Flirting with Middle Eastern Modernity

Itani, Racha. 2022. Flirting with Middle Eastern Modernity. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This research charts an alternative understanding of the causes that have led to the reduction of modern and contemporary art from the Middle East to sites of resistance. It additionally investigates why meagre debates are triggered around Middle Eastern art instead of provoking the intended political discussion. Unfortunately, the practice of continuing to approach Middle Eastern art through the binaries of tradition and modernity, Islam and the West, and of tracing the artistic practices to the intentions of artists result in art criticism that mostly reads Middle Eastern art practices as sociological accounts. This perspective has situated modern and contemporary art practices within uncomplicated historical and cultural contexts and elided the complexity of the art from the region.

My research project aims to investigate the dynamics of cultural modernity in the Middle East by tracing it through both canonical and lesser known modern and contemporary art. Flirtation is utilised as the narrative and an underlying tone for selected chapters to unsettle the rigorous debate that surrounds modernity. I draw on the intersections between flirtation and Middle Eastern artists’ encounters with modernity. The analogies and suggestions that intersect with flirtation, in turn illuminate the many-sided facets of modernity.

I also unveil the challenges that Middle Eastern artists face when attempting to deviate from designated notions of identity, nation, and regions, and how this ultimately triggers inadequate debates around Middle Eastern art. This space is further examined by engaging with the theory of antifragility proposed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. In this context, I investigate whether the cultural sectors in post-war Lebanon and Iraq can be further explored beyond the predictable and bounded discourses of fragility and resilience.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Flirting, Modernity, Middle Eastern Modernity, postcolonial theory, Orientalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


30 September 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

12 Oct 2022 09:54

Last Modified:

18 Oct 2022 12:33


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