Unprecedented Program of Exhibitions and Events, and an Accompanying Catalog
Featuring Work by Women Artists from the Middle East and the Middle East Diaspora
On View at Multiple Venues in Princeton and New Brunswick, NJ
August through December 2012

Inaugural Symposium and Gallery Reception, Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers
Sunday, September 9, 2 – 4 pm

New Brunswick, NJ – May 14, 2012 – The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society, conceived and produced by Ferris Olin and Judith K. Brodsky, co-directors of the Institute for Women and Art at Rutgers, is an ambitious and unparalleled showcase five years in the making of exhibitions, public programming, and an accompanying catalog (ARTBOOK/D.A.P., September 2012) of the same title centered around the work of 24 contemporary feminist artists of Middle East heritage who do not want to be pigeonholed by national or religious identities. The work of these “transnational” artists examines and reveals from their global perspectives the complex social, theological and historic issues that have, and continue to shape, the state of Middle East women. Public programs featuring distinguished writers, visual artists, and scholars, along with performance events including the world premiere of a suite of arias from the new opera, Territories by Palestinian American playwright Betty Shamieh and Portuguese composer Andreia Pinto Correia, will take place in Princeton and New Brunswick, NJ from August through December 2012. Complementary events will also take place in Newark and Camden. All events are free and open to the general public.

Challenging Western Stereotypes

Through painting, video, photography, sculpture, film, and multi-media, these artists explore issues of gender, homeland, geopolitics, theology, transnationalism, and the interaction between East and West. The work challenges Western stereotypes of Middle East women as oppressed, the sexual objects of men, with their bodies disappearing under veils, while acknowledging existing social and theological restrictions that have caused many of them to leave their homelands.

Global Culture Transcends Politics, Geography and Religion

These artists are part of a global culture that transcends politics, geographic boundaries, and even religious beliefs that have divided the West and the Middle East for centuries. They have multiple identities as women, and as Muslims, Christians, Jews, or a secular identity, and often as members of the diaspora. Many live outside their country of origin in the US and Europe.

Historic Partnership Among Princeton, Rutgers, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton

The Fertile Crescent also marks a first of its kind partnership among three preeminent East Coast academic institutions, Princeton University, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton along with the Arts Councils of Princeton and West Windsor, the public libraries in East Brunswick, New Brunswick, and Princeton. Programming will take place on the universities’ and Institute campuses, as well as in local libraries and arts councils galleries, and other venues in the surrounding communities.

Dialogue to Foster Greater Understanding and Acceptance

The 15-mile New Brunswick-Princeton “corridor” is the new homeland of many Muslim and Middle East immigrants, and home of a large Jewish community. This project seeks to harness the visual arts along with events that focus on literature, film, and music to engage the populations of New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia, as well as the larger population of the East Coast, and the local university communities, in a dialogue that invites greater understanding and acceptance of a region of the world that has been under suspicion and prejudice in the US and Europe since 9/11.

Highlights of Artists’ Work

Shiva Ahmadi (Iranian) paints on oil barrel drums referencing oil found in the land that has shaped the economic relationships of many of the countries of the Middle East.

Ariane Littman (Israeli) addresses borders in her video The Olive Tree by focusing on an olive tree that happens to be dead at an Israeli checkpoint. We see her wrapping the tree, and then her own feet, in bandages, to care for the wounds in the land and on her.

Shadi Ghadirian (Iranian) explores the vulnerability of women in her Butterfly Series. She presents photographs of a woman in isolated interior settings with high walls in which a spider web is visible. In some of the images butterflies are captured in its threads.

Nezaket Ekici (Turkish) uses her dramatic live performance to tell the story of her forced arranged marriage by her father as a young woman. As she speaks, she angrily flings the coffee she is drinking at the wall, which as it drips down reveals words from her diary that she wrote on the wall with petroleum jelly.

Zeina Barakeh (Lebanese) comments on family and borders in her installation of passports of three generations of a Palestinian family that show how conflict and conditions under which the Palestinians have lived have resulted in a displaced population.

Jananne Al-Ani (Iraqi) has created a video based on the view of the desert from the air. Her shots reveal the shadow images of cities buried beneath the sand, signs of how the desert has been the site of civilizations throughout history.

Negar Ahkami (Iranian), who was born in Baltimore, uses her paintings to explore her identity. Her work includes references to Persian culture, both historic and contemporary. Often set in a pictorial sea, her mosques melt into the sea, and her human figures are small in the immensity of the sea that becomes a metaphor for the shifting culture that occurs in the transnationalism that exists today.

