Past-Present-Future: Time-Based Artistic Practices from the Gulf

By Melanie Janet Sindelar
Submitted to Session P5880 (You Must Listen to the Artist! The Gulf's Creative Class in the Twenty-First Century, 2020 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Cultural Studies; Modernization; Pop Culture; Theory;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Contemporary visual artists have produced a remarkable body of work dealing with present and future socio-economic and political challenges in the Gulf. Often, these artists have done so by referring to specific time frames – situating and addressing the past and present, or speculating about the future. Based on both ethnographic fieldwork, and the analysis of art through visual methods, this paper seeks to understand why artists have referred to such time-frames in their work, and which tropes and themes have been invoked as a result.

Focusing on the artistic practices of artists Sophia Al Maria (also known as Sci-Fi Wahabi) and Monira Al Qadiri, this paper suggests that the themes these artists address emanate from the unique sociopolitical and artistic contexts in which these artists produce their work. These themes include the relation between heritage and nation-building, capitalism, consumption and labor, as well as dystopian and utopian visions of the Gulf.

Their work responds to the intellectual concerns and interests of anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers who theorize heritage, futurism, object-oriented ontologies, speculative realism, and accelerationism. This paper, therefore, not only provides an overview of the oeuvre of their artistic output – but shows how it connects to some of the most pertinent intellectual concerns of the present. As such, this paper suggests that researchers should not view artists’ work solely as objet d’analyse. Instead, they should take into account that artists actively shape scholarly discussions and contribute, through their own artistic research trajectories, to academic debates in and about the Gulf. By analysing this body of artistic work and its contributions to such current debates, this paper contributes to a better understanding of the Gulf’s creative class in the 21st century.