An Anthropological Gaze at Art – An ACOR Video Lecture by Dr. Aseel Sawalha

The ACOR Video Lecture Series provides accessible discussions of new research into the past and present of Jordan and the broader Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean worlds.  This video, adapted from the October 2016 ACOR public lecture delivered by NEH Fellow Dr. Aseel Sawalha, is an evaluation of the expanding art scene in Amman and an exploration of the environment around art galleries and the art trade.

About the Lecture
This talk demonstrates how bringing a cultural anthropology lens to contemporary visual art illuminates the relationship between large-scale regional conflict, economic globalization, urban change, and gender roles.  Recent changes in Amman’s cultural scene, such as the proliferating cafes and galleries in Jabal al-Weibdeh, are best understood in relation to the violent conflict and refugee flows in the whole Middle East region, along with the implementation of neoliberal development policies.  At the same time, a striking feature of the boom in Amman’s arts and culture is that most projects involve women at their center, who thus are influencing transformations in the city’s landscape and culture in unprecedented ways.  This lecture draws on various strands of anthropology, especially urban anthropology and the anthropology of art, to examine the convergence of these processes—war, economics, urban development, and gender roles—in the rapidly expanding art scene in Amman.

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Dr. Aseel Sawalha in Amman above the Nymphaeum, photo by B.A. Porter (2016)
Dr. Aseel Sawalha in Amman above the Nymphaeum, photo by B.A. Porter (2016)

About the Lecturer
Dr. Aseel Sawalha is a professor of anthropology at Fordham University in New York City and ACOR’s 2016-2017 NEH Fellow, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Her research project is titled “Amman’s Art Scene and the Changing Urban Landscape” and explores several dimensions of Amman’s developing and vibrant art and culture sector as well as the social and economic impact of art culture on the surrounding communities. Dr. Sawalha’s research intersects urban anthropology, Middle East studies, and gender studies.

Aseel Sawalha earned a B.A. in English Literature (1987) and an M.A. in Anthropology (1991) from Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan.  She earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the City University of New York (2002).  Please visit her Fordham faculty page or visit her ACOR scholar page to learn more.


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