Artists from Syria in the International Artworld: Mediators of a Universal Humanism – project by Cristina Cusenza

6 Gennaio 2020

Institute of Social & Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK;

With the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, many artists left as part of a massive migratory flow out of the country. Other artists had already migrated because of perceived constraints to art-making due to censorship and lack of professional opportunities. Both waves of migration converged in artistic hubs throughout the Middle East and Europe. From the interviews I carried out with visual artists from Syria displaced in London and other locations, it emerged that they faced a shared dilemma. Many wished to move away from politics focusing on universal themes like human suffering, which in the Syrian art-scene were perceived to be apolitical. In exile, however, it is precisely these themes that marked their works as political in the eyes of agents of the artworld and international audiences. I argue that this politicization is a form of essentialization and homogenization of the Syrian art-scene abroad, for categorizing these artists as ‘Syrian’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ flattens their individual creativity by placing them within a national or regional category. This form of ‘othering’ is rooted in the history of Western colonialism in the Middle East and postcolonial geopolitics and power relations structuring the Syrian conflict and Western perceptions of it. I show how my informants attempt to overcome these constraints by employing the discursive register of universalism, while often organizing their lives around the ‘Syrian artist’ category. 

Keywords: Syrian artistminority artsuniversalismpolitical art

Full Article: Cristina Cusenza – Documentary


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