next week at this time, i will have arrived in the relatively small city that is to be my home for the next 7-8 years. the program that i will be joining is really great and has many more opportunities for me than do similar programs at other universities i was considering. this is certainly one of the reasons why i chose to matriculate into this particular program, but i think i was also drawn to it because my parents have a history in this particular state. my father spent a little over a year in surgery training in the state’s capital, after leaving iran in his late twenties and being trained in a nearby state for several years. my mother, when she was only a year older than i am now and had recently married my father, traveled more than six thousand miles from tehran to join my father for a few months. they both lived in this state only briefly decades ago, and my journey will be one of less than 2,000 miles — only a fraction of theirs — but i somehow feel as if i will be retracing their steps, even if only in the vaguest of ways.
Over the past four decades it has become increasingly possible to manipulate the boundaries and demarcations of biological entities. Emerging technologies that we term “techno/biologicals” have the potential to challenge boundaries assumed to be unassailable – to perform “border crossings”—between what is normatively accepted as nature or as culture, self or other, life or death. The application of such technologies inevitably results in hybrid entities, and questions are brought to the fore about what is normal or abnormal, what is moral and just, and what should be the limits, if any, of human intervention into the “natural world.” In other words, techno/biologicals intervene powerfully on life itself. Donna Haraway, focusing specifically on the biotechnology industry, has argued: “bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic-generative nodes”; their boundaries materialize in social interaction, and through this interaction bodies and body parts are constituted as objects; as sites for manipulation. […]
Among their many key applications, techno/biologicals enable the transformation of living cells, tissues, and organs into agents that facilitate research, or else substitute or replace faulty, inadequate, or failed body parts and mechanisms. Among such technologies are “immortalized cell lines” kept “alive” in nutritive media; the creation of transgenic and synthetic organisms; organ transplants; and extraction and preparation of stem cells for research purposes from embryonic tissue. There are similarities in the effects brought about by techno/biologicals with medical traditions where substances are trafficked between humans in order to enhance wellbeing and provide protection from danger. Practices of witchcraft, spirit possession, shamanism, initiation rites, to name a few, often involve grafting, or the hybridization of humans, with entities taken from the material and spiritual worlds with preventive or therapeutic intent. […] Such activities thereby transform body and society, and effectively challenge locally understood boundaries between self and other, and nature and culture. However, such indigenous practices cannot have the same portability as do techno/biologicals because the efficiacy of healing ceremonies, witchcraft practices, and so on, is not detachable from the specific contexts where they are applied.
Techno/biologicals of all kinds are quite different from earlier, ubiquitous forms of hybridization because they rely on procedures of standardization and normalization that facilitate the treatment or transformation of bodies deliberately decontextualized from history, society, and social relationships. It is this ability to treat bodies-out-of-context – on the twin assumptions that all bodies are essentially the same and that taxonomies of diseases and conditions are applicable everywhere – that gives these technologies great portability and translocal effectiveness in connection with many medical conditions.” —Margaret Lock and Vinh-Kim Nguyen, on “techno/biologicals,” in An Anthropology of Biomedicine
Ammar Al Attar, from the series Prayer Rooms, 2012 (source).
"Ammar Mohammed Al Attar surveys prayer rooms across the UAE. These informal worship areas are ubiquitous, providing Muslims a place for their five prayers a day regardless of their location. The decorative elements of these interiors are incredibly humble, in line with Islamic architectural tenets and in contrast to the exterior opulence of the UAE’s architectural development. Serenity and stillness are common elements in these makeshift rooms, transforming their spatial reality as industrial caravans or rooms in malls and business centers, to that of spiritual sanctuaries." (source)
I’m in the process of scanning my lab notebooks and other research-related documents because I’m leaving my lab after ~3.5 years*. Pictured above is the cover of my first lab notebook, from 2011.
*During which time I have managed to learn lab techniques from the bottom up, work on at least 6 projects, be frequently harassed by the creepy researcher from hell (who tried to sabotage one of my projects recently), train 3 (!) students, discover that good scientists are’t always good mentors, realize that I really do not want to work with viruses anymore, and become rather bitter because of some of the things that have happened to me in this lab .
