The Politics of Art
Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan
Hanan Toukan


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction provides an overview of the conceptual and theoretical frameworks underpinning the book's arguments. It focuses on cultural and political theories of hegemony and counterhegemony, aesthetics and politics, and cultural diplomacy. It shows how the book contributes to those theoretical debates by proposing an interdisciplinary conceptual framework, which brings together the traditionally unconnected fields of international politics, contemporary art, and cultural studies to understand how cultural politics impacts and shapes the relationship between art and society in various Middle Eastern cities

1 Cultural Wars and the Politics of Diplomacy
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This chapter uncovers how international funding for Arab cultural production conducted under the larger umbrella of cultural diplomacy reflects a historical division constructed between two roles of contemporary art: as a critical voice in society, disrupting the political, or a space of cooptation and compromise, located on the margins of the political. This dichotomy frames art as positioned either within the framework of a postcolonial nationalism or as the effect of a Westernized liberalism. This narrative foreshadows shifts in the public's understanding of the connections between visual artistic production, international cultural diplomacy, civil society, and Arab cultural politics in the past twenty years. To understand the tensions surrounding contemporary art production, the chapter proposes that we think back to the fears and liberating hopes that galvanized the region's post-1967 war cultural discourses and charged atmosphere.

2 "An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist"
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The chapter probes the myriad structural factors, both global and local, that shape the dichotomy uncovered in chapter 1 and shows how it links to what we understand of art's relationship to the political. The chapter studies the sensibilities that constitute this understanding, beyond what it represents and how it is framed. It discusses the enabling factors that explicate how nonprofit and nongovernmental civil society organizations working in the arts evolved and accommodated themselves to the realities of the internationalization and local institutionalization of their domain through the changing politics and rationale of international funding. It argues that the existing and growing neoliberal logic taking hold in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan, which fabricated the myth of democratization, civil society, and in particular NGOs as inherently altruistic, largely aided the international framing of art scenes as alternative and even radical, while the local perception remained fundamentally a-political.

3 The Dissonance of Dissent: Art and Artists after 1990
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This chapter uncovers how the 1967 and the post-1990 generations of artists, writers and intellectuals understand the role of contemporary art in counterhegemony. It discusses the global and local cultural discourses, political transformations, and global forces that shaped each generation's conceptions to modernity, global contemporary art, and the role of the artist as a counterhegemonic figure with a dissenting voice in society. It unravels how these conceptions have transformed and the reasons they have done so over the last sixty years.

4 Beirut: The Rise and Rise of Postwar Art
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This chapter reveals how the development in the neoliberalization of "the postwar" Lebanese contemporary art scene limited the understanding of counterhegemony to a particular kind of aesthetical form and content of art. This art was consumed with positioning itself outside of nationalist art histories, intent as it was on showing the impossibility of ever truly representing history, trauma, or memory in postcolonial contexts. The chapter also uses the postwar art scene to explore what happens to discussions about works of art upon travel through the "colonial difference," or outside of the original context from which they emerged or were made about, and out in the global platforms of art making and circulation.

5 Amman: Uneasy Lie the Arts
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The chapter uncovers how what Jillian Schedlwer (2010) describes as the "spaces and practices of aspiration and consumption" were widened in Amman as a result of neoliberal structural transformations in the city. It argues that this widening democratized the small and limited contemporary art scene by encouraging new spaces and forms of countercultural expression in the arts to emerge. Ironically, these were bound up with the regime's historical approach to presenting itself as having a benevolent face. How audience, both as a physical body and a concept, featured in artists' work tells of tension in state-society relations as well as paradoxes within the logic by which contemporary art expresses dissent and contributes to expressing counterhegemony.

6 Ramallah: The Paintbrush Is Mightier than the M16
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This chapter anchors itself in the Picasso in Palestine art project. It contextualizes a moment in Palestine's recent history of visual cultural production within wider debates and scholarship on the construction of resistant praxis in cultural production; the distribution of power; culture and representation; and image circulation, translation, and reception in a colonial setting, global context, and transnational frame. Tracing the readings of the project across transnational space by locating them within the discourses they engaged in both the "global" arts circuit and the "local" cultural scene, the chapter brings together the various themes discussed throughout the book.

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The conclusion recaps the insights gleaned into how using art for political and social change shapes understandings of contemporary art's relationship to both. It suggests that since the 2011–2012 Arab revolutionary process, cultural diplomatic efforts to sustain arts funding in the hope of consolidating the revolutions have continued unabated. The art infrastructural development in the Arabian Gulf and the increasing number of local art patrons are forms of cultural hegemonies. Yet despite the often hopeful takes on the powerful existing infrastructure, there remains a need to uncover how tangled these spaces are in regional geopolitics, economic diversification strategies, and military alliances with Western powers. The book concludes by querying how an effective cultural resistance may form in the wake of a rising global tide of right-wing nationalism.