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Fomma (Foundation of Museum of Modern Art)

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DAWN News Images Section Reviews FOMMA's Publication "Third Text Asia"

A copy of the article printed in DAWN news dated April 5th 2009 is copied below:

"Revising the Genealogy of Art History - Salwat Ali

Art that was once regarded by Europe and the United States as coming‘from the margins’ and thus being scarcely worthy of consideration, is now asserting its presence as a legitimate entity with independent discourses that go far beyond Eurocentricity. Today a new transnational perspective is needed to place this neglected body of work in its appropriate context within the art hierarchy. Other than meaningful production it is advances in art scholarship also that is providing marginalized art the platform it needs to project itself. Anew art history is in the making and journals like Third Text Asia can play a significant role in defining the complex cultural realities that emerge when different worldviews meet.

A scholarly journal focusing on the fields of art criticism, art history and cultural studies ‘Third Text’ founded by artist, activist and scholar Rasheed Araeen is published from London, UK. Questioning the Western Modernist Canon from the margins, as early as 1987 it promotes independent writings by analysts, researchers and critics who expose the ‘irrationality and bankruptcy of mainstream dominant art scholarship’ by presenting a true picture of art the world over. The recent introduction of Third Text Asia edition by Fomma Pakistan is another move to further the reach / influence of these perspectives to the regions where this so called ‘peripheral’ art is being produced. Assimilation of its contents will empower the artist communities here and provide them with the necessary imperatives and sense of direction with which to move forward. The volume gained additional spotlight when a special issue of Third Text Asia titled ‘Arts, Scholarship and the Arab/Muslim World’ was launched by Fomma in the Bidoun Lounge Art Park at UAE’s leading art festival Art Dubai 2009.

The foremost article in this Spring 2009 issue is most certainly Araeen’s ‘Preliminary notes for the understanding of historical significance of geometry in Islamic thought, and its suppressed role in the genealogy of world history.’ He undertakes a serious investigation of geometry as an artistic form in Islamic art and how and why the Muslim world lost the tradition of rational thinking that emanated from it. He wonders why it has “trapped itself within a worldview that in fact opposes and denies the Muslim world not only its own spirit but its place in the genealogy of world history” and questions if it is “possible now to recover the past achievements of the Arab /Islamic history and its own worldview – and how.”

The pyramids, temples, palaces and sculpture of Egypt and Mesopotamiaare among the earliest expressions of geometric abstraction but in a Greek art scape, preoccupied with visual manifestations of its Gods,the artistic spirit of geometry did not evolve to greater heights.According to the author, “The important point here is that although modern Western philosophy began its journey with the knowledge that originated with the Greeks, it was the Arabs who had developed this classical knowledge further and elaborated it before it reached Europe and produced the European Renaissance.” The arrival Pay Day Loans of Greek knowledge in 9th century Baghdad (especially Euclids geometry) played a fundamental role in Arab science, philosophy and astronomy but it also led to the emergence of a unique sensory form of art. Defined by a complex physical symmetry this art went far beyond pattern making to provoke the imagination to penetrate the cosmos and perceive the invisible. Its true spirit revealed not only the abstractness of the Divine but also the nature of the infinite cosmos which it created. In this context “Arab Islamic history is therefore central to the historythat links Europe with the ancient Greeks and the knowledge Europe produced following this link that laid the foundation for the modern world.” Unfortunately this role of Islamic history was completely removed from the genealogy of art history and direct links were established between modern Europe and ancient Greeks. Fortunately “the emergence of abstract form in modern art with symmetry under pinning its formations, particularly in Minimalism, has infact vindicated the centrality of geometry in the spirits historical journey from itsearlier periods to the modern…….. Minimalism, one of the most important post war avant-garde movements, depends on the symmetry and seriality that are fundamental to the geometry of Islamic art, and confirms the importance for the modern world of those ideas that emerged almost a thousand years ago from the Islamic spirit.”

Yet another article that resurrects the Islamic spirit, but in an entirely different manner, is Rana Kabbani’s ‘Behind him lay the Great City of Cordoba ’ in which she heatedly claims “And yet as Muslims, we receive no share in the glittering prize of contemporary civilization,which we were instrumental in making. When a curt acknowledgement of Islamic Spains role becomes unavoidable, Europeans quickly reduce thatmasterly contribution to menial size, by suggesting, in a manner that is deliberately misleading, that Muslims were mere transmitters of Greek learning to a Europe which then burst into a Renaissance. This well - honed cultural cliché is a dizzying travesty of what actually took place.”

Other articles also expound the issue of identity and deliberate displacement but with reference to a more recent past. It is easy to empathize and locate similarities in Zeynep Celik’s recount Colonial /Post Colonial Intersections – Lieux de Memoire in Algiers, as we too have been (and still are ) victims of colonial strategies,machinations and post colonial confusion. Similarly ‘Anwar Jelal Shemza – Search for Cultural Identity’ by Mary Shemza is not just a very interesting read but also treads familiar ground to as it sheds light on an old master whom we lost early to the London art scene of the 60’s but who continued to explore his Islamic roots.

Presently Third Text is the only journal available here that presents contextual studies of Asian art, past and present, with the intention of reclaiming lost space in the art historical index. It publishes information about ignored and suppressed artworks, highlighting their historical place within modern developments, along with theoretical articles which critique and analyze the prevailing situation. Today when Pakistani art has just begun to step out in the global arena this journal should be considered ‘essential reading.’"