Arab spring, American fall
by Muhammad Yusuf July 10, 2014

On the occasion of the United Nation’s International Day of Peace – September 21 – the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas, USA, in partnership with Art Jameel, will host the launch of CULTURUNNERS, an independent artists’ expedition and core component of Edge of Arabia’s (EoA) US Tour.

The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), it welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.

In the spirit of the Chapel’s humanist mission to inspire people to action through art and contemplation and to provide a forum for global concerns, the CULTURUNNERS event brings together pioneering artists, scholars and community groups to cultivate new perspectives on cultural collaboration. It is part of the core component of EoA’s multi-year journey between the Middle East and the United States and aims to assess the potential of artists’ journeys to connect people through creativity and beyond identities defined by culture, religion, nation, citizenship, economic status, profession, gender or age.

EoA is an independent non-profit arts and education initiative dedicated to connecting Middle Eastern artists with international audiences. To date, it has welcomed 250,000 visitors to its exhibitions, distributed over 50,000 books and catalogues worldwide, impacted over 300 schools and universities through its award winning education programme and reached a wider audience of over 10,000,000 through a dedicated communications campaign.

Supported by FotoFest International and the Arab American Cultural and Community Center of Houston (ACC), the event will kick off with an inter-generational, cross-cultural discussion on the role of artists’ journeys in generating positive social change. Participants include EoA co-founder Stephen Stapleton, as well as award-winning Houston-based photographers and founders of the FotoFest Biennial, Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss and Palestinian artist Taysir Batniji.

Rice University Professor Ussama Makdisi, renowned scholar of US-Middle Eastern cultural relations, will moderate the discussion that will be hosted by the event. It will be followed by ‘journey’ film screenings by Saudi Arabian artist Ahmed Mater. Over the next three years, CULTURUNNERS will travel across the US, communicating and archiving new forms of creative collaboration between American communities and the Middle East.

An independent artistic collaboration between US-based artists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Art, Culture and Technology Program, Azra Aksamija and

Peter Schmidt and Stapleton, the project, after its launch in Houston, will then begin its journey up the East Coast, stopping off along the way at Louisiana State University and communities in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Massachusetts, with major events to be announced in October 2014.

Mater was born 1979 in Saudi Arabia and lives and works in Abha, Saudi Arabia. His interdisciplinary art, encompassing photography, calligraphy, painting, installation, performance and video, explores the narratives and aesthetics of Islamic culture in an era of rampant globalisation, consumerism and transformation.

Batniji is an interdisciplinary visual artist who divides his time between France and Palestine. His practice incorporates drawing, painting, installation and performance, often closely related to his heritage. However, since 2001, he has focused primarily on photography and video.

Swiss-born Baldwin co-founded FotoFest International in 1983 and served as president from 1984 to 2001, when he became Chairman of the Board of Directors. Following a BA from Columbia University in 1956, he began working as a freelance photographer. He has been commissioned by many international publications including LIFE, National Geographic and the New York Times.

Watriss, Co-founder of FotoFest International in 1983, worked as a freelance photographer, writer, curator, newspaper reporter, and producer of television documentaries from 1965 to 1993. Since 1991, she has been Artistic Director and Senior Curator for FotoFest, curating and organising more than sixty international exhibitions on photography and photo-related art from the Arab world, China (1934-2008), Latin American photography (1865-1992), Russia (1950s-2012), US Latino photography, Central European photography, the global environment, new media, water, artists responding to violence and Guantánamo, among other themes.

Stapleton is an artist and curator. After encountering the artistic community in Abha, Saudi Arabia, during a journey across the Middle East in 2003, he founded the Offscreen Education Programme and EoA as platforms for cultural dialogue between the Middle East and western world.

He later founded the Crossway Foundation, a London-based charitable

organisation seeking to promote creative collaboration between the UK and the

Middle East and EoA.Projects, an art gallery showing contemporary art from the Middle East based in Battersea, London. He has published several books related to the Middle East including Offscreen: Four Young Artists in the Middle East, Edge of Arabia, Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia and has won several awards for his work in the field of intercultural education.

Makdisi is the Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University, Houston. In April 2009, the Carnegie Corporation named him a 2009 Carnegie Scholar as part of its effort to promote original scholarship regarding Muslim societies both in the United States and abroad. He has published widely on Ottoman and Arab history as well as on US-Arab relations and US missionary work in the Middle East.

Art Jameel — Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiative’s (ALJCI) arts and culture initiative — aims to foster and promote a thriving arts scene within the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) region and to support the development of creative enterprises. In partnership with art organisations worldwide, it develops cultural exchange programmes to encourage networking and knowledge sharing.

It is the founding partner of EoA, The Crossway Foundation, Arabian Wings, Jeddah Art Week and The Archive. In partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, it provides the biannual Jameel Prize for contemporary art inspired by Islamic traditions.

Additional projects include Jeddah Sculptures Museum, a public park established in collaboration with Jeddah Municipality; the Art Jameel Photography Award and the Art Jameel Art Olympics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia.

FotoFest was founded in 1983 as an international, non-profit organisation based in Houston, Texas. Over the past 20 years, it has curated or sponsored groundbreaking

exhibitions on photo-related art from Latin America, China, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan, England, Germany, France, the Middle

East and North Africa.

The Arab American Cultural and Community Center (ACC) is a non-profit

organisation in Houston, Texas, governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Since its inception in 1995, it has been committed to fulfilling its mission of serving the Arab American community in Houston through cultural programmes, outreach and social services; promoting Arab culture and heritage and fostering a greater understanding of Arab culture amongst the Houston community at large by serving as a liaison and resource centre.

It aims to contribute to the integration of Arabs as Americans, to provide a forum for cultural, educational and recreational interaction and offer opportunities for association and social contact.