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Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society

MENA Cultures and Global Aesthetics

Aesthetic formations and cultural repertoires give meaning to our reality in ways that are never neutral. Focusing on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and its global interlocutors, this project brings together a team of scholars from Leiden University who bring in inter-disciplinary, inter-area archives and methods.

Their main question is: how has the MENA region acted as the cross-roads of global aesthetics in the long twentieth century?

The project raises a set of questions:

  • What do certain genres of visual culture, from superhero comics to modernist painting, allow us to see and what do they obscure?
  • How do rituals and collective performances, from the traditional halqa to radical feminist urban interventions, reinforce or subvert existing social relations?
  • How does the organization of our material environment, from shiny highrises to informal settlements, reproduce or challenge socio-economic inequalities?
  • And how do innovative narrative modes, from poetry to internet blogs, articulate new visions of changing social realities?

Exploring modern and contemporary visual, material, literary and immaterial cultures, we seek to stimulate conversations about the politics of aesthetics from Morocco to Iraq and from Yemen to Tajikistan.

The programme is particularly interested in aesthetic formations that transcend these geographical boundaries and the local articulations of transcultural conversations, from Islamic cosmopolitanism to modernist abstraction. The LUCIS research programme MENA Cultures and Global Aesthetics forms the intellectual space to discuss these issues with local and international scholars and experts, through a series of events including lectures, film screenings and roundtable discussions.

Selfie statue in front of the Azadi tower, Tehran. Photo: Arnout van Ree

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