Scientific article

Visual Modernity in the Arab World, Turkey and Iran: Reintroducing the "Missing Modern"

ContributorsNaef, Silvia
Published inAsiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques, vol. 70, no. 4, p. 1005-1018
Publication date2016

Notwithstanding the fact that opinions between art historians diverge on how it should be done, there is a consensus that nowadays the writing of art history cannot but be global, whether we label it “world art history” or “global art history”. Whereas the two terms are often used synonymously, Hans Belting suggests we distinguish between “world art history”, which would be the history of all art productions in the world since the earliest times, and “global art history,” the history of art production as it has spread around the globe after the opening of the formerly uniquely Western art scene to the planet as whole. Even though “global art” is defined as contemporary art produced all around the globe since 1989 – the year of the ground-breaking Paris exhibition Magiciens de la terre – even though it designates, that is, an art with many different facets but sharing a unified language in its diversity, we still notice, today, a difference in the way production from the “non-West” is considered. One cannot but get the impression that it is presented as if it had come out of nothing, born of a total void or of what had formerly been categorized as ethnographic artefacts. What is striking about this view is that it utterly neglects the existence of the modern phase that preceded the emergence of “global art” and that, from the nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century, saw Western art forms being adopted all over the world and replacing, to a large extent, local art conceptions and styles, thus giving way to a new, original category, generally and locally labelled as “modern art”. In the specific case of art from the Islamic world, contemporary visual creations are often pigeon-holed as “contemporary Islamic art” as if they derived, ontologically, from former art practices peculiar to the region and not from the adoption of Western art in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. This mislabelling is due, among other issues, to two main factors: a field of research which is still in its infancy and, resulting from and directly tied to this, a generalized neglect of the initial phase in which art in its Western modality was introduced in the region.

  • Kunst und Kultur
  • Études asiatiques
  • Littérature asiatique
  • Orientalisme
  • Ethnologie
  • Asien
  • Asie
  • Arab World
  • Modernity
  • Visual art
Research group
Citation (ISO format)
NAEF, Silvia. Visual Modernity in the Arab World, Turkey and Iran: Reintroducing the ‘Missing Modern’. In: Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques, 2016, vol. 70, n° 4, p. 1005–1018. doi: 10.1515/asia-2016-0043
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0004-4717

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