Research Journal

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Art Crowdfunding in the MENA region, Friend or Foe?: Research Log

Preliminary Research

Preliminary research involved surveying of the MENA region itself and establishing the unique regional referents of this area and its composite territories. In the broadest sense this meant contemplating the history of trade in the region—beginning with the emergence of the Islamic caliphates and attempting to see crowdfunding as part of this longue durée of economics, politics, and art. This history had then to be set alongside the economic history of the West because it was in America that crowdfunding first developed. The key problem then emerged of how these two histories—both culturally disparate, yet historically linked—could be seen to be joining together via new technologies.

The Essay

I decided to breakdown the topic into constituent parts, some of which dealt with historical aspects, some with theoretical aspects, and others with case studies of specific crowdfunding platforms in the MENA region that would bring these aspects into focus. The topics included an overview of crowdfunding, an outline of trade in the MENA region, the advantages and disadvantages of the crowdfunding system, crowdfunding in the West, crowdfunding in the MENA region focussing on Aflamnah as a case study, a case study on Zoomal, a historical timeline, the Caliphates to postcolonialism and the Arab Spring, crowdfunding as a symptom of the Arab Spring, and the theorization of the political power and art specifically focussing on Foucault, Roy, and Agamben, biopower and art.

During the course of research I encountered a new development which changed the direction in which I wanted to take my work. This occurred whilst I was researching into the history of funding art—the ways in which, before crowdfunding, art was paid for. I found that one of the most important historical examples of art funding was the patronage of the Medici family in the Italian city of Florence in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. I found how the family commissioned works not only for their own edification but also for the glory of the city. It also involved patronage by women and I found this to be a crucial change in art funding, much like the later shift to crowdfunding. In my work this produced what I thought was a fascinating and stimulating contrast between art patronage in a historical era and art patronage in the present.


The first part of practical research with sources involved becoming familiar with the crowdfunding websites themselves—both in the West and in the MENA region—and working out how they functioned from the point of view of the artists and of the funders. A survey of news articles and press coverage of crowdfunding was also important because it was in that discourse that the main advantages and disadvantages of crowdfunding were articulated and the words of those who had started initiatives could be read. Subsequently, theoretical literature added an underpinning to the project, helping to clarify the various ideologies in play, and situate them in relation to society at large. The new section on art funding by the Medici introduced a new set of sources which were mainly art historical and involved working directly with images. This new methodological component makes the research richer and more interdisciplinary overall.


For more on : Medici patronage and Florentine political and cultural life

Author : Mie Al-Missned