It is clear to those who are following the contemporary artistic production in the Arab world (or rather in certain Arab cities) that this production is more preoccupied with the seductiveness of ideas rather than the creation of (aesthetical) forms. There is a growing awareness among artists that critical ideas cannot be channeled by the not-so-old media (at least in this region of the world) of painting or sculpture, and that these engender a passive audience rather than active subjects. So in a way these works can be viewed as social utterances requiring, and shaped by, the answers they anticipate; their elements are interchangeable, be they photographs, drawings, diagrams, or texts.
That said, it would be useful to note that, on the one hand, mass-produced images of any "third-world" society have their references in the West, in an ever-expanding, globalized world, and that on the other hand, signifiers do not necessarily carry the same signified, as an essence encapsulated in them....
In that sense, when the work is "transported" to Europe (because of an interest that will eventually dwindle - no illusions here), a double effort must be made: it is no surprise to anyone that the "West" already has a "system of reception", a web of ideas about what the "East" is about, what it should be, and what it is expected to say; a web of ideas, I dare say, that is a direct descendant of the old Orientalist discourse that doesn't seem to subside. It is these ideas that prompted certain US scholars after the events of 9/11 to read or to recommend reading the Qur'an, truly believing that it would provide an insight into Arab societies.
These ideas also generate situations that are awkward, to say the least. The mild and badly concealed surprise on someone's face when an Arab artist makes a reference to Walter Benjamin, for instance; or the misreading of a particular work by the most well-intended person, because of the pre-supposition that a critical utterance articulated by a westerner vis-à-vis an Arab society (on the basis of Universal Human Rights for example) must necessarily coincide with the critical utterances articulated by a person actually living in that society.