Nasser Rabbat

  • 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


    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

    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

  • “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

  • 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,


    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

    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,

  • “Tea with Nefertiti”

    “NEVER DID THE LABOR OF MAN show me the human race in such a splendid point of view. In the ruins of Tentyra the Egyptians appeared to me giants,” exclaimed Dominique-Vivant Denon when, in the winter of 1798, he encountered the temple now known as Dendera, located south of the small town by the same name in Upper Egypt, as part of Napoleon’s French expedition to Egypt (1798–1801).* Faced with the marvels of Egyptian art, he and the other savants attached to the mission had to question the Greco-Roman paradigm of their own history of art and to admit Egypt as the fountainhead of the tradition

  • the new Islamic art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

    ON NOVEMBER 1 OF LAST YEAR, after much anticipation and a series of celebratory events, the new “Islamic Art” galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened to the public. They had been closed for more than eight years to allow for the renovation of the Greek and Roman galleries immediately below (the heavy machinery’s vibrations might have damaged the delicate objects) and during their hiatus had undergone their own extensive renovation. Their surface area and content have been expanded, their appearance and significance transformed. The result is nothing less than spectacular.


    When millions of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo this winter, they were linked as much by communications technologies as by the sheer spaces that surrounded them. Indeed, if the revolutionary movements sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa have been framed largely in terms of texts and tweets, the protesters’ momentous actions are no less inseparable from the very sites through which they moved and in which they assembled. Tahrir Square, in particular, is a densely layered territory in which the modern meets the Mamluk, Haussmannian vistas meet cold-war brutalism, and