Art and Culture at the Middle East Institute by Miranda Macaulay Miller (A’20)

by tuftsigl
Jul 15

A few weeks ago, I started my internship at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington, D.C. The Middle East Institute is one of many think tanks in Washington, D.C., but it also happens to be the oldest Washington-based institution dedicated solely to the study of the Middle East. The purpose of the Middle East Institute is not only to produce research about the region, but also to promote understanding of the region through a wider lens that incorporates a policy center, education center, and arts and culture center.

This summer, I am interning in the Arts & Culture Center at MEI. At Tufts, I am an International Relations major and an Arabic and Art History minor. I am passionate about Middle East policy as well as art history and have struggled to find ways to combine these interests, so when the opportunity to work in the arts and culture department at one of the most established Middle East think tanks presented itself, I knew I had to take it.

The purpose of this department is to foster cross-cultural understanding by promoting the work of artists from the Middle East and North Africa, hosting them in conversation, and connecting them with policymakers and other American counterparts. The current focus of the Arts & Culture Center is the launch of the MEI Art Gallery. This fall, MEI is opening an art gallery in its newly renovated headquarters dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary and modern art, photography, and video by artists from the Middle East and its diaspora.

The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, curated by Rose Issa, one of the most prominent curators of art of the Middle East, is called Arabicity | Ourouba. This exhibition explores the aesthetic, conceptual, and socio-political concerns of the Arab world over the past twenty years as expressed by 18 artists, including Hassan Hajjaj, Ayman Baalbaki, Faathi Hassan, and Youssef Nabil. The Middle East Institute chose Arabicity as its first exhibition because it embodies and embraces issues that are relevant to MEI and tackles challenges that it is working to address every day from a policy perspective. Artists from the Middle East and North Africa often reflect on the political and social realities, as well as misconceptions and stereotypes of the region, and I believe this broader perspective is key to producing smart, effective public policy, which is ultimately the goal of the Middle East Institute.

So far, I have been busy with tasks such as writing and preparing the brochure for Arabicity | Ourouba, planning the opening, and researching artists and curators from the Arab world for future exhibitions. I am looking forward to working with policy and arts experts to help develop and expand the MEI Arts & Culture Program, which will ultimately help underscore the importance of the arts of the Middle East, provide a space for dialogue across divisions, and connect Middle Eastern artists with Washington’s art, culture and policy circles.