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The Politics of Visual Culture in the Middle East and Global South

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


In this seminar, Dr. Anthony Downey will discuss with PhD students the major theoretical issues that inform the politics of the visual culture across Middle East and North Africa. In advance of the seminar, a series of texts will be distributed relating to art practices within the region and how, during and after the Arab Spring, they adopted and adapted digital technology to address issues of conflict and image production. There will be also a discussion of the role that the archive—both material and virtual—has played in contemporary cultural practices.  The seminar will likewise address how art practices, from the mid-1960s onwards, have consistently challenged traditional ideals of identity, gender, belonging, nationalism and narratives of selfhood through the practices of archiving, curation, display and dissemination. Professor Downey will also look at how forms of “institutional critique”, evident across the region,  present methods for generating speculative institutional futures. Artists ranging from Walid Raad, Akram Zaatari, Emily Jacir, Lara Baladi, Heba Y. Amin, Larissa Sansour, and Rabih Mroué will be discussed throughout.

Following the seminar Downey will give a lecture entitled “The Future of the Networked Image: Digital Archives and Cultural Activism in a ‘Post-Truth’ Age” that will examine the extent to which the visual arts reflected upon and promoted social and political change during and after the Arab Spring. These practices have since given rise to decisive questions regarding the future relationship between digital images, cultural activism and networked images. Taking into consideration recent revelations concerning the role of social media in surveillance technologies, political repression, and the proliferation of targeted disinformation, alongside the anxieties being expressed about the opaque power of algorithms, this talk will explore critical frameworks for understanding the relationship between digitized images and  cultural activism. The broader issue here concerns a perennial, indeed global, issue: how do cultural practices — through digital means — realign how we engage with the politics of historical events and images of conflict?

While the lecture offers an empirical study and focuses on one of the multiple processes taking place in the region, the seminar will focus on the wider theoretical and methodological aspects of conceptualizing these processes within the field of cultural studies. The seminar will be of interest to anyone working with visual culture, cultural activism, digital technologies, the Middle East, and global developments in contemporary art.  PhD students will have a chance to present their own project or a part of it,  and get Dr. Downey’s expert feedback.

Anthony Downey is an academic, editor, and writer. He is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at Birmingham City University, and is currently involved in several funded research projects that explore, respectively, transnational cultural practices, digital media, and the politics of cultural production in the Middle East and Global South. He sits on the editorial boards of Third Text ( and Digital War (, and is the editor-in-chief of Ibraaz ( Recent and upcoming publications include Unbearable States: Cultural Practices, Political Activism, and Human Rights in a Post-Digital Age (forthcoming,2021); Displacement Activities: Contemporary Art, the Refugee Condition, and the Alibi of Engagement (forthcoming,Sternberg Press, 2020); Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walther König Books, 2017); Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg Press,2016); and Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (I.B.Tauris, 2015). In 2019, he launched a new series of books, Research / Practice (Sternberg Press).



Through the participation in the seminar, the students will gain deeper understanding of theoretical issues that inform cultural production across the Middle East and its relationship to global visual culture. Students working on relevant topics will also have the opportunity to get expert feedback on their research from a leading scholar in the field. 


To be announced

Target group:

The course is aimed at PhD students at all stages working with or interested in Contemporary Art , the Politics of Cultural Production in the Maghreb, the Middle East and Global South; Neoliberalism, Globalisation, and Cultural Institutions; Human Rights, Bio-politics, and Migration in Contemporary Art Practices; and New Media, Performativity and Civil Society in the Middle East.






With presentation: 1,5 ECTS
Without presentation: 1 ECTS


Professor Anthony Downey, Birmingham City University

Date and time:

December 10 2019, 10:00-14:00 (time might change depending on the number of participants)


Campus Aarhus, Langelandsgade 139, Building 1580, Room 214

Practical information regarding our PhD courses

Participation is free of charge, but participants must pay for their own travel and stay

Refreshments available during course hours:

Coffee, tea, water and lunch is provided and paid for by the university on courses that run from the morning until mid or late afternoon. Lunch consists of sandwiches and bottled water at midday, and tea and coffee is served in the morning and mid-afternoon. Fruit or cake is served once a day during one of the coffee breaks. There are also cafes/canteens on campus with hot food, sandwiches, snacks and drinks on sale.

Course certificates:

Course certificates are issued after each course has ended and any written assignments have been submitted. The certificates are sent to the candidates by email.

Course evaluations:

Course evaluations are conducted at the end of each course. Occasionally, the course teacher will conduct a paper-based evaluation immediately at the end of the course, and gather the information from you themselves. However, evaluations are usually sent electronically to candidates after the course has finished, and are completed and submitted online.

Campus map/locations

Course information often provides the building number and classroom or auditorium number but not a road name. The link below will take you to a map of the Aarhus University campus. Just enter the building number, with or without the classroom/auditorium number, and the location will be shown on a Google map, which provides road names. This map is also useful when planning bus and tram journeys.

Budget hotels

The three hotels below are budget hotels. Prices start at around 600 Danish Kroner (i.e. 80 Euros) per night.

Simplebed Hostel / Vandrehjem -  Åboulevarden 86, 8000 Aarhus C (0,7 km til Centrum)

Tel: +45 53 23 21 89



Hallo Hostel Aarhus - Fiskergade 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark (0,8 km til Centrum)

Tel: +45 86101020


Cabinn Aarhus - Kannikegade 14, 8000 Aarhus C (0,9 km til Centrum)

Tel: +45 86 75 70 00



Travel to and in Aarhus

Busses to/from Billund and Aarhus airports

The link below will take you to information about buses from Billund and Aarhus airports.

Tram (letbane)

The link below will take you to information about the tram which runs from the north side of Aarhus to the harbour in the south of the city.

Buses in Aarhus

This link takes you directly to midttrafik’s website with information about bus travel in Aarhus, prices and journeys, and information about student rates. 

Application deadline:

November 11, 2019

Please apply by writing to course organizer Anastasia Shanaah:


Course dates
10 December 2019 - 10 December 2019
Please see "Lecturers"
Campus Aarhus, Langelandsgade 139
building 1580, room 214
Aarhus C
1,5 points

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