4.30-6pm (GMT), Wednesday 25 November 2020
Registration NOW OPEN!


IN CONVERSATION with Hala Auji (American University of Beirut) and Louise Purbrick:

Zeina Maasri
Cosmopolitan Radicalism: The Visual Politics of Beirut’s Global Sixties

Exploring the intersections of visual culture, design and politics in Beirut from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, this interdisciplinary study critically examines a global conjuncture in Lebanon’s history, marked by anticolonial struggle and complicated by a Cold War order. Cosmopolitan Radicalism uncovers the transnational circuits that animated Arab modernist pursuits and sheds light on the forgotten trajectories and graphic design practices of its protagonists: Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian artists who wove through Beirut, in and out of its flourishing art galleries, publishing industry and political movements. Against a celebratory reminiscence of the ‘golden years’, Beirut’s long sixties is conceived of as a liminal juncture, an anxious time and place when the city held out promises at once politically radical and radically cosmopolitan.

Drawing on uncharted archives of everyday print media, Cosmopolitan Radicalism reveals the translocal visuality that emerged with—and, crucially, shaped—Beirut’s development as a nodal city in the global sixties. It does so by focusing on three interrelated themes: the first is concerned with state promotions of Beirut as a Mediterranean site of international tourism and modern leisure; the second, with its rise as a cultural nexus of modern art, pan-Arab publishing and anticolonial contestation, covert CIA funding notwithstanding; and the third, with its transformation, through the rise of the Palestinian Resistance, as a node in Third Worldist revolutionary anti-imperialism and transnational solidarity.

Decentring both Western and nation-based frameworks, the analysis situates travelling Arab artists-designers, visual and print cultures, political and aesthetic discourses within the disjunctive flows of the global sixties—at the interface of new modes of consumption and leisure with cultural revolutions, amid shifting geographies of colonial power and emerging anti-imperialist radical horizons, stretching their contours from across the Global South. In doing so, Cosmopolitan Radicalism offers useful methodologies for decentring art and design historiography and directly contributes to ‘decolonizing design’ by foregrounding historical antecedents—from the Arab world—to such critical approaches and practices.

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Zeina Maasri (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. Before taking up her post at Brighton, she was both an independent graphic designer and an academic at the American University of Beirut (1999 – 2016) in Lebanon. She is the author of Off the Wall: Political Posters of the Lebanese Civil War (IB Tauris 2009) and curator of related travelling exhibitions and online archival resources. Among other publications, she also co-edited (with K. Bassil, A. Zaatari and W. Raad) Mapping Sitting: On Portraiture and Photography (2002).

Hala Auji is an art historian specialized in the arts of the Islamic world. She holds a PhD in art history from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, an MA in criticism and theory from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena and a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from AUB. Her book, Printing Arab Modernity: Book Culture and The American Press in Nineteenth Century Beirut, Leiden: Brill, 2016, explores how Beirut’s nineteenth-century print culture, in its varied visual conventions, uses, and meanings, negotiated local views on social change, cultural heritage, political identity, and modernization reforms. She was a Faculty Fellow (2016-17) at AUB’s Mellon Foundation funded Center for Arts and Humanities (CAH), where she developed curricula and research related to her current project “Disseminating the nahdaal-funun and the Art of the Arabic Periodical.”

Louise Purbrick is a researcher, writer, curator, maker, and activist. Her current research examines how the past remains present in its material forms. She has a longstanding interest in the Long Kesh/Maze prison site, the now empty ‘icon’ of ‘The Troubles’ located ten miles south of Belfast, and has spent many years documenting the transformations of its cell units, the H Blocks. Her recent work as part of the Traces of Nitrate project, an interpretation of the abandoned architecture of mining in Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the legacies of the nitrate trade in Britain, is in publication.

Chair: Jeremy Aynsley


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