Cultural and Artistic Safe Spaces in the Middle East and the Gulf
Round table organized by Institut français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo Amman)
July 18th, 2022
The concept of “safe space” was developed at the end of the 20th century by feminist and LGBT+ movements to encourage “a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance” (Kenney, 2001). These activists aimed at making safe spaces (real and virtual) dedicated to socially vulnerable individuals, either because of their gender identification, their opinions and/or ideas. “Queer spaces”, “Women-only spaces”, spaces dedicated to the prevention of child marriage in India, schools and homeless shelters play a role that goes beyond the basic protection of marginalized social groups. Safe spaces are, above all, means of expression through which one is able to “unravel, build and rebuild knowledge” (Stengel & Weems, 2010). Applied to the cultural and artistic field(s), the conceptual tool of “safe space” allows for the examination of the position and the status of the artist/creator, of the public likely to be touched by their productions, but also the political, economic, discursive, and normative constraints that can carry weight in local dynamics of cultural production.
Over the last few years, cultural and artistic spaces have been developing in the Middle East and in the Arab and Persian Gulf through the mobilization of cultural and artistic practices. In a regional context marked by conflict and violence, by the centralization of culture and an inequitable access to it, by censorship and by the lack of cultural policies, new initiatives and regional and international partnerships have changed the landscape and have come to question the concepts of cultural and artistic “place” and “space”. The actions of these spaces may target a specific category of individuals or groups (women, LGBTQI+ community, refugees, laborers, etc.), but can also lessen the group distinctions and address all the members of a given society. These spaces are sometimes artist residencies, places of education, of production and distribution of knowledge, and of critical thinking. They can also go beyond physical and geographical borders to grow into artistic position and discourse, into real and virtual networks which support the creation of a safer creative area.
In order to study these emerging projects, the Institut français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo) in Amman organizes a study day that aims at understanding the extent to which these cultural and artistic spaces can be considered safe(r). Indeed, safety in these spaces is often relative and should remain at the heart of our questioning. More specifically, thoughts will be given to the socio- political strategies and mechanisms of these spaces as well as their effects on the artistic landscape.
Thus, subjects of contributions may include, but are not limited to:
– (Re-)conceptualizing the safe(r) cultural and artistic space, notably from the Middle East/Gulf perspective but also in comparison with other contexts.
– The socio-political roles of safe spaces towards their public and the civil society
– The diverse types of conflicts and forms of violence tackled by the strategies and mechanisms of the spaces
– The cultural/artistic practices and productions of these spaces
– The material and immaterial challenges faced by the spaces as well as the strategies of implementation of the structures in a given context
– The local specificities of these spaces and their opening to regional and/or international partnerships and instances of cooperation
– Past experiences of safe spaces as models (or as counterexamples) and the logics of the transmission of this cultural history within the artistic landscape
Research objects located in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Gulf countries will be given preference although contributions dealing with other geo-cultural areas are welcome. Abstracts (250-300 words, in Arabic, French or English) should be submitted before June 27th, 2022, to Simon Dubois (Ifpo, Amman) firstname.lastname@example.org and Ammar Kandeel (Fellowship Program on Exiting Violence, Columbia Global Centers, Amman) email@example.com. Successful applicants will be informed by June 30th, and the study day will take place both in Amman and online through Zoom on July 18th, 2022. The participants will present their contributions and study cases during 10 to 15 minutes to stimulate a collective reflection on the specificities of safe spaces in the region. The first session, which will be held in English or Arabic depending on the participants, will launch a series of scientific events during the academic year 2022-2023.