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Abu Dhabi: Slavs & Tatars
January 27, 2015 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Slavs & Tatars
Lecture on Molla Nasrddedin
27.01.2015, NYU Abu Dhabi
From Croatia to China, and across the Middle East, people have long been entertained by the misadventures of Molla Nasreddin, the folkloric figure of the Sufi wise man-cum-fool who is often depicted riding backwards on a donkey. As Payam Sharifi, the co-founder of the art collective Slavs & Tatars, tells me, it’s appropriate that Nasreddin shares his name with an incendiary early 20th-century satirical magazine that is also the subject of his public lecture at the NYUAD Institute on January 27.
Mainly published in Azerbaijan between 1906 and 1931, the weekly eight-page magazine was widely read across the Muslim world. It caused widespread outrage by attacking hypocrisy in the Muslim clergy and the damage done by colonialisation as well as local corruption, while making a convincing case for westernisation, educational reforms and women’s rights.
Sharifi will give the talk as Slavs & Tatars, the art collective that began life as a book club seven years ago; it has since published six books including Molla Nasreddin: The Magazine That Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve in 2011. Now out of print, the book contains 200 illustrations out of the thousands that appeared during the magazine’s lifetime, but while Slavs & Tatars embraces the magazine as a cultural artefact, its perspective is highly critical. “It’s an incredibly important historical document,” Sharifi says, “but we as Slavs & Tatars actually disagree with a lot of it … And the reason we disagree is that it is a product of its time. These editors at the time believed that modernisation had to go to westernisation. We don’t believe that.
“That is part of the reason Slavs & Tatars was created, to think about different thought processes, different belief systems that offer a legitimate counterweight to that very idea.”