MEMAAW_enThe Mathaf Encycloped​ia of Modern Art and the Arab World (MEMAAW) project to create a comprehensive database of Middle Eastern art, however over-ambitious, however badly-acyonymed, however provisional, however in-the-early-stages and still a work in progress, has been welcome news to many who have felt keenly the absence of exactly this kind of resource.

More on the project:

The bilingual Encyclopedia is a free online scholarly comprehensive resource that will provide basic facts and in depth information on modern art of the Arab world. The Encyclopedia aims to standardize the data on Arab artists and to encourage multiple perspectives on modernism in the Arab world while providing a comprehensive view on its development.

Given today’s interest in Arab art, the users of the MEMAAW will be art historians, researchers, scholars, university students, art professionals and translators seeking information on Arab modern artists, their styles, techniques, artwork, contributions, concepts, terminologies found in the Arabic art glossary, as well as areas of specialization related to modern art in the Arab world and modernism in general. All peer-reviewed and translated entries are original and provide comprehensive documentation on Modern artists of the Arab world by academics and scholars in the field. Entries also include artists’ signatures for reference and authentication as well as artists’ photos, artwork images, and audio-visual material.

The Encyclopedia is a work in progress and will continue to develop to include all artists from Mathaf’s permanent collection, and in subsequent phases will include Arab artists beyond the collection, as well as historically contextualizing and thematic essays on their work. The Encyclopedia also provides a resource for Arab art glossary and is a platform that supports knowledge exchange and network between researchers and scholars around the world.


As Cairoscene reports: “The Encyclopedia isand is mainly focusing on including all artists from the Mathaf’s permanent collection with the ultimate goal of adding Arab artists beyond their collection.” Mathaf  “has established a commission of scholars and independent researchers to write encyclopedia entries/biographies under the direction of Professor Nada Shabout.”

As Nada Shabout wrote on the issue of archiving and databases in the context of Arab art history:

As an art historian my interest in archives is as historical records of primary sources and documents that go beyond mere inventory, but as sites of epistemology, power, knowledge and making meaning. On a practical note, one of the main problems with modernity in the Arab world is the lack of credibility, criticality and scrutiny in understanding, presenting, and evaluating its nature and objects. A major contributor to this problematic is the lack of archives to facilitate an understanding of its evolution, which thus necessarily distorts the construction of its historical context. Archives as an active site of remembering would give us the tool to challenge the grand narrative produced by the state, and imagine alternative, globally-connected local narratives.

Pre-modern and modern archives are seemingly not available or accessible in the Middle East, which misleadingly presents the contemporary as rootless and ephemeral, and consequently heightens the question of identity in the region. Archives thus have the ability to open up new and liminal spaces of possibilities, readings, interpretations and constructions. For example, understanding the historical context of the modern moment in the Middle East is possibly capable of resolving the notion of belatedness in modern art.


Cairo Scene features five Egyptian artists added to Encylopedia.


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