When thinking of Arab culture, the mind often steers towards a somewhat conservative outlook. But Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? — a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) — uses posters and other cinema memorabilia from the 1950s to modern day, to show us a side of the culture that’s not often portrayed in the Western world.
The exhibition is full of surprises. Film posters and brochures from the 1960s and 70s depict couples kissing in bed, and there’s even promotional material for a pornographic movie. It seems so far from what we’d expect to see from the Arabian Peninsula today; some of these films almost feel surreal.
Things then take a turn for the shocking with a promotional poster for Beretta, marketed as a rape revenge thriller, picturing a woman in Islamic dress armed with the title weapon.
On a lighter note, there’s an Egyptian comedy from the 90s by the name of Terrorism and Kebab — a farcical movie about a man mistaken for a terrorist.
Our one hang up with this otherwise excellent exhibition is that it would be helpful to have a synopsis of each movie next to the items on display. This would give them cultural context, resulting in a better viewing experience.
Rather than trying to make any overt statement around liberalism versus conservatism, Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? is an insightful collection of memorabilia that also acts as a revealing historical record.
Whose Gaze Is It Anyway? is on in the Fox reading room at ICA, The Mall from now until 5 October. Entrance to the ICA is included with £1 day membership and is free on Tuesdays. Also on at ICA (and in its last few weeks) is the art of exploration in Journal.
For more art in London, check out our September listings.