By : Roger Allen, Robert Finn, Barbara Harlow, Jennifer Howe, Steven Caton, Mark LeVine, Christopher Stone, Shiva Balaghi, Nada Shabout, Mary Vogl

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Extra info for The State of the Arts in the Middle East (2009) (The Middle East Institute Viewpoints)

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Edu LeVine... and circulation of culture as well. Indeed, a principal aim of the research is to determine how popular cultural production is aesthetically embedded within and thus helps to shape the larger public sphere. As Amyn Sajoo rightly points out, these forces are not structured or even predictable; rather, they interact much like the members of jazz — or more relevant to the overwhelmingly young populations of the region, heavy metal or hip-hop — ensembles, in which the riffs and rhythms of individual improvisation are essential to the overall shaping of the sphere.

One might overlook this trend if one does not remember that material wealth has almost always been converted into “cultural capital” for one reason or another since the times of the most ancient civilizations in the Middle East. Verbal art, especially oral vernacular poetry, has been important in the Arabian Peninsula since pre-Islamic times. What has survived from that period are a few anthologies of some of the most beautiful poetry ever composed in Arabic, seven odes of which hang in the Ka‘aba in Mecca, as well as a few epigraphic inscriptions of shorter pieces in South Arabic to be found in Yemen.

Three decades since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the tension between constitutional edicts that assured the people’s authorship over their cultural destiny and those that called for the use of culture to promote an Islamic morality remain unresolved. Though the revolutionary state has created a broad infrastructure for cultural production, the form and content of Iranian art remains flexible and heterogeneous. Iran’s artists and art administrator, however, have assumed a leading role as public intellectuals in the state and Iranian art is highly celebrated on the international art scene, winning awards and fetching high prices at major art auctions.

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