Art between History and Practice
While for over a decade theorists have challenged the Eurocentricity of histories of modernity, the field of architectural history has lagged behind in responding to such criticism. Recent attempts at producing “global” histories of architecture have focused on architecture as physical form and cultural production in an additive globally oriented fashion while falling short on providing nuance or elaborating sufficiently on political and economic complexities, traveling ideas and networks and often limiting history to monumental and iconic structures that provide “local perspectives” on global developments. The history of modernism is particularly fraught with problems resulting from the foundation of the discipline of art history in the 19th century such as the delineation of architectural production within a center-periphery narrative and the focus on the nation-state as a framework for the narrativization of modernity. Artistic and architectural production during the modern period in locations outside Europe and the West are thus commonly viewed as doubly illegitimate for recognition: seen as unrepresentative of genuine local culture and politics, and as a failed attempt to emulate Western modernism.
In the meantime Middle East Studies has emerged since World War II as an area study concerned with the history, geographies, politics, and economies of the region. Interest in material culture within Middle East Studies only began to emerge in the 1980s influenced by Edward Said’s Orientalism, however such interest was limited and often heavily dependent on the disciplinary mechanics of art history and focusing on cultural production from the West about the Middle East that may be suspect of imperialism and Orientalism. Within Middle East Studies there has been sparse attention given to modern art and architecture produced in the region outside questions of influence and connection or as an attempt to localize otherwise global phenomena and practices as a way to counter hegemonic globalization.
There are significant lacunas in the intersection between art/architectural history on one hand and Middle East Studies/area studies on the other. As modern heritage in regions such as the Middle East has been neglected, unstudied, marginalized and destroyed in political turmoil or due to the pressures of the market there is an urgent need to reconsider the methods and approaches of art history in such contexts.