Shirin Neshat (Iranian) who was born in Iran and educated in California, uses her photographs, videos, and films to make feminist statements about the status of women in her native Iran.

Lalia Shawa (Palestinian) comments on Arab culture in a series of paintings. They respond to the building of Dubai, which on first glance look like contemporary versions of Arab decorative patterns. Further examination of elements such as jagged abstract shapes shows her work is a critique of the construction of Dubai as an artificial city that has no roots in Arab culture.

Complete list of core artists:

Shiva Ahmadi, Iranian

Negar Ahkami, Iranian

Jananne Al-Ani, Iraqi

Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Egyptian and Iranian

Fatima Al Qadiri, Kuwaiti

Monira Al Qadiri, Kuwaiti

Zeina Barakeh, Lebanese

Ofri Cnaani, Israeli

Nezaket Ekici, Turkish

Diana El Jeiroudi, Syrian

Parastou Forouhar, Iranian

Ayana Friedman, Israeli

Shadi Ghadirian, Iranian

Mona Hatoum, Palestinian

Hayv Kahraman, Iraqi

Efrat Kedem, Israeli

Sigalit Landau, Israeli

Ariane Littman, Israeli

Shirin Neshat, Iranian

Ebru Özseçen, Turkish

Laila Shawa, Palestinian

Shahzia Sikander, Pakistani

Fatimah Tuggar, Nigerian

Nil Yalter, Turkish

The venues for the main exhibitions are: Princeton University Art Museum and Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery at the Woodrow Wilson School; The Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts; and Rutgers’s Mason Gross Galleries and Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries.

The Fertile Crescent’s rich array of programming comprises over twelve art exhibitions, and thirty events that include artist conversations, a symposium, panel discussions, film screenings, an Art Walk, readings, performances, and lectures. The inaugural symposium on Sunday, September 9 will be moderated by Alison Bernstein, former vice president, The Ford Foundation, and now the director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers and will include artists and scholars. A highlight will be Margot Badran, who has been living in Cairo, and will be presenting the work of artists after the Arab Spring. This is the first time this material will be presented in the United States. The first exhibit kicks off on August 13 at the Mason Gross Galleries with a group show of seven artists and will be on view through Sunday, September 9.

The Fertile Crescent will attract diverse audiences, including art lovers, academics, students, feminists, religious leaders, historians, and anyone with an interest in gender issues, social issues, religion, and the complex geopolitical structure of the Middle East today, and its relationship to and impact on the rest of the world.

Note: The title “The Fertile Crescent” comes from the writings of University of Chicago archaeologist, James Henry Breasted, who in 1906 was the first to identify the early world of the Middle East and North Africa to both American scholars and the general public. Through Breasted’s writings, people began to recognize the significance of the countries of this region in the development of language, agriculture, law, art and other aspects of what we call civilization. Its use in the context of this program is intended to be ironic and taken as a pun on the essentialist concept of women.

Main Exhibition Schedule:

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 10/8/12–1/13/13

Princeton, NJ: Bernstein Gallery, Woodrow Wilson School, 8/27/12–10/19/12

Princeton, NJ: Arts Council of Princeton/Paul Robeson Gallery for the Arts, 10/04/12–11/21/12

New Brunswick, NJ: Mason Gross Galleries, Rutgers University, 8/13/12–9/9/12

New Brunswick, NJ: Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries, Rutgers University (3 shows),

8/29/12–9/28/12; 10/4/12-11/1/12; 11/9-12/17/12

About IWA: The mission of the Institute for Women and Art (IWA) at Rutgers is to transform values, policies, and institutions, and to insure that the intellectual and aesthetic contributions of diverse communities of women in the visual arts are included in the cultural mainstream and acknowledged in the historical record. To accomplish this goal, the Rutgers Institute for Women and Art invents, implements, and conducts live and virtual education, research, documentation, public programs, and exhibitions focused on women artists and feminist art. The IWA strives to establish equality and visibility for all women artists, who are underrepresented and unrecognized in art history, the art market, and the contemporary art world, and to address their professional development needs. The IWA endeavors to serve all women in the visual arts and diverse global, national, regional, state, and university audiences.

Media Contact:

To arrange interviews with the program co-producers, the artists, and to request a copy of the catalog and artwork, contact Andrea Smith,; 646-220-5950