Beth Derderian takes the page 99 test

Why do some things count as art and go in museums, and other things don’t?

“Exhibition organizers in the UAE often requested proof of citizenship status as part of open call or exhibition applications, a primary and material instance where citizenship status came to the fore in the art community. Curators revealed that their supervisors leaned on them to increase the visibility of Emirati artists, whether by restricting funds or by ‘suggestion.’”

Page 99 meets Ford’s test: it discusses citizenship, hierarchy and power (here in terms of visibility), and art in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which were key themes in my dissertation, “Displaying Culture: The Politics of Art, Liberalism, and the State in the UAE.” I wrote about the politics of art-making and exhibiting in the UAE during a decade of widespread transformation, between the Emirati government’s 2006 announcement that they would build a Louvre and a Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 2017 opening.

“Corinne, another curator, remarked that she was encouraged to show ‘only 100% citizens’… those who possessed both an Emirati passport and khulasat qaid”

 In the UAE, one is only a citizen if they hold both a family card (called a khulasat qaid), tracing their paternal lineage to a recognized Emirati family, and an Emirati passport. Showcasing artwork made by Emirati citizens was important to the state’s larger project of presenting a civilized, cultured state to play suitable host to a Louvre and a Guggenheim. Many of my interlocutors were not citizens, but had resided in the country for much – if not all – of their lives, and it was their work, both artistically as well as professionally, that laid most of the foundation of the UAE’s burgeoning art scene. Some variation of this tension over belonging and representation – whose art counts as real art, both historically and in the present? Whose work will be exhibited? Who represents the Emirati nation? – undergirds every chapter of the dissertation, and remains at the core of my research.

Beth Derderian. 2019. “Displaying Culture: The Politics of Art, Liberalism, and the State in UAE.” Northwestern University, Phd.