Identity, History and Politics

Particularly striking among the work of artists of the Middle East is the way in which their history and the particular crises and wars that have so deeply affected the region during the last fifty years or more are passionately felt and articulated. Using images and the language of the past, through photographs, books and installations, this section has a very different mood and the works and their words tell particular stories. Included here are snapshots of history – the Qajar era of Iran, for example, is a particular preoccupation of artists working with photography, whilst the Iran–Iraq war (1980–8) has become the focus of others. For Iraqi artists there are works concerned with the 1991 Gulf war and with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its consequences, such as the destruction of Iraq’s libraries. The Egyptian artists included here make reference to historical figures, such as the well-known singer Umm Kulthum (d. 1975), and to social questions. Palestinian and Israeli artists touch on issues of identity and conflict, while Lebanese artists speak of the effects of the Lebanese civil war (1975–89).