Anneka Lenssen

Anneka Lenssen specializes in modern painting and contemporary visual practices, with a focus on the cultural politics of the Middle East. She teaches courses engaging with modern art and international mass culture, abstraction and aniconism, global histories of Surrealism and other transnationally conceived movements, translational practices, and historiography as well as special topic courses on Islamic art and visual culture.

Lenssen’s research examines problems of artistic representation in relation to the globalizing imaginaries of empire, nationalism, communism, decolonization, non-alignment, and Third World humanism. Her current book project, Beautiful Agitation: Modern Painting and Politics in Syria (UC Press, forthcoming 2020), is a study of avant-garde painting and the making of Syria as a contested territory, 1900 to 1965. It traces emerging ideas about artistic form and vitalist social activation within new regimes of political representation, from French Mandate rule after the first war to the mass mobilizations of youth-oriented ideological parties to Cold War cultural diplomacy. This work has been supported by a Hellman Faculty Fellow award (2017-2018), and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (theme “Art and Anthropology,” 2016-2017).

Lenssen is co-editor, with colleagues Nada Shabout and Sarah Rogers, of a volume of art writing from the Arab world in translation: Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018. She has published articles in Afterall, ARTMargins, Muqarnas, Representations, and Third Text, and contributed essays and reviews to Artforum, Bidoun, and Springerin, as well as exhibition catalogs for Darat al-Funun in Amman, Haus der Kunst in Munich, and and the Sharjah Biennial.

She is currently on the Editorial Board of ARTMargins and is a faculty affiliate of Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Before coming to Berkeley, Lenssen taught at The American University in Cairo, where she directed the Visual Cultures Program (2013-2014). She also served on the board for the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey (AMCA), 2010-2012. She earned her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.


Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents – Art and Arab Life, a Questionnaire

“Where do our arts stand with regard to the consciousness that is blossoming in the Arab nation?” This question was posed in 1956 in a questionnaire on “Art and Arab Life” that was circulated to artists in Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria in a special issue devoted to the arts of the Arab world of the Beirut-based, pan-Arab journal al-Adab, which was established in 1953 as an outlet for politically engaged thought and cultural analysis.

Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents – On the Concept of Painting and the Plastic Language

In Morocco in the mid-1960s, the National School of Fine Arts in Casablanca offered a new cohort of avant-garde thinkers—including artists Farid Belkahia, Mohammed Chebaa, and Mohammed Melehi—a platform for developing new models of decolonized, integrated artistic practice. Such an agenda is set forth in this position statement written by Chebaa on the occasion of the three-person Belkahia, Chebaa, and Melehi exhibition at the Mohammed V Theatre gallery in Rabat.