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October 27, 2020

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Anneka Lenssen, Ada grad, publishes book on modern painting and politics in Syria

She's an associate professor of art history at Cal, Berkeley

FROM ADA ICON - An Ada High School graduate, Anneka Lenssen, has published a book to be released this month, focusing on modern painting and politics in Syria.

Lenssen, associate professor of art history at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the book, titled "Beautiful Agitation, Modern Painting and Politics in Syria," is aimed to an academic audience.

She described its contents this way for the Icon:
It’s an art historical study of artists and artworks in Syria, from the turn of the century to the 1965.

I certainly aimed for readable prose. In the end, however, it's pretty specialized in the arguments it makes. 

I had a Fulbright in 2010 that allowed me to live in Damascus and complete a lot of the research on which the book is based.

Recalllng her experiences at Ada
Recalling her experiences at Ada, she said, “I graduated from Ada High School in 1997, where I received excellent teaching in the visual arts, as well as tremendous support from Gary Wells and other teachers. 

“The best part of the day was always heading down to the art room to work.” 

She adds that she remembers very fondly, as well, gaining practical training in design from co-editing the yearbook during the ‘96-97 school year, when advisors were Mr. Wells and Mrs. Elliott.

“We made the jump from paper layout sheets to designing by computer! We all had to learn it together,” she said. 

“My time at Ada High School prepared me to study the arts and humanities first at Kenyon College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree and later the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I earned my doctorate.

“It also provided me a compass for my own teaching – first at the American University in Cairo and now at the University of California, Berkeley," said Lenssen, who is now in her seventh year at Cal.

Gary Wells, Ada High School art teacher, said of Lenssen: "She was a naturally gifted artist that excelled in so many different areas....she honestly could have pursued a career in any field and been a success. The art community is so fortunate to have her. I'm so proud of her!"

Book description from the publisher
In modern Syria, a contested territory at the intersection of differing regimes of political representation, artists ventured to develop strikingly new kinds of painting to link their images to life forces and agitated energies. 

Examining the works of artists Kahlil Gibran, Adham Ismail, and Fateh al-Moudarres, Beautiful Agitation explores how painters in Syria activated the mutability of form to rethink relationships of figure to ground, outward appearance to inner presence, and self to world. 

Drawing on archival materials in Syria and beyond, Anneka Lenssen reveals new trajectories of painterly practice in a twentieth century defined by shifting media technologies, moving populations, and the imposition of violently enforced nation-state borders. 

The result is a study of Arab modernism that foregrounds rather than occludes efforts to agitate against imposed identities and intersubjective relations.

One critic wrote: "This is the first and only book in English (and I believe in French and Arabic as well) to examine Syrian painting in the twentieth century comprehensively. 

"Beautiful Agitation is also an exemplary work of global art history—truly transnational in its scope, framework, sources, and analysis." — Heghnar Watenpaugh, author of The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice