Five years ago, Rutgers University implemented their Fertile Crescent Project, an art exhibit. When I first came across this, ‘fertile crescent’ was such a familiar term I couldn’t put to context. Through a quick reminder, the term was given meaning with recollection that it was given to the region of the Middle East due to the rich soil found and vital rivers located within the area. With this in mind, my first instinct was that the art to follow would be composed of agricultural based scenes, a tribute to the origins of agriculture and a rich environment full of accolades to the region. To my surprise, I didn’t find anything of this nature, just as the founders had intended.
Rather, the full title leads to the correct path as to what can be found in this exhibit – “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society.” The Rutgers program added this project to their Institute for Women and Art in 2007. Even dating back five years, women in the Middle East were a topic that many saw worthy of discovering. The title was given to the project to create irony and break the essentialism view of women that is typically given. The goal of this project was to break the idea that all diversity and cultures in the Middle East could be blanketed under one umbrella.
Typically when the Middle East is the subject matter, politics aren’t far behind. Instead of tip-toeing around these fine lines, the project endorsed diversity and promoted all values and beliefs these women stand by. The founders, Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin said it best:
“The women from the region have different heritages, different languages, different contemporary situations, but, at the same time, like the North American countries, they also share certain histories and cultural aspects…. The participants present critically insightful explorations into the complexities of the intersections of gender, contemporary culture, history, and power.”
One of the goals of the project is to break many of the assumptions the West holds of this illusive region. What this exhibit aims to do is unlike many others that have tried to display the Middle East under a neat title that consumes them all. Instead, heterogeneity is the goal. Individualized situations are highlighted, emphasis is put on the differences of women and a diverse display of videos, photographs, sculptures and paintings are the components seen on display that simply embody women as they are.
In our current state that is completely consumed by the never-ceasing politics found in the Middle East, this exhibit is a breath of fresh air. The artists are not labeled by their religious sectors, political parties or who they support in the upcoming elections. These artists are showcased for the women they are as they stand alone; a unique individual.
With this realization, I become infuriated with this contrast. Instead of filling our media sectors with honest images of these artists’ works that illuminate the truths of that region, the medium is only filled with the gun shots and violence that mask their lives. Needless to say I understand the importance of reporting on the pertinent news that affects our foreign relations, but I believe these images would leave an equally important impact.
With the below images in mind, one cannot help but ask – who did you think these women were? Are there assumptions you held that you hadn’t realized?