extended into the present. In Culture and Imperialism (1993) in particular, he argued that there is a reciprocal rapport between literature—especially the novel, the main form of modernist expression—and the colonial empire. Not only did colonialism inform the

  • A marble bust of a Palmyrene man discovered by the team of Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra, Syria, September 1, 2002. Photo: Marc Deville/Getty Images.

    ISIS and Palmyra

    MEDIA OUTLETS around the world have grown increasingly indifferent to the brutality of the ongoing war in Syria, numbed by more than four years of senseless killing and destruction in that cursed country. But a recent attack finally touched a raw nerve among global literati, for the victim is someone with whom they can identify. On August 18, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, the eighty-three-year-old former director of antiquities for the ancient site of Palmyra, before hanging his mutilated body from a traffic light in the city he loved and refused to leave,

  • Ahmad Mūsā–, huntsmen in a winter landscape, ca. 1370, gouache on paper, 15 3/4 × 11 3/4".


    TODAY, IMAGES SEEM TO WIELD unthinkable power—and are subject to unthinkable assault. Over the past decade, horrific reprisals for the publication of images of Islamic religious figures have become tragically common—the latest episodes in Paris and Copenhagen being only the two most recent examples. And as this issue goes to press, we are confronted by near-daily reports of the ideologically motivated destruction of priceless archaeological sites in areas of Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS. Yet there is a long history of figuration in Islamic art, one that belies the iconoclasm underpinning recent events. Artforum invited eminent scholar NASSER RABBAT to look back at this representational tradition and provide vital historical perspective on the highly charged questions of iconography, visuality, and cultural difference we now confront.

    OVER THE PAST DECADE, the world has been repeatedly stunned by acts of violence purportedly rooted in a deep-seated Islamic antagonism to figural representation—an antagonism especially directed toward the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. From the bloody protests following the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s September 2005 publication of twelve cartoons mocking the Prophet, which left scores of people dead in many Islamic capitals, to the terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left seventeen dead in Paris this past January and was allegedly

  • Paul Guiragossian, Portrait of Juliette, 1978, oil on Masonite, 78 3/4 x 39 3/8".

    Paul Guiragossian

    At its best, to be Lebanese meant to be multicultural avant la lettre, having to cohabitate with seventeen different religions and several ethnicities and languages—all in an area not much larger than Delaware. The Armenians, descendants of Great War refugees who suffered an acute trauma in the 1915 genocide that decimated their communities and stripped them of their ancestral home in Anatolia, form one of the smallest Lebanese communities. They are thoroughly urbanized, cosmopolitan, and polyglot.

    This was the culture from which Paul Guiragossian emerged, and that his life and art encapsulated.

  • “She Who Tells a Story”

    THE QUINTESSENTIAL STORYTELLER IS, of course, Scheherazade—a woman whose very existence is threatened, who reacts by concocting fantasies to keep her would-be executioner enraptured for a thousand and one nights. This legendary ploy underscores an oft-overlooked aspect of storytelling: It can be an act of resistance. The exhibition “She Who Tells a Story,” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this past winter, powerfully evoked fabulation’s insurgent streak. Twelve contemporary women photographers hailing from Iran and the Arab world deployed pictures not just as literal representations,