April 01, 2012
It was hot, though, my father warned. Forbiddingly so. So hot you could even fry an egg on the ground outside. I wanted to know if we could make melted-cheese sandwiches outside instead.
The new Bidoun, on newsstands in April, considers art and patronage, state-sponsored media, cultural diplomacy, revolution and counterrevolution, nation and/or corporate branding, even potato chips as public relations.
The heart of Soft Power is a suite of conversations that revolve around the question of hidden agendas. As'ad AbuKhalil, the political scientist who blogs as The Angry Arab, discusses the political economy of Al Jazeera and Qatar's foreign policy with Babak Radboy and E. P. Licursi. Bangalore-based writer and editor Achal Prabhala and Michael C. Vazquez consider the curious legacy of Cold War magazines funded by the American CIA, including the Indian literary magazine Quest and the African Transition. And nearly a dozen leading figures in the Egyptian cultural scene, including representatives of human rights organizations, art spaces, and foundations, as well as bloggers, activists, and curators, were invited to reflect on the theme of foreign funding—in the news thanks to the prosecution of certain American NGOs, but with broad and perhaps worrying implications for Egyptian civil society writ large.
If my former boss were reduced to a collection of ideal geometric forms, he would be a circle and a line segment. If described by a child, in deepest winter: two-thirds of a snowman on a stick. If a still life: a moldy brioche, an overripe squash, and two wispy stalks of grain. In the real world, where I knew him, he was a physics puzzle.
But there is Bidoun's customary dose of long-form narrative, as well. In "The Marble Lawn," Yasmine El Rashidi provides an unusual vantage onto Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi heavy in so many stories about the rise of Islamism in post-revolutionary Egypt. Anand Balakrishnan's "The Serendipity of Sand" considers the ultimate civilizational soft-power gambit—the monumental ruin—and what that might have to do with the zebra's beguiling stripes. Other features consider sexual politics in the art world (Sarah Rifky's "Call Me Soft,") the deification of power (Anna Della Subin's "Occupy Godhead"), and the rarified world of globo-pundits whose airport-ready books make tidy work of explaining… more or less everything ("Soft Readers Prefer Hard Covers," by Shumon Basar with Parag Khanna).
It doesn't help America's cause that USAID is by far the suckiest aid agency in the world.
In our arts coverage, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie profiles Iman Issa, the New York-based artist whose enigmatically poetic and oft-minimal practice speaks eloquently to questions of state power, culture, and memory. We also look at Lawrence Abu Hamdan, whose Freedom of Speech Itself, at The Showroom in London, investigates the multifarious intersections of sound and the law, and Franziska Pierwoss, whose Toyota to Benz, a chopped- and souped-up automobile, evokes a surprising array of economies and trajectories.
As a tween in Doha the only thing I knew about Oman was that they made the best potato snacks.
Plus: "The Chibsi Challenge," a taste-travel roundtable discussion of potato crisps, chips, and nation brands, inspired by Sophia Al-Maria; reviews of the archaeology show at SALT Istanbul's new space; Iranian videos in New York; Haris Epaminonda's "Mystery at MoMA"; the Athens Biennial in a time of austerity; and Mahmoud Darwish's bequest.