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Forgotten Enlightenments:

Unknown Stories about Islam in Contemporary Art

Forgotten Enlightenments is a multi-aspect project and exhibition spanning over the course of six months, as a collaboration between Out of the Circle in Cairo, Egypt, and HALLE14 in Leipzig, Germany. The project entailed an exchange research workshop and event held in Cairo, and an artist residency followed by a group exhibition in Leipzig, with a series of parallel art performances. Throughout its different segments, Forgotten Enlightenments sought to bridge Islam’s intellectual history with discourse about its present, exploring the cultural connections between East and West and the millennia-long exchange of knowledge and periods of enlightenment.

The Middle Ages and Early Modern era saw the arts and sciences flourishing in the Islamic world, with Polymaths like Abu Raihan al-Biruni and Ibn Sina (Latinised: Avicenna) spearheading an “Eastern Renaissance” in Central Asia 1000 years after Christ. Trigonometry, Algebra, and the basis for modern medicine can all be traced back to Islamic libraries and scholars. Islam also championed an experimental spirit, observing one’s surroundings and learning from nature, as well as tolerance to diversity – socially, academically, and intellectually.

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Over the centuries this symbiotic relationship was reversed, but not without consequences. The extensive impact Aristotelian-rationalist currents of thought in Islam had over western modernity became devalued, denied and invisible. In the wake of European imperialism and colonialism, Islamic societies have adopted the European model of progress, modernization, industrialization, and education – sometimes to the point of self-rejection. Some countries have become detached from their own intellectual tradition and literature with the introduction and wide usage of the Latin alphabet in lieu of Arabic.

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Forgotten Enlightenment’s artists and attendees were encouraged to engage with questions such as the significance of Islamic Heritage for Muslim artists or artists from countries of Muslim-majority; The usage of Islamic visual language within the framework of new technologies such as video, computer and sound art; and how spiritualties such as those of Sufism can connect with current aesthetic, societal and social issues.


The multi-facetted workshop segment in Cairo involved a series of themed discussions held on visits to several historical locations, inspiring the artists to exchange thoughts around the rich Islamic heritage that is embedded in modern life and fused within the contemporary social discourse. In part led by Dr. Heba Nayel Barakat, head of curatorial affairs at the Islam Art Museum in Malaysia (IAMM), the workshop aimed at reviving knowledge on our scientific heritage and civilization, regarding it as a first step into forming our future. The conclusion of the four-day exchange workshop between the Egyptian and international artists was presented to the public in an event with a series of discussions, hosted by project partner Goethe Institut.


Adel Abidin

Azadeh Akhlagi 

Melih Apa & Mehmet Fahraci

Sarah Al-Abdali

Feriel Bendjama

Emrah Gokdemir & Kenan Nuraydin

Manaf Halbouni

Abdellah M Hassak

Zarah Hussain

Soukaina Joual

Yara Mekawei

Mehreen Murtaza

Eko Nugroho

Erkan Ozgen 

Imran Qureshi

Anahita Razmi

Haythem Zakaria

Artist in Residence: Islam Shabana


Curated by:

Michael Arzt and Elham Khattab

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