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IMAGE-MAKING:
CULTURE AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE ARAB WORLD


A PRESENTATION BY

MICHKET KRIFA
ARAB SCHOLAR AND CURATOR
AND ISSA TOUMA
ARAB PHOTOGRAPHER AND CURATOR

SPONSORED BY

THE JAMES A. BAKER III INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY
RICE UNIVERSITY

AND

FOTOFEST INTERNATIONAL


On Tuesday, May 3, 2005, the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and FotoFest presented a special evening at the Baker Institute with Arab scholars and curators Michket Krifa and Issa Touma in conjunction with FotoFest's presentation of NAZAR: Photographs from the Arab World.

The talk will be archived and available for viewing on the Baker Institute web site in the coming weeks

Writer and curator Michket Krifa, former cultural attache for the European Union in the Palestinian Territories, speaks at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University about the history of photography in the Arab World and its present state. May 3, 2005

Michket Krifa was born in Tunisia and has lived in Paris since 1984. Since 1986, she has worked as an independent writer, critic, and curator on issues of image and representation in Arab and Muslim cultures. Krifa works frequently in the Arab world on cultural events and exhibitions relating to photography and film. She has worked with the European Union, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Institute of the Arab World in Paris. From 1997-1998, Krifa was cultural attaché and press officer for the European Union in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. She is the author and editor of many publications relating to Arab culture and has curated over 20 photographic and film presentations with Arab and Iranian artists. Krifa wrote the lead essay for the book accompanying the NAZAR exhibition.

Krifa's essay, A Short Inventory, opens the NAZAR book and serves to put much of the exhibition's work into context. The Arab World, images of which have filled newspapers and televisions for years, has had a polemical relationship with photography. Krifa says many people view it with distrust due to the large amount of violence portrayed in Western media and renforcement of it by negative stereotyping. Within the last few decades, she says, Arab photography has taken a different turn. As more and more Arabs take up cameras themselves, both the images and the way they are seen in the region, are changing.

For her talk at the Baker Institute, Krifa gave a history of the region and its relationship to photography. Starting with the very earlist days of the medium, when European colonists photographed historical sites in the Holy Land and Egypt, through the heyday of the 50s and 60s when cities like Beirut and Cairo were the playgrounds of the West, and continuing through the turmoil of war in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Krifa spoke also about the present state of the artform in the region and its future in the Arab World.

Syrian artist and festival director Issa Touma speaks at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. May 3, 2005

Syrian artist and curator, Issa Touma, is a photographer and cultural organizer who has been working with photography for the past 15 years. In 1992 Touma established the first photography gallery in the Middle East, Black and White Gallery. After its closure in 1995 he opened Le Pont Gallery, which continues to be the only gallery dedicated to photography in the region. In 1996, he served as art director for the first European-Arab jazz festival in Aleppo, Syria. In 1997, he founded one of the first contemporary, international photography events in the Middle East, the International Photography Festival in Aleppo. The event has grown from 600 visitors in its first year to more than 7,000 in 2004. Since 1999, he has been the organizer of the International Woman's Art Festival in Syria, an event that features music, dance, theatre, sculpture, photography, performance and video work. The activities of Touma and his group, the Le Pont Organization, which includes the gallery, the Photography Festival and the Woman's Art Festival, annually draws in excess of 25,000 visitors, including international students, diplomats and the general public. Touma's essay, We still Have Some Hopes was published in the NAZAR book.

Touma, whose work is on view as part of the NAZAR exhibition, spoke about the origins of the photography festival and his protracted legal battle with the Baathist regime in Syria over his international cultural work in Aleppo.

On October 12, 2004, days after the official closings of both the International Photography Gathering and the International Women's Art Festival in Aleppo, policemen arrived at Le Pont Gallery and sealed the doors with a wax seal, officially closing the gallery and the organization. The closing of the gallery was the part of years of struggle between Touma and Baath party officials over the festivals and his relationships with international artists and diplomats. In August 2004, just one month before the opening of the 2004 festival, the Los Angeles Times published a story on Touma and his battle. Days before Touma was to speak at the Baker Institute he was informed that he had received permission from Syrian Security Forces to reopen the gallery, however the struggle continues. For a time-line of the earlier problems click here.