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Volume 65, Number 4July/August 2014

In This Issue

Classroom Guide

For students: We hope this guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.

For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without furthe permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classrorom or through home study.


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Class Activities

Three articles in this edition of Saudi Aramco World focus on the arts: photography, music and film. Each takes a different perspective; taken together, they provide the chance to explore a variety of questions about art, so that’s the topic in the Classroom Guide. Under that broad umbrella, the activities fall into two themes: Art Fills in the Blanks, and Art and Stereotypes.

Visual Analysis

Some photographs are considered primarily to be art; others are considered to be mostly informative. (Most do both, to some extent.) “The Middle East’s New Lenses” focuses on photographic art, and Saudi Aramco World itself regularly publishes photographs that, although they are quite beautiful, they are not specifically identified as art. So what’s the difference—if there is any—between these two types of photographs? To explore the answer, compare and contrast the two photographs shown below. One comes from “The Middle East’s New Lenses,” while the other comes from “The Water Below.” Start with the “art” photo. What do you notice about it? What do you see and where is it located in the frame? What do you notice about color? Light and shadow? Foreground and background? What do you learn from the article and the caption that add to your understanding of the photo? Then ask the same questions about the photo from “The Water Below.” Would you call one of the photos art, but not the other? If so, why? If not, why not? What generalizations, if any, can you make about different types and uses of photographs? (Note: You may work with a partner on this, or not, depending on your own preference.)

Theme: Art Fills in the Blanks

We all carry around a sense of places in the world, even if we’re not conscious of it most of the time. If you quickly think about California, for example, you might think of movie stars. If you think about Argentina, you might think of cattle. At best, what we think of is partly accurate: Part of California has movie stars, and yes, there are a lot of cattle in Argentina. At worst, however, we attach familiar stereotypes to places we don’t know much about, places that are more or less blank spots in our mental maps. 

We often think about what we know about the world, but we don’t so often think about what we don’t know. In other words, how detailed are the mental maps you carry around with you? To explore this idea, print out any basic world map. Look at the different places, and write on the map what you know about them. If you don’t know anything about a given place, leave it blank. (We’ll get to that shortly.) Then compare your map with another student’s. Do you know the same places? Do you know the same things about them? Do you know about places your peer doesn’t know about, and vice versa? Talk about where you learned about those places. 

Now let’s look to those blank spaces. Articles in this issue consider how the arts can help fill in some of them. Read “National Arab Orchestra Hits the Right Notes.” Imagine you were one of the Detroit students who took part in the Building Bridges through Music program. Find the place on your world map where these students came from, and the place that they would have left blank when they first started the program. What might they write there now? Add that to your own map. And what can you add to your knowledge of the students’ home town, Detroit? Fill that in, too.

The same thing holds true for times as well as places. Our mental maps go back in time, too, and most of us have a lot of blank spaces in our knowledge of the past that are much like blank spaces in our knowledge of the world. Read “The Quiet Muslim Heroes of World War ii.” As a class, discuss what these two films highlighted in the article add to your knowledge of that war. Why do you think the stories of Muslim heroes have not been included in many World War ii histories? 

Now that you’ve read both articles, reflect on what you’ve learned. Write an essay that answers these questions: How can the arts fill in the blanks? Equally important, what do you think is the value of filling in those blanks? Support your ideas with evidence from the articles, as well as from your own experiences.

Theme: Art and Stereotypes 

As noted earlier, when there’s an absence of firsthand knowledge of people or places, it’s common for everyone to sometimes fill in the blanks with stereotypes, which can be good or bad. The six artists in “The Middle East’s New Lenses” know all too well the stereotypes about their region—mostly negative ones—that have played a big role in the West and in relationships mostly among Middle Eastern countries, Europe and the United States. 

Read “The Middle East’s New Lenses.” A few of the photographers profiled there talk about the history of how people in the West have thought of the Middle East and those who live there. Find and highlight the parts of the article that explain what those ideas about the Middle East were and are. When stereotypes are well-known, as these are, many people become likely to approach a place with those stereotypes in mind. Think of the stereotypes as the background—like the scenery on a stage—behind the photographs you’re reading about. These artists create their work on a stage that has this “scenery,” so their work—in this case photographs— interacts with that scenery in some way. 

