In Relation with Otherness: Conflation of Stereotypes and their Subversions in Art from the Middle East

Public talk by

Azadeh Sarjoughian (Iran-UK)

How does art become a means to apprehend, appropriate and make sense of the ‘Other’? Considering the prevalent anxiety about cultural stereotyping and (self-) othering whenever there is a platform in the West for art from a specific geopolitical region such as the Middle East, this public talk was a scrutiny of the impact of the veiling/unveiling dichotomy on the discourse around the representation of Middle Eastern men’s and women’s bodies in contemporary art.

“I attempt to focus on moments of negotiations and in particular, the fusion of subversive and stereotypical expressions within the practice of ‘representing difference’ in the mainstream Western art world. Offering a ‘local’ view on exotic (un)veiled bodies, this paper challenges the critical literature that proposes the visual strategy of side-stepping any familiar signifier of specific ethnicity as a response to the objectification of artists with Middle Eastern heritage in the international art scene. 

This talk addressed two exhibitons that were both held in London, including Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East (2009) at the Saatchi Gallery and Masculinities: Liberation through Photography (2020) at the Barbican Art Gallery.


Azadeh Sarjoughian is a College of Arts and Law funded PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham where she also received her MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies. Her research interests include postcolonial theories, feminism, and contemporary art. The representation of sexuality and gender identity in contemporary Middle Eastern art is her focus. She is currently researching the interactions between the stereotypical representation of Muslim men’s and women’s bodies in visual arts by considering the impact of contemporary curatorial practices, particularly in the UK. Azadeh is an artist, working with various media in sculpture and installation, graduated in Illustration (MA) from the University of Art, Tehran, and Sculpture (BA) from the University of Tehran, Iran.

The public talk was organized in the frames of the QUEER FEMINIST INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL #2

Curator: Susanna Gyulamiryan

Co-curator: FemLibrary Armenia