In modern Syria, a contested territory at the intersection of differing regimes of political representation, artists ventured to develop strikingly new kinds of painting to link their images to life forces and agitated energies. Examining the works of artists Kahlil Gibran, Adham Ismail, and Fateh al-Moudarres, Beautiful Agitation explores how painters in Syria activated the mutability of form to rethink relationships of figure to ground, outward appearance to inner presence, and self to world. Drawing on archival materials in Syria and beyond, Anneka Lenssen reveals new trajectories of painterly practice in a twentieth century defined by shifting media technologies, moving populations, and the imposition of violently enforced nation-state borders. The result is a study of Arab modernism that foregrounds rather than occludes efforts to agitate against imposed identities and intersubjective relations.
"Beautiful Agitation is a much-needed contribution to the field of art history, but it is also a serious historical account of a volatile era from which the region is still suffering aftershocks. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in looking beyond the standard definitions of modern art and the traditions of art historical writing."
"Beautiful Agitation operates as an essential act of recuperation, providing precious evidence that modernist narratives need not follow presumptions of originality, exclusive ownership, or authenticity. Certainly, it will prove invaluable to all art historians and art lovers who wish to go below the surface."