For example, photo artist Mitra Tabrizian deals with stereotypes by blurring the distinctions between East and West. Find the place in the article where she speaks about her strategy. Then find the photograph that is an example of it. (If you can, look her up on the Internet, too, to see more.) Think of Tabrizian’s photos on your imagined stage with the stereotypes in the background. How does making art that leaves readers uncertain about whether they’re seeing East or West relate to the stereotypes in the background? Does knowing the stereotypes affect your understanding of Tabrizian’s photographs? If so, how? How does knowing Tabrizian’s thoughts and motivations affect how you react to her art?

Hassan Hajjaj deals with the stereotypes in a different way. Find the part of the article where he explains his approach. If you think of his photographs on the imaginary stage, as you did Tabrizian’s, how do they relate to the stereotypes behind them? Again, how does seeing his photos with knowledge of the stereotypes affect how you feel when you see the photo and how you think about it? 

Still other artists acknowledge stereotypes by tinkering with them in some way. Consider the two photos of women on pages 10 and 11. What stereotypes about Middle Eastern women do these photos respond to? How does each photo respond to the stereotype? What do you think the artists are trying to convey? What do you perceive in the photos? (Hint: Give yourself some time to look at them and think about them. Discuss them.)

Now that you’ve analyzed other people’s photographs in light of the stereotypes about them, it’s time to try it yourself. Think about a stereotype that may have been applied to you. For example, many people have stereotypes about teenagers, boys, girls or people from a certain part of town, or—certainly—ethnicities, backgrounds and ways of dressing. You might choose one of them. Start by writing about the stereotype briefly for two minutes—what it is, how you feel about it and so on. The writing doesn’t need to be polished, as long as you’re writing about the stereotype. It’s just a chance for you to do some uncensored, unedited writing to get your thoughts together and to clear your mind. Then use a camera (the camera in a phone will do) and take some photos that “respond” to the stereotype you identified. Use as your guide the different responses to stereotypes that you’ve learned about in the article. Write a caption for each of your photos explaining it in terms of the stereotype. Display photos around the classroom and view each other’s work.

Finally, try one more kind of photo. Recall that Hajjaj said, “I’ve wanted to show my Morocco,” rather than having Moroccans be background for photographs of westerners. Take a photo that shows the “real” you in the foreground, with something representing the stereotype in the background. Then try it the other way around: put the real you in the background. How do the two photos differ? How do they make you feel? Which do you prefer? Why? 

As a bonus, use the idea of foreground and background to analyze the photograph on page 10. Write a paragraph in which you examine the photograph in terms of what you have learned about stereotypes and how artists respond to them. 




In “The Middle East’s New Lenses,” artist Lalla Essaydi says: 

“My work has involved a long and ever-deepening exploration into what constitutes my own identity as an artist, a woman, a Moroccan and someone living in the 21st century, where a certain degree of cultural nomadism … has become in a sense, the norm.”

Explore the meaning of Essaydi’s sentence by starting with the word nomad. You’ve probably heard it before, maybe in a social studies class. Write down what you think the word means, then check a dictionary to clarify. Now connect your definition of nomad to the idea Lalla Essaydi talked about: cultural nomad. Culture is a word that can have many meanings. Artists often use it to refer to the arts—literature, visual art, sculpture and so on, so that’s what we’ll do here. If we assume that Essaydi was thinking about the arts, what do you think she meant by the phrase cultural nomadism?


Curriculum Alignments

National Arab Orchestra Hits the Right Notes


Standard 7. Understands the relationship between music and history and culture


Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics 

The Middle East’s New Lenses

Visual Arts

Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures


Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics 

The Hazelnuts of Trabzon


Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics 

Standard 11. Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface 

The Quiet Muslim Heroes of World War II

World History

Standard 42. Understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II. 


Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics 

Visual Arts

Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

The Water Below


Standard 9. Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface 

Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics 

Standard 11. Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface 

Standard 14. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment

Standard 15. Understands how physical systems affect human systems 

World History

Standard 7. Understands technological and cultural innovation and change from 1000 to 600 BCE

Standard 13. Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the 7th and 10th centuries




Julie Weiss ([email protected]) is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy, and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.



Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for July/August 2014 images.