appeared on this newsroll in the past week, reviewing the the so-called Abu Dhabi cultural district. I hadn't taken the time to read this N.O. article until it came in my Sunday paper. Normally I don't revisit these things... but did anyone catch what Nicolai actually said?
Some will dismiss this kingdom of culture as a mere tourist development in which art, history and regional identity are reduced to marketing commodities. But those who view it as an exercise in global branding or as a feel-good story about an Arab country willing to embrace the values of Western modernity are missing the point.
With once-proud cities like Beirut and Baghdad ripped apart by political conflict bordering on civil war, Abu Dhabi offers the hope of a major realignment, a chance to plant the seeds for a fertile new cultural model in the Middle East. (NYT)
Baghdad ripped apart by political conflict and civil war? Fuck. Way to elide into oblivion the American protagonist role in that very conflict. This quote is no mere slip up on the part of the New York Times critic. Ouroussoff is himself putting into practice the very obscurantist colonialism that he dismisses initially as "global branding" and which rewrites its own history. This reeks. But rather than actually succeeding at disabusing the pernicious monumentality of the project that just helps to make more invisible the American violence in the region, Ouroussoff only reveals himself as a pawn to the disappearing act. In which ways is this cultural model being "planted" in the Arab world and who is planting it? Are the American bombs and the cosmopolitan designs entirely divorced from one another and if they are in effect antagonistic spheres, then why the euphemistic language that legitimates this project? The American press has for these past years been complicit with Bush operations like the "invisible coffins" of dead soldiers that the White House won't show and Ouroussoff falls squarely into that complicity.
At another moment:
The old cosmopolitan models — the avant-garde Modernism of mid-century Beirut, the intermingling of Muslims, Jews and Christians in Baghdad or Basra in Iraq — are unraveling. Once considered great tapestries of human experience, those cities are either riven by internal conflict or, like their Western counterparts, risk being transformed into sanitized theme parks.
Since when is Basra or Baghdad having an "internal" conflict? This is so Bushist it hurts. It is as if "Western culture" and these Western architects (yes, including Hadid) are now going to swoop down and save these barbarians from themselves. Send in more troops! Once they are educated, they can take the helms of these museum.
The politics of vision weave through the embedded reporters, the media-baiting White House and among many other things, this bit of cultural reporting. My point, finally, is not about the architects and their projects but about who holds them accountable and questions their politics. Ouroussoff seems to be taking a page right out of the Judith Miller playbook.