AES+F Digital Project Challenges Perceptions Of Islam In Western Society

The Russian based photo-conceptualist group AES made up of artists Tatyana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovitch, and Evgeny Svyatsky began the Islamic project as an installation and performance with interactive communication with public purchasing souvenirs, filling questionnaire concerning their opinions about Future. It works as a kind of social psychoanalysis – visualisation of fears of Western society about Islam. In 1996, they launched “Travel Agency to the Future: Islamic Project” – a conceptual art piece that not only catapulted the artist collective to prominence but gained in controversy after 9/11. Images of famous landmarks and tourist destinations were digitally altered to look as if taken over by a radical form of Islamic culture. In conjunction, AES+F set up a travel office where souvenir items were sold with these images printed on them, and where visitors could “plan” a fictional holiday into the depicted world.

There is two way of performing: first – as AES Travel agency to the Future – fake office with obvious stuff and our images on posters, postcards, mugs, carpets, T-shirts etc. First time it was shown in Guelman Gallery, Moscow in 1996. The second way – as installation with title «Oasis» which is a kind of Bedouin tent done from traditional handmade carpets stitched from cotton fabric with our Islamic images printed on silk (carpets produced in Egypt). It is a place for meditation and dreaming on sofas with water pipes, Arabic music etc.

Islamic project was shown in Russia, in most of European countries , United States and in South Korea. It was published in catalogues and albums, in mane newspapers (The New York Times, Forward, Liberation, Tages Zeitung, Wochenpost, Der Standard etc.) and magazines (NBK, Art News, Art, Siksi, Art Press etc.) of different western countries as well as in Egypt and South Korea.          

The work was a commentary on Western Islamophobia and in particular referenced Samuel Huntington’s popular political paradigm of the “Clash of Civilisations”, 1993, in which the author argues that future front lines in history would be between cultures, not states – in particular between the West and cultures following Islam. The digitally altered images became a representation of the absurdity of theories like those set forth by “The Clash of Civilisations”, in particular the perceived dichotomy between the West and Islam (between the image of modernity, innovation and science opposed to tradition, aggression and backwardness).

“Islamic Project” gained in controversy after 9/11 where previously existing stereotypes became enforced with a Western public, and yet were deemed politically incorrect. Some of the images were abused to  propagate theories like “The Clash of Civilisations” and worse, while AES+F’s work was often misunderstood as discriminatory towards Islam itself.

The images here chosen by AES+F for s[edition] could not be more indicative of the time we live in, and more representative of the the political power an image holds as such – especially one that is digitally transmittable in a global world.

About Top Photos: AES+F’s “Islamic Project” is key when looking at the artists’ oeuvre, and New Liberty in particular is the most iconic images of the series. Framed as a “visualization of fears of Western society about Islam”, the digitally altered photograph of a burka covered Statue of Liberty could not have more of an impact when wanting to amuse, disturb and raise questions with the viewer all at the same time. The strength of AES+F’s work has always resided in the juxtaposition between myths and stereotypes. “We’d like to destroy the cliche about  the good guys and the bad guys, as portrayed in the media. (…). With art, we’re attempting to describe the new situation, in which complete ambiguity rules.” As a result, AES+F’s created imagery provokes conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety. The real absurdity yet emotional power of New Liberty becomes clear when considering the opposing associations combined in a single image: the statue of liberty – mythically nominative of freedom and individuality, is veiled by a burka – considered a symbol of total oppression and self-obliteration.

AES+F’s London is part of its “Islamic Project” series intended to reveal the absurdity behind modern “Clash of Civilization” theories, as made popular by the political theorist Samuel Huntington in the mid 1990s. The artist collective’s strategy is to take stereotypical views of cultures and to exaggerate them by creating a visual ‘worst case scenario’ of exactly these ideas – and to therewith demonstrate their absurdity.

Images: AES+F Digital Project Text:from information on the Seditions website

This original artwork is available to buy as a digital download from Sedition

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