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Cultural Creative Agency

CCA Grant for Research on Qatari Culture

John Friend. Map of the Gulf, 1709
National Museum of Qatar / Google Arts & Culture

The Cultural Creative Agency, EastEast.World, and EastEast Paper are announcing a new grant for independent Russian researchers from the fields of cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, contemporary art, and other disciplines. The applicants are invited to investigate phenomena or cultural archetypes related to Qatari history and culture, such as nomadism, oral tradition, the architecture of majlis, pearl fishing, ornaments, and others (participants are welcome to propose their own ideas). The aims of the grant are as follows: to reinterpret and revitalize Qatari intangible heritage by finding its contemporary relevance and locating it within cutting edge theoretical discourse; to reveal unusual connections and points of cross-cultural dialogue by drawing parallels and analogies across the countries of the East, to find new ways of its interpretation including visual sources by conducting archival work and exchange with specialists and forming a direct contact with the space.

Five selected participants will get a chance to visit Doha (all travel expenses included) in order to write an essay and compose a visual archive that will be published in collaboration with EastEast.World and the EastEast Paper. Each winner will receive a remuneration of 70,000 Russian rubles. The nominees will also have all the necessary assistance: a translator, a specialist in Arabic studies, photographer or cameraman, all depending on their specific needs.

METHODOLOGY

We welcome multidisciplinary approaches and original interpretations that embrace a combination of academic and traditional methodologies (aesthetics, cultural studies, critical theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonial theory, critical heritage studies, etc.) with new ones (posthumanism, actor-network theory, deep history, digital humanities, philosophy of video-games, multi-species studies etc). We are concerned with the limits of ethnography and cultural tourism and prefer anti-orientalist, postcolonial, and decolonial approaches. 

FORMAT

The result can be an academic text or artist essay with a case study that would include elements of field research, dialogue with real people, sites, and objects. We encourage fresh voices, new approaches, and unusual intellectual twists.

Criteria of selection 

We see researchers as conductors among diverse discourses (humanities, natural sciences, history) who connect first person experiences, the history of objects, and theoretical interpretation. We invite independent researchers with Russian citizenship who are not necessarily affiliated with any academic institution. A BA, MA, or PhD certificate or other academic qualification is a bonus, but not a must. However, we require applicants to send us a list of previous publications and a relevant writing sample. The five winners will be selected by the CCA expert board and the EastEast.World and EastEast Paper editorial members, on the grounds of originality of the writer’s position, but also forethought in terms of the visual manifestation of the project and the specification of technical needs. While evaluating the quality of applications, we also take into account our capacities to provide the researcher with necessary instruments.

How to Apply

The applicant must send us their CV, a list of selected previous publications, one sample of a text written in a similar style, and the project proposal. The project proposal must include: the general idea of research (around three paragraphs), a provisional list of literature (five books or essays), a list of visual materials, and a preliminary list of the types of help and assistance that will be required in Russia and Doha. Applications should be sent to researchgrants@qatarrussia.ru. The deadline is November 15th, 2020.

If you have additional questions, you can download our FAQ document that includes a short reminder of how to apply.


Suggested subjects

Pearl fishing

Until the 1930s, the Qatari economy was largely based on pearl fishing. When Japanese engineers invented its cultured equivalent, this form of labor, which was hard and detrimental to one's health, became obsolete, which in turn has gradually changed the whole economic system of the Arabian peninsula. The global supply chain was in fact driven by the Wester (including Russian) royal families and aristocracy who were fascinated by these beautiful objects produced by mollusks. In nature these treasures were, of course, not made for any artistic purpose, but were a form of remedy from the painful intrusion of sand. Thus, such an economy cannot be viewed as isolated from other discourses: aesthetics, biology, human anatomy, engineering. Moreover, pearl fishing in Western thinking was aesthetisised by such philosophers as Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin, who refer to a process of bringing to life and coming to terms with a fragmented past.

Pearl divers of Bahrain, March 19th, 1911
Muharraq Forever

Majlis

Majlis is a unique “vernacular” element of Qatari and some other Arab countries’ architecture—a space of a private edifice allocated for guests who come and visit. It plays a key role in both Islamic and secular culture: for instance, it is also a place of intergenerational bonding where the younger people communicate with the elders. Moreover, majlises could be understood as a form of “distributed” parliament scattered across the city. Lacking an analogy in the Western representative system, it presents a peculiar hybrid between private and public, personal and political.


Nomadism

As with other bedouin cultures, pre-oil Qatar was a land populated by nomads. In progressivist discourse, stateless nomads are usually considered to be inferior to settler cultures. In today’s globalized world—with its tourist industry, “biennalization”, labour migration, and endless supply chains—mobility and lack of belonging is highly valued. Buzzwords like “digital nomads” and others romanticize this notion, while uncritically and ahistorically appropriating it. In fact, many existing nomads are accustomed to modern technologies, some of them even work for the tourist industry, meticulously constructing this way of life for the foreign gaze. As for Russian history, it has a peculiar relation to nomadic culture: it has been controlled and influenced by nomads (Turco-Mongol rule), while later the Russian Empire tried to assimilate nomads while conquesting Central Asia. Curiously, today certain post-Soviet regions experience a return to nomadism as a postcolonial practice, while the problematic field of nomad studies (kochevnikovedenie or nomadistika) remains popular among certain academics.

Bedouins of Qatar, 1959
Jette Bang / Moesgaard Museum, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Oral tradition (storytelling)

Oral tradition—in both Eastern and Western countries—has been supplanted by Gutenberg's invention and the proliferation of printed press and, subsequently, the emergence of the 19th century “meta genre” of the bourgeois novel. Qatari poetry was not exempt from this process and has experienced a similar process that took place in the previous century, when the introduction of new literary genres sidelined the role of (nabati) poetry. However, oral tradition still plays an important role in many Arab countries including Qatar where it is a very important source of history. Something similar could be also said about the Russian literary tradition with Nikolai Leskov as, arguably, the last writer who wanted to save this genre. The new media, on the one hand, provides new ground and opportunities for oral tradition (for instance, ASMR, online streams etc.), while the idea of storytelling, as some theorists claim, have been commercialized and co-opted by corporations and managerial ethos. 


Ornament (arabesque)

Extensive use of calligraphic, geometric, and abstract floral patterns characterize Islamic art. In terms of architecture, ornament is also used for the dematerialization of the stone. In Russian heritage, ornament also played a crucial role, taking into account window architraves (nalichnik) in village architecture, crafts, and fabric that could even be traced to avant-garde experiments of the 1920s. In the Western modern tradition, ornament is often devalued, as in the famous essay by Adolf Loos, who defined it as a “crime”. Nevertheless, one could say that ornament persists in contemporary design and architecture across the world. Moreover, art theorist Laura Marks, referring to continuity between Western and Eastern aesthetics, claims that what unites new media art and Islamic ornament is an imperceptible layer—be it a digital code or a sacred word of the Quran.