Impending Arabic Art Glossary seeks to close language gap – resource alert

A new interactive, online initiative could close the gap between English and Arabic in the arts through the creation of a glossary of terms.

Art Dubai and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art have commissioned the first ever Arabic Art Glossary to be developed over the next year. The initiative, announced in March at the 2012 Global Art Forum, will be led by Palestinian curator Lara Khaldi.

Lara Khaldi at the Global Art Forum March 2012. Image courtesy Art Dubai.

Lara Khaldi at the Global Art Forum, held in March 2012. Image courtesy Art Dubai.

Relatively recently, international interest in contemporary art from Arabic-speaking countries and regions has increased, leading to a surge in media coverage in leading art, business and even general press. However, local language information on this topic has not followed suit, leaving a gap between what is available in English, arguably the lingua franca of the international contemporary art world, and Arabic. This aperture has been an ongoing problem for curators, arts professors and professionals, not to mention students and other Arab-only speakers for whom translated versions of important art texts and concepts are unavailable.

Lara Khaldi experienced this challenge first-hand in 2009 while working with Antonia Carver, current Fair Director of Art Dubai, on catalogues for the Sharjah Biennial. As she says in an interview with Ibraaz, a MENA-focused (Middle East North Africa) online arts platform,

It sprang out of our frustration to find two translators who used the same translation for the same term, or who pay attention to the context in which texts were being produced. This frustration was less about producing a unified language and more about the time needed for a discussion about, and a rethinking of, terms!

Many Arab art organisations have experienced similar limitations related to the lack of properly considered or incomplete Arabic translations of art terms. To address this problem some, including Mathaf and the Arab Image Foundation, have assembled their own translations. However, Khaldi found these either too technical or missing the discourse and context required for a more accurate understanding of the words and concepts.

Watch the announcement of the Arabic Art Glossary at the 2012 Global Art Forum below or view it on YouTube.

In an interview with The New York Times, Khaldi gave an example of the kind of translation challenge that exists.

During one of the sessions I’ve conducted, the term ‘installation art’ was interpreted in Arabic in two ways. The first ‘tajheez phi fada’a’ is related to a specific site and means ‘installing equipment’. The second ‘a’amal fani tarkeebi’ is more philosophical and doesn’t take into account the context of space, but literally means ‘work of art that is assembled’….

To address this need for dialogue and debate around the terms, those behind the Arabic Art Glossary are envisioning an interactive, online initiative that will invite contribution and feedback from a variety of arts professionals, including content from any existing reference material. As Khaldi says in the Ibraaz interview,

The idea is to build this glossary as a web-based project that begins to amass terms related to contemporary art practice, and gradually settle on a meaning/term via a kind of crowd-sourcing approach – i.e., actively soliciting contributions from those in the field, and encouraging a sense of debate regarding different translations, meanings and nuances of these terms. Over time, the glossary could begin to settle on words and meanings, and could become a point of reference for those working in this part of the world, as well as for translators.

I think the best translations – at least in art practice – come out of discussions and collaborations between the translators and the artists/writers.

Just how helpful this glossary will be for practical and immediate application when its immediate goal is the discourse itself and not the definitions? Will there be a governing entity that keeps content on track or will it follow a more open, collaborative model similar to the one used by Wikipedia? There are more questions than answers at this point, but according to Art Dubai organisers, more information will be available on the project close to the end of 2012.

Curator Lara Khaldi

Lara Khaldi received her BA in Archeology and Art History in 2005 and is currently pursuing an MA in Media and Communications at the European Graduate School. She has assisted in the curation of a number of exhibitions including “Jerusalem Show IV: On/Off Language”, a project put together by the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in October 2011, and “In the Name of the Father”, an exhibition held in 2011 as part of the Arab Shorts initiative in Cairo. She was the Assistant Director for Programmes at the Sharjah Art Foundation from 2009 to 2011. In addition to her work with the Arabic Art Glossary she will be co-curator for the next Jerusalem Show in November 2012 in Palestine.


Related Topics: Middle East, fairs, curatorial practice, resources,

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