Mariam Elnozahy: Whose Open Society? Understanding the Economics of Artistic Production in the Middle East and Former Eastern Bloc
Mariam Elnozahy’s project begins with the notion of “Soros Realism,” a term coined by Miško Śuvaković in his seminal essay The Ideology of Exhibition: On the Ideologies of Manifesta (2002). Śuvaković used the term to refer to the type of politically and socially engaged art produced through the Soros Center for Contemporary Art Network. The term, a play on the preceding aesthetic hegemon “Socialist Realism,” concretized a new discipline within contemporary art. This discipline was concerned with the relationship between civil society and contemporary art and was defined by the emergence of a new, homogeneous, contemporary aesthetic.
The inextricable relationship between private funding bodies and so-called “developing economies” is seen vividly in the world of independent arts and nongovernmental cultural production. In tracing the history and patterns of the Open Society Foundations in both the Middle East and the former Eastern Bloc, Elnozahy conducts a comparative survey of the effects of private funding bodies on artistic production over the past forty years. Although her presentation will focus specifically on the philanthropic efforts of George Soros in the arts, the research will ideally contribute to a larger body of historiographic work on the exchange between contemporary artistic practices in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.
Mariam Elnozahy is a curator, writer, and researcher based in Cairo. She has curated thirteen exhibitions in Cairo, Jeddah, London, Basel, and Amsterdam. Her project titled Whose Open Society? Understanding Neoliberalism and the Economics of Artistic Production in the Middle East and Former Eastern Bloc was presented at the Warsaw Biennale and the Matter of Art Biennale in Prague. She is currently completing her master’s in architectural history at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been published in Hyperallergic and Mada Masr.
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