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The West Seen By The East

Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Spain. Historic and current works showing Europe from the perspective of Islamic cultures.
Jun 2005

West by East, curated by the Tunisian writer Abdelwahab Meddeb, is an exhibition that deals with how Westerners – Europeans in particular – have been viewed in the past and are viewed today from the perspective of the Islamic East. As stated in the press release, Westerners have paid considerably more attention to the East than Easterners have to the West. While Orientalism is a cultural tradition recognized in the West, one rarely finds the West represented in the arts of "eastern" (and even southern) cultures. For that reason, the exhibition’s organizer, the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), alongside the show’s historical exhibition pieces, invited artists and intellectuals from the eastern cultural circle to express their current views of the West.

Divided into themes and according to cultural history, the layout of the exhibition should emphasize how the Eastern world sees the West by highlighting various viewpoints and attitudes which have existed side by side for centuries. Conflict, solidarity, exchange, and fascination are revealed as elements of a love-hate relationship that combines irritation, emulation and rejection. The exhibition’s organizers also aim to focus on signs of proximity between the two worlds that often go unnoticed, overshadowed by bitter confrontations.

To better understand this complex situation, the exhibition presents a total of 215 works shown in seven thematic chapters. Each section or chapter of the exhibition combines views from the past (from the 12th to 19th centuries) with those of the present. Historic miniatures, manuscripts, maps, paintings and photographic works are juxtaposed with contemporary forms of artistic expression and meant to serve as the key to understanding the respective questions and aspects.

The exhibition’s contemporary voices are represented through the works of nine visual artists who present their own views of the West: Marjane Satrapi, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Mohamed el Baz, Shadi Ghadirian, Jellel Gasteli, Bouchra Khalili, Hassan Musa, Khosrow Hassangadeh, and Touhami Ennadre. These are assigned to hitherto unpublished statements by five writers : Houda Barakât, Nilufer Gölë, Sorour Kasmaï, Daryush Shayegan, and Salah Stétié.

The Seven Chapters of the Exhibition:

1. Al-Idrîsî. A Description of Europe
The exhibition’s point of departure is a map drawn by the Arab geographer Al-Idrîsî while in the service of the Christian king, Norman Roger II of Sicily (1105 -1154), who commissioned him to produce a systematic description of Europe. Accompanying ths section is a wall painting by Marjane Satrapi (Iran) .
2. Ibn al-Munqîdh. Between the Jihad and the Crusades.
The Syrian Usâma Ibn al-Munqîdh (1095-1188) represents the Islamic view of The Crusades. He was an enlightened Muslim who referred to the Western "other" as an enemy to whom friendship could perhaps be extended.
The video artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah (Algeria) filmed the remains of his family castle in Shaizar, Syria.
3. The Difference in Similarity
The Koran contains elements of the Bible and Jewish scripts as well as episodes taken from the Gospels and Apocrypha. The religious iconography of Islam draws its inspiration from these episodes. In spite of it being forbidden to visually portray such subject matter, living in a coexistence with Christians prompted Muslim artists to paint scenes from the life of the Christian prophet.
In his installation, Mohammed El Baz (Morocco) refers to Abraham’s sacrifice in a present-day context.
4. Painting the West
Painting has played a major role in Europe and the Islamic world recognizing one another. Since the 15th century, the works of Muslim painters have engendered in many ways their awareness of the West.
The accompanying photographs are by Shadi Ghadirian (Iran).
5. The Desire to Westernize
The Islamic world’s fascination with Europe coincides with the Industrial Revolution. The argument was whether and how advancements from the West were to be assimilated, without forfeiting one’s own traditions. Such debates only increased over the course of the colonial expansion of European powers on the Islamic world.
This chapter is divided into 3 sections: Photography and Kings (Royal Portraits), The Modernization of Islamic Societies, and The Journey West (to Europe).
The video artist Bushra Khalili (Morocco) responds to this chapter with an artwork.
6. From Love to Tension
Collections of Western art in the Islamic World (Egypt and Iran).
7. The War of Images
Since the 1920s the conflicts between pro and anti-Western factions in the Islamic world have increased, and today the use of modern media, rapidly adopted by all the parties, has lead to a full-blown war of images.
This phenomenon is commented and reflected upon by four artists: Hassan Musa (Sudan), Khosrow Hassanzadeh (Iran), Samira Mahkmalbaf (Iran), Touhami Ennadre (Morocco).

(compiled from information of the press releases)

Occidente visto desde Oriente
West by East

27 May - 25 Sept. 2005

Centre de Cultura Contemp.de Barcelona

C/ Montalegre 5
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Abdelwahab Meddeb

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