GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Representing Gulf States’ National Identity in Global Forums: Beyond the Mysterious and the Exotic
Paper Proposal Text :
All domains of spatial design use space and form as an tool to express cultural ideologies and identities. This paper aims to explore how Gulf identity is constructed and represented spatially in global events and forums. In particular, I will focus on how gender is presented and integrated in World Expos. It will examine the nature of “traditional” practice of spatial design and how it has contributed to the manifestation of Gulf’s national identity. In the last two decades, Gulf cities have witnessed an unprecedented pace of development resulted not only in modernizing cities but more significantly in allowing them to compete on the global stage. Gulf cities like Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi are becoming new brands for becoming vibrant contexts for globalized architecture and urbanism. Newly built universities, research centers, museums and signature skyscrapers are all manifestation of a regional commitment towards creating a modern and even globally accepted and recognized identity. Such pace of development created a legitimate platform for local authorities to proclaim the necessity of participation in global forums.

As observed, the presence of gender is manifested in a multifaceted images ranging from traditional conservative and primitive to sophisticated modern and engaged. The paper explores the discourse of heritage and cultural representation in the Gulf States by questioning the conflict between a desire to celebrate traditions and local culture versus a commitment towards affirming an image of modern states with global aspirations. The focus on how Gulf national pavilions in global expositions constructs the platform for gendered cultural constructions and representations. I will examine the role of female architects, curators and artists to illustrate a dichotomy in perceiving the role of gender perception in the Gulf and its impact on the way identity is manifested.

The paper argues for a new approach considering the relation between how Gulf States are represented globally and how Gulf cities are developed particularly from architecture and urban perspectives. The paper will explore the dichotomy between “official and institutional global” representations of identity in global forums, particularly world exhibitions and expos, vs the “official local national interpretation” mode of identity production and representation consumed internally. It interrogate the intersection between representation and identity particularly in the physical format of the built environment in both its permanent forms within Gulf cities or its temporarily form used in global exhibition. The aim of such interrogation is to interpret the paradoxical situation of different scales of representation of identity from a daring post global image of contemporary Gulf cities to a more traditional Bedouin-based nostalgia. Hence, exploring the national ‘officially sanctioned’ local identity is represented along the ‘officially sanctioned’ global identity.

The paper will draw on case studies from across the Gulf, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, with diversified experience in world events participation. It raises and addresses issues of global representation by exploring how components of local culture and the national ‘officially sanctioned’ identity are selected particularly in World Expos, art and architectural Biennials. Significant from those components is related to how women in particular are represented or stereotyped in constructing global image. The paper explores examples of Gulf pavilions at world expos and illustrates how Gulf’s visual identity was displayed in Europe. All the pavilions included a nostalgic image of Gulf’s past with an emphasis on Bedouin lifestyle and traditional women. The pavilions are state-sponsored projects where selected “traditions” were privileged and legitimized by the Gulf States and its ruling elite. When it comes to representing the identity of Gulf States, Authorities in some cases would allow the presence of women to intensify the traditional identity. Hence, they will be wearing traditional dress (thob), old jewelry, ornamented head scarf and hand paintings (Henna). The case of Kuwait for instance is very interesting (Milan Expo 2015). It was one of the most positive environments for women yet when it comes to representation; the typical image of a Bedouin lady was so dominant. In other situation Bahrain female artists and young architects contributed creatively in the national pavilion representing Bahrain in Venice Biennale. Evidently, interpretations regarding the fluctuated perception of the gender issues in the representation manifestation in global forums are critically needed.