Sarah Al Abdali, Mecca Street Signs, 2012 (source).
Excerpt from Rosie Bsheer’s interview with Sarah Al Abdali in 2013, which can be read in its entirety at Jadaliyya:
Rosie Bsheer (RB): Can you tell us about your background and how you entered the world of street art in Saudi Arabia? What artistic and cultural forms have most influenced your style and work?
Sarah Mohanna Al Abdali (SMA): I come from a graphic design background, having studied and worked as a graphic designer for about two years. The work I have thus far produced reflects my longtime interest in both history and politics and seeks to spread awareness of issues that play a central role in shaping everyday social life. These range from encouraging reading as a habit amongst the youth and visualizing the politics of heritage construction to spreading knowledge about the Palestinian struggle through online magazines. Free artistic expression is a challenge in some parts of the world, and in Saudi Arabia, both the authorities and certain sectors of the population work, together and separately, to limit and control cultural production. They attempt to censor work that addresses issues they consider to be taboo, such as religion. Many continue to avoid such critical work out of fear of the attendant legal repercussions. However, I have been able to take advantage of my design background—with the discipline being inherently solution-driven—in order to overcome the host of socio-political challenges and experiment with various channels of expressions and communication.
I was eager to express my thoughts on and critiques of the politics of development, architectural landscapes, modern aesthetics, historical amnesia, and socio-political inequalities, among others. This sense of loss, coupled with a desire for a different future, compelled me to share these ideas with the wider public on the walls of my city, Jeddah. I was therefore inspired by critique first and foremost, and the artform consequently followed. Informed and inspired by the Hijazi culture and aesthetics, I have since experimented with various genres, artistic traditions, and mediums, including oil painting, film, photography, and illustration.
RB: What are the major events and processes that shaped your artistic trajectory and its politicization?
SMA: The ongoing destruction and construction schemes in Mecca have intensified my sense of political and cultural marginalization. In Mecca, Masjid al-Haram [Grand Mosque], the holiest site in Islam, is a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, a fact that is highlighted during the hajj season. Yet, the upscale King AbdulAziz Endowment Project (Abraj al-Bait Towers) overshadows the mosque on one side, while the Jabal Omar Development overshadows it on the other side. Other five- and seven-star megaprojects consisting of more skyscrapers, apartment buildings, and hotels geared for the comfort of the upper classes, are sure to ring in the mosque in the years to come.In order to construct Mecca based on this new, “modernizing” vision and under the excuse of accommodating the ever-increasing number of pilgrims, old sites, some dating back to the time of the prophet, have been demolished. What little is left of the Meccan/Hijazi identity and its material culture is being completely destroyed. What once was a cultural and economic entrepôt that prided itself on the diversity of its cultural and social traditions is today no different than any other commercial metropolitan city.
Recent acquisitions from Prairie Lights, a bookstore in Iowa City at which I see myself spending a lot money in the future.
"In the English language use of the word donation with respect to property exchange is of long standing, but use of the word donor in connection with the anonymous release of body tissues and parts commenced only in the 1960s. Individuals who sign “donor” cards, some of whom eventually become organ donors, are in effect acquiescing in a form of depersonalization that is integral to the system of national and international organ-sharing networks. In my opinion this depersonalization constitutes a form of “euphemized violence” (Bourdieu 1990a:85): a form of exploitation in which vital human organs are assessed as invaluable until the moment that culture intrudes, in the form of a skilled transplant surgeon. Organs are then transformed into precious commodities. I am not categorically opposed to the sale of organs, although I am opposed to human organs being placed on the open market, but I question why those who make “gifts” of their organs, and their families, should receive neither recompense nor recognition of any kind. Some donor families cannot even be sure their gift has not ended up in the slop bucket.”
— Margaret Lock, from “Boundary Transgressions and Moral Uncertainty,” chapter 1 of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death