Finding Beirut: Ethical Questions of Fieldwork and Art Curation in the Middle East

Finding Beirut: Ethical Questions of Fieldwork and Art Curation in the Middle East

Poster for "The Arab Nude" exhibition (Beirut, 2016) with erased graffiti. By Octavian Esanu.

A talk with Kirsten Scheid (American University of Beirut)

Thursday, December 10, 2020
12:15 PM (Pacific Time)

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Living, researching, and working in arts production in Beirut have raised ethical issues that my anthropological training did not directly prepare me to face. I reflect on the quandaries and opportunities of foregrounding art as a lens on the Middle East to consider the larger stakes in how anthropologists choose their topics and what we can offer to the frightening world of today. First, I consider how my project of studying contemporary art changed when Beirut artists and gallerists told me there was “no art here.” Learning from but refusing to reify abjection, I turn to the ethical stakes of curating an exhibition onto which scandals were projected by university administrators. Finally, as a white-presenting, gender-ascribed Lebanese citizen, I ponder what it means to work within a colonially-inscribed national map while confronting “political realities” that choke lives. Neither universalizing patron of cultural oneness nor relativizing fixer of cultural difference, what roles can anthropology offer people who want to live through fieldwork?

Kirsten Scheid is Associate Professor at the American University of Beirut. Her writing has appeared in Aggregate, Anthropology Now, ArtMargins, International Journal for Middle East Studies, MERIP, Museum Anthropology, and Jadaliyya. She co-curated The Arab Nude: The Artist as Awakener (Beirut 2016) and Jerusalem Actual and Possible (Jerusalem 2018). She has also co-founded a cultural resource center and an Arabic children’s book line (Hikayat walad min Bayrut 2004) in Beirut.

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies