East of the West

How can we begin to understand a region as diverse and far-ranging as the Middle East? We are constantly exposed to simplified images depicting this part of the world as rife with conflict, intolerance, religious fundamentalism and cruelty toward women and minorities. While certainly these strains exist, for the most part life goes on, as it does everywhere. Art is made, jokes are told, people are born, grow up, fall in love and get old.

When we were invited to do this show, we were initially hesitant. What purpose is there in creating another Middle East show, in inviting artists to show together based on their geographic origin rather than the ideas with which they engage or the methods they use to do so? Artists we approached expressed similar concerns: a resistance to being categorized and consequently marginalized, a reluctance to be seen as a “Middle Eastern artist.” However, we all agreed on the need to promote more diverse images of this part of the world, and so the show came to life.

We ask, East of what? West of whom? From where we stand—in California, the westernmost point in the Western world—the East is the West. Western Europe and the Middle East are much closer to each other than either is to us. From this point on our global sphere, we can see a new perspective. We adopt a new identity that is both East and West.

SomArts Gallery, San Francisco, CA. May 1-24, 2008. Co-curated with Taraneh Hemami. Commissioned by API Cultural Center, San Francisco. Participating artists: Taha Belal, Youmna Chlala, Ali Dadgar, Dina Danish, Osama Dawod, Ala Ebtekar, Amir Esfahani, Mitra Fabian, Taraneh Hemami, Hiba Kalache, Bessma Khalaf, Nazanin Shenasa, Hadi Tabatabai, Taravat Talepasand, Nomi Talisman, Shadi Yousefian.

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