Visiting professor Dr. Jordan Amirkhani foregrounds the invented nature of the East vs. West cultural divide—and the absurdity of such terms in and of themselves—in her upcoming class, Representing the East: Orientalism and the Politics of Representation (ARTH 520).
After receiving her PhD from the University of Kent in 2015, Amirkhani taught at The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, creating courses that featured inclusive art history and exploring the homogeny of the “canon.” She describes the experience as foundational to her approach as a professor. The student-body was widely diverse with many second-generation immigrant students, large Latino and African American presences, many first-generation college students, and adult learners. This prompted her to confront the perceived inaccessibility of art history and reconsider how to teach the discipline “to and for everyone.” With these considerations in mind, she developed the basis for this upcoming graduate course in a class on representations of the Middle East:
“I realized that for my undergraduate students who were born in the nineties, America has been at war or in conflict with the Middle East their entire life and they knew little to nothing about it: about its history, about what we were doing there, why we were doing it, and the longer arcs of history at place in the war zone in Afghanistan and the situation now in Syria…”
Amirkhani felt both a moral and art historical responsibility to contextualize these politics in order to present a more equitable and entangled account of Western modernism and Middle Eastern visual culture and politics. From this vantage, the history of art becomes synonymous with the history of imperialism. It opens up the topic of Orientalism as a discourse in both the introduction of the theme as an “otherizing” phenomenon and its use now as a contentious touchstone for the normalization of European art as natural. These considerations lead into the more recent developments in post-colonial theory that have grown out of Edward Said’s foundational 1978 study on Orientalism and the increasing self-consciousness of the art historical community in regards to racial and ethnic concerns within the established methodologies.
At American University, Amirkhani looks forward to finding a way to combine this perspective of “art history from below” with the canonical training of graduate students invested in academic research; she hopes to collaborate with her students to develop new strategies to circumvent the imperialist origins of established conventions of visual art and art history— to discuss how to bring marginalized art histories into the center, and engage a deconstruction of the inside/outside divide. The course will therefore dive into the histories of political violence and imperialism with the aim of learning how to revise the discipline.
Above: Dr. Amirkhani lecturing on Dada at American University.
The discussed course will run in Spring 2019 on Tuesday evenings. It may open to upper level undergraduate depending upon enrollment. The description for the class is as follows:
This seminar explores the intersections of culture, race, gender, imperialism, and colonialism in modern and contemporary visual culture of the Near East, specifically within historically Islamic countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and Palestine, and the ways in which these histories and cultural objects resist inherited Western art historical narratives regarding beauty, superiority, and objectivity. Informed by postcolonial theory and an awareness of the ways in which colonialism in the Near East has impacted knowledge and assumptions of the region, this course moves beyond Edward Said’s 1978 text Orientalism towards more contemporary and intersectional postcolonial writings and debates (such as Balaghi, Fanon, Bhabha, Chakrabarty, Rushdie, and Ali) that allow students to ask better questions about the ways in which notions of the “Occident’ and the “Orient,” “us” and the “Other” have expressed themselves within Western art and culture. The course explores the roles that vision and the imagination have in determining notions of identity and subjectivity.