Art and Gender in the West versus Middle East

Danna Lorch explores the intersection of art and gender in this article. Since 1989, when the Guerrilla Girls noted that under 5% of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern section comes from women, gender influence in art elitism has been acknowledged. But the patronizing assumption that often-veiled Middle Eastern women must be more censored and stifled in art than Western women are hasn’t been adequately challenged. This piece argues that gender equality in elite art will likely be realized in the Middle East sooner than in the West. Although there is considerable variation in gender participation rates across galleries, at the enormous Art Dubai fair, 45 percent of featured artists are women. This is “extraordinarily high compared to other major international fairs.” In “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” Lila Abu-Lughod criticizes the blind Western assumption that Muslim women are all oppressed and forced to wear veils. The reality is, many Muslim women see veils as innovative and liberating “portable seclusion” (p. 785). The veil is an especially recognizable symbol often seized as proof of oppression, and faulty assumptions about gender repression in art is no different than the ease with which most Western people accept veil oppressiveness as fact.