The Shameless Gaze: Artists and Art Patrons

by Andrea Scrima


What is power? The answer is relative, contingent on context. We speak of the power of sexual allure, the power of persuasion, of charisma, but these only rarely translate into sustainable structures of actual dominance. In a capitalist democracy, power is generally economic and political; it’s less frequently defined as intellectual or moral force. As an artist and writer whose works are not, as sometimes happens in other political systems, banned (which would enhance their power in a different intellectual economy), but merely sell poorly, I have relatively little power, and so my words come from the position of a person frequently, in one way or another, subject to the will of others.

Given the vast difference in agency prevailing between artists and patrons, is an intellectual, artistic, ethical discussion on equal terms even possible? Wealth inspires conflicting emotions in people who don’t have it: envy for the ease and security it affords, because so many of the problems that plague us can be solved with money; frustration that the notion of equitable taxation is evidently a utopian impossibility; dismay at the injustices of wealth distribution and the damage the ever-widening economic divide between the haves and have-nots has inflicted on society, the environment, and world peace. But without wealth, it’s said, we would never have had the splendor of kingdoms and courts; the magnificent cathedrals and palaces would never have been built, the arts would never have flourished. The concentration of wealth and the judicious application of its power is what makes civilizations thrive. Indeed, people working in the arts will always find themselves in happy or unhappy alliance with those in a position to fund their endeavors and will forever speculate on the underlying motivations of those who give so “generously.” The relationship that binds the arts to wealth is inherently problematic, a form of co-dependence in which power is negotiated according to ever-shifting terms. Read more »

Sultana Morayma: the Last Queen of Al Andalus

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

UnnamedAt the end of the story, in its final pages, is a queen. Not the pious despot Isabella of Castille who is about to command the Inquisition, or the embittered, vengeful Sultana Aixa la Horra who is inciting war within the house of Nasrid, but the queen who is obscured from view on this history’s chessboard, whose life and death will come to be a veritable symbol of the paradox that is Al Andalus, the queen who prevails as the enduring shadow of a legend. Her name is Morayma.

Eight hundred years have passed in Al Andalus, Muslim Spain— years turning like great mills, a resplendence of work reflected in books and buildings, cities and institutions, technology and aesthetics, bridging antiquity with modernity, east with west, fissured periodically but sewn back again and again by Iberian Muslims, Jews and Christians. Al Andalus, which, under Muslim rule, has brought about a transformation simply through inter-translation, which has dared to find direction in deviation from the known and accepted, where the Abrahamic people have found enough peace to transcend literalism and worship willingly in each other’s sacred places, to inscribe the other’s scripture on their own walls, is collapsing.

It is 1482; the year Morayma weds the Nasrid prince Abu Abdullah who is known in history mostly by nicknames: Boabdil, or Rey el Chico (“little king”), or El Zygobi (“the unfortunate one”). The house of Nasrid is at war. All that signifies Al Andalus — the books, maps, machines, manuals, poetry, medical and musical instruments, recipes, calligraphy— is about to be destroyed forever; a near-millennium of civilization utterly wiped out by the crushing machinery of the Inquisition; a tyranny of epic proportions poised to swallow an epic legacy of tolerance. It is the year that Morayma’s fate becomes knotted with the fate of the last Andalusi bastion, Granada.

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