Eurasia, new ways of seeing

Theatre and a play writing tradition remain vibrant in Britain partly as because one of the great playwrights was an English bloke called Shakespeare. Outside of this western tradition, there are many performance forms, many of which don’t place the writer in the same place. And some countries traditions don't have playwrights.


As local arts meets a global stage and the collisions and intersections ensue, it will be interesting to note how the arts scene develops. There is already a very valuable Asian arts, particularly Japan and China (from ancient to modern), market but more radical artists wish to claim their own ways of seeing.


This clash, I picked up reading, on recommendation a book looking at the history of Europe and Asia - debunking some of the artificial divides commentators have built up and observing the current jibes amongst cultural models (Dawn of Eurasia - Amazon link).  This from an arts lens.

“Arefe Arad is an artist in Tehran. She makes bodies by patching different fabric pieces together, and if the result evokes different kinds of human-size alien creatures and monsters that is very much deliberate. She told me she wants to create monsters, textile models close to mythical characters with no identity or individuality.

I met her at Etemad Gallery in North Tehran while spending a few weeks in the city, mostly among contemporary artists and gallery owners. Her sculptures are flexible, viscous, patched together in deformed shapes, a reflection –she said –on the everyday life of Iranian women. Stopping at Tajrish Square, I immediately understood what Arefe meant.

One young woman was going up the pedestrian bridge escalator wearing a black headscarf covering all her hair –very proper hijab few women in North Tehran are keen on –but she combined it with knee-high pink stiletto boots. The whole square turned to watch her walk.

These are not creative cultural hybrids but distorted chimeras. The authorities want a token of subjection and that is why every woman in Iran must sport her headscarf, wherever she is, as a public proclamation that her choices are, in the end, worthless. For some, the humiliation is powerful and deliberate. At the same time, they fight back by blemishing in every way they can the almost aesthetic dreams the clerics have developed for Iran. The result is not creative but destructive, just as the parties in North Tehran are less festive celebrations than distorted affirmations of the will against a stunting force.

When contemporary art arrived in Tehran in the final years of the Shah’s regime it was an opening for Western values and tastes. As the founder and inaugural director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art put it in 1979, since Iran already imported Western technology and science, it should import Western art as well. That project of imitation failed when the Shah was deposed and no one in Iran wants to repeat it. The art scene still represents the drive to break free of conventions –to become modern –but today it is a much more primal and destructive force, because there is no model left to follow. To become modern is no longer equivalent to becoming Western.

Talking to young Iranian artists, I learned one important lesson. While they were rebelling against the confined spaces of life in Tehran, they also insisted that they did not want to follow the same path as Europeans or Americans. Contemporary art had taught them that there is always a different way of seeing. Art must foresee other pictures, other worlds. Western modernity is for them just another form of tradition to be uprooted and overcome.

When discussing world politics today, we often revert to one of two models. The first, popularized by Francis Fukuyama, sees the whole world converging to a European or Western political framework, after which no further historical development is possible. Every country or region is measured by the time it will still take to reach this final destination, but all doubts and debates about where we are heading have been fundamentally resolved. The other model, defended by Samuel Huntington, is sceptical of such irreversible movement. The world it depicts is that of a clash between different civilizations having little or nothing in common, particularly since Western political culture will remain geographically limited. This book adopts a third view.

I agree with Fukuyama that the whole world is on the path to modern society, but there are numerous paths and, naturally, different visions of what a modern society looks like. Everyone is modern now, but there are different models of modern society. From this fact the essential terms of the new world order follow more or less directly. The hard distinction between modern and traditional has broken down, giving way to a deeply integrated world, but its most distinctive trait is the incessant competition between different ideas of how worldwide networks should be organized…”


I find the book maybe a little less insightful on Russia (or it may be I know Russia less) but fascinating on the Asia / Europe part. Amazon link here.

The current Arts blog, cross-over, the current Investing blog.  Cross fertilise, some thoughts on autism.  Discover what the last arts/business mingle was all about (sign up for invites to the next event in the list below).

My Op-Ed in the Financial Times  (My Financial Times opinion article) about asking long-term questions surrounding sustainability and ESG.

Current highlights:

A long read on Will Hutton looking at Brexit causes and solutions.

Some writing tips and thoughts from Zadie Smith

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Some popular posts:  the commencement address;  by NassimTaleb (Black Swan author, risk management philosopher),  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes;  JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

Buy my play, Yellow Gentlemen, (amazon link) - all profits to charity